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- Home inspections provide important insight into a home's condition, including current and potential problems.
- Inspectors examine a home's main systems (such as HVAC, electrical and plumbing), as well as the roof, foundation and other key areas.
- Inspections are not mandatory, but they cost just a few hundred dollars and provide extremely valuable information for homebuyers.
While another expense might seem like the last thing you want when you’re buying a house, most real estate professionals recommend commissioning a professional home inspection to get a better idea of what condition the property is in, and what problems might be lurking.
An inspection is a crucial way to gather information before finalizing a home purchase, which might well be the largest financial investment you’ll ever make. It’s worth paying a small amount of money for an inspection now to potentially save you substantial money — and headaches — in the future.
Here’s what you should know about the cost of home inspections, what they entail and why you should resist the temptation to skip this important step in the homebuying process.
What’s the average cost of a home inspection?
Home inspection costs vary by geographic location. The average price tag across the country is $342, according to data from Angi, though you could spend as little as $192 or as much as $500 — or even more — depending on where you live. Homebuyers in New York City, for instance, pay an average of $450, while those in Detroit pay around $300.
Money tip: The average cost of a home inspection is $342 — a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind about your home's condition.
Additional factors that impact inspection costs include a home’s size and age. The fee for a large home of more than 2,000 square feet averages around $400, while less than 1,000 square feet might cost just $200. In some cases, a home inspector may charge a flat rate for homes up to a certain size and increase the fee incrementally for larger homes. In older homes, where the wiring and plumbing may require a more thorough inspection to ensure everything is up to code, inspectors may charge a higher fee.
Other factors that affect an inspection cost are how unusual the home is and how far the inspector has to travel to get there. In addition, inspectors with more experience may charge more than those with less.
Do you need a home inspection?
Some homebuyers may be tempted to waive the inspection to make their offers stand out from the competition, or just to save time or money. That’s typically a bad idea: A home inspection can help you avoid potentially expensive surprises, like structural flaws or hidden damage. While not required by law, buyers can greatly benefit from having a professional give the property a thorough examination.
In most states, sellers are legally required to disclose fundamental problems with the property. But that’s just disclosing what they already know about; they aren’t required to go digging for other potential problems. A home inspector, however, does just that.
“A home does not have a ‘check engine’ light,” says Frank Lesh, a retired LaGrange, Illinois–based home inspector and ambassador for the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). “Things may be wrong that the homeowner or purchaser are honestly unaware of.”
How long does a home inspection take?
It depends on the size of the home, and the extent of the problems found, but a home inspection typically takes three or four hours. It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with an inspector soon after signing a purchase and sale agreement, so you’ll have the report before the termination option period expires.
It’s best to attend the inspection, so you can observe and ask questions or provide information to the inspector. Within a day or two, you can expect to receive a written inspection report on the condition of the home’s structures and systems, often with photos of any problems the inspector may have seen.
What does a home inspection include?
Your home inspector should do a thorough visual examination of the important structures and systems of the property. The process generally includes a review of the major systems in a home such as the heating, central air, plumbing and structural components. An inspector may also inspect appliances that will be included with the home sale, as well as any general safety hazards. Here are some of the major things an inspector is looking at:
Checking for water damage
Signs of water inside the structure would be one of the biggest concerns. “Water in the wrong place may cause a house to become unlivable. A water leak could cause mold to grow and wood to rot,” Lesh says. “A slow roof leak may take years to become obvious to the homeowner, whereas a storm may cause a sudden leak that anyone can see.” Inspectors can tell you whether there are signs of previous leaks.
Reporting on the roof condition
Home inspectors will evaluate the condition of the roof and check for any leaks. “It doesn’t matter whether the roof is good or bad — there is no incentive for the inspector to find a problem, or not,” Lesh says. “It is against the ASHI code of ethics to do repairs on anything we inspect, so we only report what we see.”
Inspecting electrical systems
Many electrical problems can be easy and inexpensive to fix if discovered in time. “However, an inexpensive repair may be deadly if not taken care of immediately,” Lesh says.
For example, a malfunctioning ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) only costs $25 or less, so many people think it’s hardly worth reporting on. But electrical shock could occur if a GFCI is not installed, or if it’s not working. Home inspectors will check every accessible GFCI to make sure it’s operating properly.
According to ASHI, a complete home inspection report should also cover these areas:
- Heating and air conditioning systems
- Visible insulation
- Walls, ceilings and floors
- Windows and doors
- Basement and structural components
What special inspections might be needed?
If an inspector discovers any alarming findings they don’t have expertise in, they may recommend specialists to provide more insight. These special inspections will be an added cost and can include experts in things like septic systems, wells, radon, asbestos, lead paint, termites or soil and geological conditions.
In addition to the examples above, a structural engineer or foundation specialist might be recommended to further assess a foundation problem, for example. The specialist can provide quotes and recommendations on how to fix the issue — the cost of specialists’ assessments varies widely by field and by company.
New-construction homes also require a special inspection. The time and cost of this will be comparable to an existing-home inspection: Depending on the size of the house, the process could take between two to four hours, and the inspector will review everything from the foundation, walls and windows to the home’s major systems. The average cost for this type of inspection is about $350, per Angi.
How to choose the right home inspector
Whether you hire a home inspector recommended by your real estate agent or one you find on your own, ask for proof of state certification or membership in industry groups, such as ASHI, the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI) or the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). It’s also a good idea to find a professional who has plenty of experience.
You can also ask to see a sample report to get an idea of how thorough each inspector is. A sample report that indicates a more thorough inspection might justify an inspector’s higher price.
The answers you get from asking around will give you a range to determine what you should pay. The best way to discern whether an inspector is charging you a fair price is to see what other inspectors in your area are charging for homes like the one you want to buy. You may be able to shop online — some inspectors publish their fees on their websites.
Yes, a home inspection is an important part of the homebuying process. It provides you with a clear picture of the condition of a home and alerts you to any problems, so that you know exactly what you’re getting into. Paying a relatively small fee now can save you very expensive headaches later.
In most cases, the homebuyer pays for the inspection.
Though they may sound similar, a home inspection and a home appraisal are not the same thing. A home inspection analyzes the home for potential safety or structural issues. The purpose of a home appraisal, which is also conducted by a licensed professional, is to determine what the home is worth — it’s an objective review of a home that’s focused on determining its fair market value.