Before closing on a home, most homebuyers enlist a home inspector to assess the condition of the home. Here’s what to expect, and five mistakes to avoid in the process.

What is a home inspection? 

A home inspection gives a homebuyer an opportunity to have a professional inspector evaluate a home and give an assessment of its condition. Usually, homebuyers get an inspection done before they purchase a home, but sellers sometimes opt to have one completed as well before listing their home for sale.

A good home inspector can help you identify potential problems with the property you’re about to own, and they can give you information that will help you with the upkeep after moving in. Based on what the home inspector finds, you can ask a seller to pay for repairs or make concessions before you close the deal. If the inspection turns up significant problems with the home, you might decide to pull out of the purchase entirely.

Home inspection vs. home appraisal

Home inspections are different from appraisals in that inspectors don’t determine a value for a home; they assess the structure and other elements of the property, create a comprehensive report on their findings, explain any issues to the homebuyer or homeowner and offer guidance.

What does a home inspector look at?

The exact details of what a home inspector looks at varies based on the property. Some examples include:

  • Heating and cooling system
  • Interior plumbing and electrical systems
  • The roof and attic
  • Ceilings
  • Floors
  • Windows and doors
  • Water heater
  • Foundation
  • Basement

Some areas that inspectors don’t look at include:

  • Pests
  • Swimming pool
  • Hazards such as radon, lead paint, mold or asbestos

5 home inspection mistakes to avoid

1. Not researching the inspector 

Too many homebuyers hire whoever is recommended to them without doing any research. The inspection is only as good as the inspector doing it, says Troy Bloxom, owner of Home Inspections Plus near Anchorage, Alaska, and a former local board member of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

You should work with a home inspection company or individual inspector that is licensed and has experience and good reviews. Before hiring someone, ask them:

  • How long have you been inspecting homes?
  • How many inspections have you done?
  • What are your qualifications, certifications and training?
  • What was your job before you were a home inspector? (An inspector should be familiar with home construction, so a background as a contractor or homebuilder can be helpful.)

It can be tempting to go with the cheapest option, but a good home inspector could save you a lot of money in the long term.

“There’s a lot of stuff you have to know, and you want someone who’s keeping up with ongoing education,” says Kurt Mitenbuler, who is certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors and owns an inspection company in Evanston, Illinois.

An inspector also needs to be able to identify issues with a property and explain them to buyers, who are usually non-experts.

“We want to teach them how to maintain the property because it’s the biggest investment they’ll ever make,” says Alden E. Gibson, an inspector in Ontario and a past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

2. Not attending the inspection 

Attending the inspection isn’t required, but it is a smart move. Simply reading the inspection report isn’t enough to give most homeowners and homebuyers the full picture.

“If they don’t see it, they don’t understand it,” Gibson says, adding that he turns down dozens of inspections a year “because people can’t be there or don’t want to be there.”

The inspection might take an entire morning or afternoon, so set aside enough time. Some inspectors will sit with you afterward to explain things and answer your questions.

“Any home inspector who doesn’t let you follow him around? That’s weird. Ask me any question you want,” Mitenbuler says.

A good inspector can also give you an estimate of how much you’ll need to spend on repairs and upgrades, which is very valuable information as you consider your budget and what you might want to ask the seller to cover.

3. Not reading the inspection report

In addition to attending the inspection, don’t gloss over the inspection report when it’s ready. You paid for it, and reading and understanding the report could save you from unwittingly walking into a money pit.

Ideally, the inspector will be someone who uses clear, concise language in person and in a written report, Mitenbuler says. To help you prepare, he recommends scanning a few reports by checking the inspector’s website or asking for a sample report.

4. Not getting a presale inspection

Many sellers decide to leave the inspection to the buyers, Bloxom says. That’s a mistake.

When the buyers get an inspection (and if they’re smart, they will), the sellers might have little time to complete repairs and keep the sale on track. If the seller has a presale inspection before putting it on the market, he or she has more time to do repairs and to shop around and control the costs for the work, Bloxom says.

In addition, both buyers and sellers often wait too long to engage an inspector. You should find an inspector long before you have or make an offer on a home.

“Any good inspector will be booked out,” Gibson says.

If you’re selling, work on booking an inspector as soon as you’re seriously considering listing. At the very least, start doing some research on the best inspectors in your area.

5. Not prepping the home

It’s difficult for inspectors to do their job well if the homeowners don’t prepare.

“Don’t force the home inspector to empty the closet to get into the attic,” Mitenbuler says. Similarly, if you have a crawl space hatch, he suggests moving anything sitting on top of it. Got a lock on a utility closet, basement or shed? The inspector needs access, so open it or provide keys.

Likewise, if repairs are needed, hire a professional to do them, Bloxom says. Sometimes sellers try to DIY or get them done on the cheap, but poor workmanship will show up during the follow-up inspection, and could result in the need for more repairs — and another inspection.

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