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Home inspections are a key part of the homebuying process. You’ll need to find a qualified professional to inspect the interior and exterior of the property in detail to determine if there are serious structural issues, hazards or worn-out systems. Although in the current hot real estate market more buyers are skipping inspections, they do so at their own peril.
The inspection may find a “deal-breaker” problem, so it’s important to review the seller’s disclosure statement and add a home inspection contingency to your purchase offer. Inspections provide you with an expert’s view of the property and help you make an informed decision on the purchase.
A home inspection is conducted by a certified home inspection professional who visits 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, or that could cost the new homeowner big dollars down the road.
Home inspections are not intended to find every possible defect. Rather, inspections identify safety issues and major problems that require significant repairs. The results of an inspection can help you decide whether to complete your purchase or ask for repairs or a credit for repairs.
It’s crucial to know what your home inspector is looking for. Doing some homework ahead of time will help you understand the home inspection report so you assess the home’s condition and what issues, if any, to address.
A home inspection can take two or three hours or longer depending on the size of the property and any out buildings. Home inspectors will provide a written report, a contract for service and a consumer notice. They typically encourage buyers (or their real estate agent) to be at the inspection to discuss the findings in person and ask questions. It’s best to attend the inspection yourself, if possible.
Who pays for a home inspection and how much does it cost?
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.
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.
Items your inspector will look at:
- Exterior siding
- 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
- Crawl space
- Sump pump
- Above floor
- Soffit vents
- End louvers
- Insulation and ventilation
- Electrical splices
- Exhaust ducts
- Visible plumbing under sink
- Exhaust fan vents
- Shut-off valves
- Built-in appliances
- Visible plumbing under sink
- Any and all fixtures
- Shower head
- Shower caulking
- Exhaust fan
- Doors and windows
- Garage doors and operators
- Installed kitchen appliances
- Walls, floors and ceilings
- Cabinets and countertops
- Fuel burning fireplace and stoves
- Water heater
- Fixtures and faucets
- Sump pumps
- Sewage ejectors
- Drain, vent and waste systems
- 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
- Water heater
- Air conditioning
What home inspectors don’t look for
A home inspector generally examines 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 infestation
- 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.
- Find the right inspector: Connect with your real estate agent or do your own research to find someone who is highly knowledgeable, ideally someone who is certified.
- Identify potential deal breakers: Consider what defects would make it impossible for you to complete the purchase. These could include mold, lead-based paint, or structural problems.
- Ask for a home inspection contingency. This will allow you to walk away from the deal if the inspection reveals major issues, particularly if the seller is unwilling to address the problem.
- Review seller’s disclosures beforehand. Study the seller’s disclosure to make yourself aware of any issues that could potentially diminish the value of your property.
The bottom line
Home inspections are an intensive process that will yield detailed information about the quality and safety of the property you’ve agreed to purchase. It’s important to bear in mind that the results of an inspection shouldn’t be the only determinant of whether to purchase the home, and you should expect to have some issues to be addressed no matter what. Ultimately, the time and effort you spend coordinating the inspection will pay dividends by helping you to make the best decision possible.