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Home Inspection Guide: Everything You Need to Know

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Whether you’re buying a new house or a mid-century starter home, you could encounter problems that aren’t visible to the untrained eye. Before making one of life’s largest financial investments, getting a home inspection can help you avoid living in a money pit.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about home inspections, including:

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a written report that gives a detailed overview of a home’s condition. A professional home inspector makes recommendations to monitor or fix notable defects with a home. Home inspectors include only the systems and parts of a home that they can easily access, from the foundation up.

A home inspection is not the same as a property appraisal. A property appraisal is a professional opinion of a home’s current market value based on recent sales of similar homes nearby. Home inspections, on the other hand, provide an in-depth, unbiased analysis of a home’s condition and safety.

Why you should get a home inspection

The information you don’t know about a home could cost thousands in repairs later, underscoring the importance of having an inspection. Plus, homebuyers can walk away from an accepted purchase agreement if they include a home inspection contingency in their offer. This contract clause gives them an escape hatch from the deal if the inspection reports uncovers major issues with a home and the seller refuses to fix them.

A home inspection contingency gives you leverage when negotiating with sellers, said Elliot Anderson, a Realtor with Exp Realty in Tucson, Ariz.

“The home inspection becomes something you can point to and get estimates from contractors for items that need repair,” Anderson said, adding you can then ask the seller to fix the issues before closing, provide a credit for repairs or reduce the sales price.

Even if you get a clean home inspection, sellers are responsible for disclosing material defects they know about. State property disclosure requirements give buyers the right to sue for damages if a seller knowingly sells a home with undisclosed problems.

How much does it cost?

The typical cost of a home inspection ranges from $300 to $500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Costs can vary depending on the location and size of the home. You might have to pay extra for additional services that are not covered by a standard inspection, such as a sewer, pest or structural engineering inspections.

When should you order a home inspection?

A home inspection is usually scheduled after you’ve signed a purchase agreement with the seller.

“Some states have time limits on how long the buyer has to have an inspection,” said Frank Lesh, former executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “The sooner the home inspector is contacted, the better.”

Home inspection checklist: What do home inspectors look for?

A home inspector will do a deep dive into the key working features of your home. The checklist below provides an overview of what a standard inspection covers:

Structural components
  • Foundation inspection for cracks or settling
  • Structure and condition of all flooring
  • Wall structure
  • Ceiling construction
Exterior
  • Wall coverings
  • Doors leading out of the home
  • Decks, balconies, stoops, steps and porches
  • Condition of fascia and eaves
  • Property grading, water drainage and retaining wall structure
  • Driveways, patios and walkways next to and leading to the home
Roofing
  • Material and condition of roofing
  • Water drainage systems
  • Condition of skylights and chimneys
Plumbing
  • Water supply and working order of fixtures and faucets
  • Functioning of drains, toilets and venting systems
  • Working order of flues and chimneys
  • Sewage ejectors, sump pumps and related piping
Electrical
  • Ground fault circuit (GFI) functions
  • Condition and location of panels and wire connections
  • Protective devices to prevent overcurrent
  • Evidence of exposed or hazardous wiring
  • Smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Wiring methods
Air conditioning
  • Functioning and type of cooling systems
Heating
  • Type of heating equipment
  • Ventilation for distribution of heat
Interior components
  • Condition of walls, ceilings and floors
  • Soundness of steps, stairways and railings
  • Countertop and cabinet condition, and total count
  • Working order of garage doors and sensors
  • Working condition of all appliances including the oven, dishwasher and garbage disposal
Insulation and ventilation
  • Type of installation and exposure in unfinished parts of home
  • Ventilation in attic and foundation
  • Exhaust systems in kitchen, bathroom and laundry rooms
  • Vent system for clothes dryer

 

Home inspectors are trained to identify systems or components that aren’t working correctly, have serious defects, are unsafe or nearing the end of their life spans. They typically include photos of major issues, along with written descriptions of problems they find.

What isn’t included in the inspector’s report?

Home inspectors are not engineering or architecture experts, nor do they evaluate environmental standards, like water quality or soil issues. Here’s a list of items that are generally not included in a home inspection:

  • The condition of any system that can’t be readily accessed
  • How long a system or component is likely to last
  • How well any particular system works
  • The cause of any discovered defects
  • Advice on how a repair or defect should be fixed
  • If the home’s systems and features are in compliance with current local building regulations
  • The market value of the property
  • An opinion of whether or not you should buy the home
  • Pest control advice
  • How much it costs to run the systems in the home
  • Soil condition or anything related to technical aspects of the soil quality

How to find a home inspector

Real estate agents often have the contact name and number of home inspectors they can recommend. You also can search for a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors.

Check out the licensing and education background of the home inspectors you’re considering to ensure you’re hiring someone with the right experience. Home inspectors should be certified and licensed professionals.

“Some folks think that if a home inspector is licensed by the state then all inspectors must be the same,” Lesh said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Being licensed just means the inspector has met the minimum requirements for licensing.”

Before you hire a home inspector, ask these questions:

  • What will the inspection cover?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What services are excluded from the inspection that I might need?
  • How long have you been a home inspector?
  • Have you done residential inspections?
  • What professional certifications do you hold?

Home inspection FAQs

How long does a home inspection usually take?
A home inspection usually takes two or three hours.

Do new homes need a new inspection?
Yes — even if all the major components are covered by a home warranty. After all, a home inspector is an unbiased party, and the inspection protects your investment.

Should I get a home warranty instead of an inspection?
No. Home warranties don’t always cover all of a home’s components and they don’t assess your home’s current condition. Plus, there are trip charges.

Should I be at the inspection?  
Yes. “It’s very important to attend the inspection, and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Lesh said. Being there in person makes it easier to understand issues as the inspector finds them, and you’ll have a better grasp on the report findings.

Is a home inspection needed for my loan?
No. However, your home inspection could indicate repairs that a home appraiser may require, especially if you’re using a government-insured loan to buy the home. Government lending guidelines have minimum property standards that must be met. If you negotiate for repairs to be done as part of your purchase agreement, the lender could request a copy of the inspection report for review, and require an additional appraisal inspection to confirm the work has been completed before funding the loan.

Can you fail a home inspection?
No. Home inspections are not designed to assess a pass-or-fail grade on a home. Ultimately, a prospective buyer has to decide if the issues revealed are worth negotiating with the seller to fix, or if it’s better to walk away from the transaction.

What repairs are mandatory after a home inspection?
It’s up to the buyer and seller to decide how to handle the issues flagged in an inspection report. Sellers can refuse to repair some or all of the issues discovered in a home inspection. That’s why including a contingency is so important — you can cancel the contract and get your earnest deposit back if a seller won’t budge on repairs.

 

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