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The seller has accepted your offer on your dream home and you’re ready to move in. Not so fast, though. Before you sign on the dotted line, you’ll want to be sure that your new home is in excellent condition. On the surface, it may look fine, but that doesn’t mean it is.

That’s why getting a professional home inspection is a critical step in the homebuying process.

“The idea is to give the buyer information so that it can help them make an informed decision in the purchase of the home,” says John Wall, a home inspector with Action Home and Building Inspections in Portland, Oregon.

Getting a home inspection can help instill more confidence in your purchase so you don’t wind up with buyer’s remorse. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about this step, along with a home inspection checklist that details what an inspection does (and doesn’t) cover.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is conducted by a certified home inspection professional who walks through the home and evaluates its condition. Home inspectors generally look at a home’s major components and systems (the furnace, air conditioning unit and foundation, for example) to determine if there are any issues that require immediate attention.

“Think of a home inspection as a non-invasive examination of a property,” Wall says. “They’re not intended to find every possible defect, rather major (problems) as well as safety issues.”

Think of a home inspection as a deeper insight into the home, whether it has been well-maintained or requires major repairs. The results of an inspection can help you decide whether to move forward with your purchase and be used as a bargaining tool with the seller.

“Once you get the report, be a savvy negotiator and use it to sweeten the deal,” says Mark Korr, owner of Korr and Company Home Inspections in Port Orange, Florida.

How to prepare for a home inspection

It’s crucial to know what your home inspector is looking for. Doing some homework ahead of time will help you ask in-depth questions about the home inspection report so you thoroughly understand the home’s condition and what issues need to be addressed.

A home inspection can take two or three hours to complete. A home inspector will provide you with a written report, a contract for service and a consumer notice. Home inspectors typically encourage buyers (or their real estate agent) to be at the inspection to discuss the findings in person and ask questions.

“The report is the report, but if I know (the buyer) a little, it’s much easier to explain the home in your terms,” Korr says.

Home inspection checklist

What home inspectors look for

While a professional home inspection checklist can vary, home inspectors are focused on a home’s physical components and systems — both inside and out. Knowing what your inspection does (and doesn’t) cover can help guide your next steps.

Here’s a home inspection checklist of items that your inspector will be looking for:

Exterior

  • Garages and/or carports
  • Exterior doors
  • Drainage, grading, plants and retaining walls
  • Wall coverings, flashing and trim
  • Driveways, patios and walkways
  • Balconies, decks, steps, porches and railings
  • Eaves, fascias and soffits (if visible)
  • Roof (including chimneys and other roof penetrations like skylights)
  • Downspouts and gutters

Interior

  • Doors and windows
  • Garage doors and operators
  • Installed kitchen appliances
  • Walls, floors and ceilings
  • Duct work
  • Cabinets and countertops
  • Foundation
  • Fuel burning fireplace and stoves

Plumbing

  • Water heater
  • Fixtures and faucets
  • Sump pumps
  • Sewage ejectors
  • Drain, vent and waste systems

Electrical

  • Service equipment, drops, grounding and main disconnects
  • Service cables, entrance conductors and raceways
  • Light fixtures, receptacles and power switches
  • Overcurrent protection devices
  • Circuit interrupters
  • HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), including thermostats, vents, distribution systems, access panels, insulation and vapor retarders

What home inspectors don’t look for

A home inspector generally looks for components that are readily and easily accessible. Each state’s standards may differ so check with organizations such as the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors and American Society of Home Inspectors to find out the specific requirements for your area.

The following items are typically not included on a professional home inspection checklist:

  • Rodents
  • Landscaping
  • Pests like termites and carpenter ants
  • Airborne hazards such as radon
  • Low-wattage electrical systems (alarm systems and phone lines)
  • Areas that aren’t easily accessible

Some home inspectors offer additional services, such as mold or carbon dioxide testing, but expect to pay additional fees for these specialized tests.

Who pays for a home inspection?

In most cases, you, the homebuyer, pay for the inspection at the time of service. While fees can vary depending on a home’s location, size and age, a home inspection costs an average of $300 to $450, according to Angie’s List.

Where to find a qualified home inspector

Finding a qualified home inspector can be as simple as asking your real estate agent, though it doesn’t hurt to do your own research. It’s best to find someone knowledgeable — or better yet certified — considering a home inspection is such a crucial part of the homebuying process

To find a reputable home inspector, use ASHI’s home inspector search tool or NACHI’s list of certified home inspectors. You’ll find more details about an inspector’s experience and construction background through these organizations.

Next steps

Depending on what turns up in your home inspection report, you’ll have a few options. If the home is in good condition and only requires minor fixes, you can simply move forward with the home purchase as planned.

If the report uncovers major issues, however, you’ll need to consider how serious they are and whether they’re deal breakers. For example, maybe the kitchen cabinets are showing a lot of wear and tear, so that’s something you may need to repair or replace. Assess your budget and desire to take on repairs — consider consulting a contractor or have a specialist come in to give you estimates.

It’s not possible to “fail” a home inspection, but the report could reveal major safety hazards or system failures, such as structural damage or a broken water heater, that could be expensive to fix. You can ask the seller to make repairs or negotiate on the price to account for these issues. If they refuse to budge and you have a home inspection contingency in your contract, you can walk away from the deal without penalty and get your deposit back.

Purchasing a home is probably one of the biggest life decisions you’ll ever make. Getting a professional home inspection comes with an upfront cost, but it’s worth every penny for the added peace of mind — and to avoid costly problems later.

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