How home inspections work: Checklist, cost & more
Transparency is important in any business transaction, but it’s absolutely critical when buying a home. For example, before closing on your home purchase, wouldn’t you rest easier knowing an inspector had uncovered evidence of an electrical fire in the attic? Then there’s the basement. It’s only logical you’d want an expert alerting you to water damage that’s been spackled over, especially if this leakage might affect larger issues of structural integrity.
Knowledge is power and you’ll need to perform your due diligence to ensure these items aren’t red flags that affect your offer—or worse—the fate of the home purchase itself.
Home inspection basics
At some point during the home-buying process, most prospective homebuyers decide it’s in their best interest to hire an expert to conduct a home inspection.
There’s a lot that can go wrong with a home purchase if you’re not careful, and hiring a professional to walk through the home of your dreams, examine every nook and cranny and assess its many structures and systems is the prudent thing to do.
Remember, it’s your responsibility to arrange for a home inspection-—not the seller’s. This benefits you. Once you sign the contract and close on the property, it’s generally too late to walk back in time and opt out or renegotiate the terms. Hindsight may be 20-20, but it’s rarely a money-back guarantee.
What you can expect from a home inspection
The objective of a home inspection is to uncover any existing issues with the physical structure of the house before purchase. This is typically done once under contract but before final closing.
Essentially, you’re hiring a trusted expert to walk through the home and examine the following:
- Major appliances
- HVAC system
- Electrical systems and wiring
In addition, the inspector will assess the home room by room, floor by floor, including:
When the inspector is done they file a report with you-—the buyer--—describing all and any issues with structure.
At no time does the inspector offer an opinion on the value of the home, whether the agreed-upon price is fair or anything else beyond the specific purview of inspection.
What to look for in a quality home inspector
OK, you’ve found the home of your dreams, obtained affordable financing and now you want to make sure that it’s as solid, safe and durable as it is appealing. Cue the home inspection.
It’s worth taking some time to find the right home inspector. There are a lot of inspectors with varying degrees of aptitude, work ethic and integrity. As the homebuyer, it’s your responsibility to vet and hire an inspector who will do the job well and in a timely and professional manner.
There’s no “right” way to go about selecting a home inspector, but many people find success by seeking recommendations from friends, colleagues and real estate professionals. It can also be advantageous to do your own research on the web and sift through databases of various professional organizations such as the North American Association of Home Inspectors and the American Society of Home Inspectors. These aren’t just information portals but are real associations that offer accreditation and a seal of approval for inspectors listed.
Simply finding an inspector available in your area won’t be sufficient. You’ll want to ensure he or she has a spotless record and a sterling reputation, something that can be researched by checking with the Better Business Bureau as well as customer review sites like Yelp. However, you’ll likely want to go even further.
Conduct an interview with the home inspector
Considering that a home purchase is usually the largest and most important purchase in your life, you’ll want to make sure your home inspector is experienced, held in high regard and possesses ample training; this is best accomplished through an interview.
Regardless of the communication method—in-person, phone or via video call—you’ll want to interview your chosen home inspector about their experience with different kinds of housing. For example, some may have specific insights on foreclosure properties where major home improvements are often necessary, while others may have knowledge on how to assess historic homes.
During the interview, it’s important to ask for references from past clients, preferably those who have moved in at least six months to a year ago—long enough to be situated in their new homes and cognizant of any issues that may have gone unnoticed or unreported. Don’t feel shy about asking for sample reports as well. Is your inspector merely providing a general checklist report or is he/she providing more lengthy analysis in written form? Details matter.
The cost of home inspection
Hiring a professional home inspector will definitely add to your overall home purchasing cost; however, the knowledge gained can be indispensable.
In today’s housing market, hiring a home inspector generally costs between $279 and $399, with the median rate at $337. The fee must be paid at the time of the inspection; it’s not part of the closing costs or generally written into the contract in any shape or form. Remember: You’re paying not only for expertise but for an independent and unbiased opinion.
The actual home inspection
The day of the home inspection is finally here; what can you expect?
A professional home inspector’s walk-through will take several hours to complete, and you’re typically welcome to accompany and ask questions during this process. It’s often helpful to request that your real estate agent attend as well. A good inspector will be making notes and taking photos while providing some verbal commentary as you move from room to room, inside to outside.
While every inspector operates a little differently, there are things that most competent home inspectors agree should be examined:
- Roof: Expect an assessment of materials, past repairs, flashing, shingles, gutters and general drainage. Also chimney and skylight inspection.
- Plumbing: This should include pipes, water heater and plumbing fixtures.
- Electrical systems and wiring: At a minimum, the panel box, outlets and circuit breaker should be examined.
- Foundation and structure: Inspectors will typically take a look at the framing, walls, ceiling and accessible crawlspaces, looking for signs of compaction, expansion and any suspicious cracks, etc.
- General exterior: This should include siding, lights, grounds and drainage.
One misconception is that a home inspector is an expert on building codes and zoning issues; this is usually not the case. To obtain this kind of deep-level information, you may have to employ other experts in the field who wield specialized knowledge and can make informed judgements on such matters. Issues beyond an inspector’s expertise often include such items as mold, microscopic pests, traces of asbestos, hidden wiring and difficult-to-examine items such as outdoor jacuzzis and underground septic tanks. While they make every attempt to carefully assess a home, inspectors are unable to assess what they cannot see or easily discover.
As they conduct their examination, inspectors will take note of the general and specific condition of the property, its appliances and its systems. A good inspector will not only note current condition but evaluate how likely it is to remain in a reliable state going forward. Their educated, objective, experienced opinions are precisely what will give you either peace of mind or make you want to withdraw or negotiate your offer.
The home inspection report
Prospective homebuyers should expect a report that goes into considerable detail, including, easy-to-understand checklists, an itemized list of defects and concerns as well extensive summaries, relevant photos and important recommendations regarding necessary repairs. Taken together, this kind of report can be extraordinarily helpful in moving forward with your purchase.
It’s important to add that an inspection does not render a sale invalid or require the seller to make any fixes prior to closing. The objective is to better inform you--the buyer--on the condition of your new home. There’s no failing or passing grade and there are no mandatory repairs. How to proceed is at your discretion. The home inspection report just enables you to have all the relevant data at your fingertips so you can make an informed decision with regard to your new home.
Hiring a home inspector is an important part of the home-buying process and shouldn’t be considered a luxury or something hurriedly arranged at the last moment. It’s essential in uncovering any flaws that may require expensive fixes in the months and years ahead.
While there are no guarantees the home inspector will detect every existing defect, their expertise and analysis go a long way in providing you, the homebuyer, with the necessary information you’ll need to feel confident in your new home.
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