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Before closing on a home, most buyers enlist a home inspector to assess the condition of the property. Here’s what to expect, and five mistakes to avoid, in the process.
- A home inspection is an assessment of the condition of a property that helps identify potential issues or repairs.
- Inspections are usually conducted on behalf of a buyer to understand problems that they might have to deal with if they purchase the property.
- Inspections should be conducted by a certified home inspector. Licensing requirements vary by state.
What is a home inspection? How is it different from an appraisal?
A home inspection gives a buyer an opportunity to have a professional inspector evaluate the home and give an assessment of its condition. Usually, homebuyers get an inspection done before they purchase a home, but sellers sometimes opt to get a proactive inspection before listing their home for sale.
A good home inspector’s expertise is incredibly valuable in terms of what to look for when buying a home. They can help you identify potential problems with the property you’re about to purchase, and they can give you information that will help you with the upkeep after moving in. Based on what the home inspector finds, you might 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 even 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 dollar 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 vary based on the property. An example home inspection checklist could include:
- Heating and cooling systems: An inspector looks at the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, checking to see if it works properly or needs repairs. They’ll also evaluate how efficiently and evenly it circulates air throughout the home.
- Interior plumbing and electrical systems: From water heaters to sump pumps to fixtures and faucets, the inspector will also look at the state of the property’s plumbing system. The same goes for the electrical system, making sure that all equipment — including cables, fixtures and circuit interrupters — is safe and running correctly.
- Roof and attic: An inspector will assess the roof’s condition and determine if it needs to be replaced in the near future. Roof features, like chimneys and skylights, will be evaluated at this point. The inspector will also look at the attic, including vents, ducts, insulation and ventilation.
- Ceilings and floors: Inside the home, inspectors will check out the ceilings in bedrooms, bathrooms and other living spaces, noting if they need to be repaired due to things like mold or damage. Similarly, they’ll inspect the floors of the home, looking for water damage, cracks or other problems.
Keep in mind that this list isn’t exhaustive. Home inspectors will also evaluate other parts of the property, including the basement, windows and doors and water heaters. However, an inspector won’t dig into things like pest infestations or potential hazards like radon, lead paint, mold or asbestos — although they will include them in their report. Features such as swimming pools and hot tubs usually aren’t included in a home inspection, either.
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 and 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 use clear, concise language in person and in a written report, Mitenbuler says. To help you prepare, he recommends scanning a few sample reports by checking the inspector’s website or asking for a recent example.
4. Not getting a presale inspection
Many sellers decide to leave the inspection to the buyers. That’s a mistake, Bloxom says.
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 to control the costs, Bloxom says.
In addition, don’t 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.
Home inspection FAQs
The average home inspection costs about $340, according to Angi. Your cost might range higher or lower depending on your location and the size of the home.
Inspectors evaluate the home’s condition, including areas like the roof and attic and the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems.
Generally, homes with serious structural and safety issues or health hazards won’t pass inspection. These issues might include wiring problems, a roof leak or sewer system damage.