Buying a home is one of the biggest investments most people will ever make. Before signing on the dotted line and committing to a property, it’s essential to make sure you understand exactly what condition the home is in. This is where a professional home inspection services comes in.
A home inspection allows a qualified inspector to thoroughly evaluate the condition of the home. It’s an objective, unbiased assessment to identify any existing or potential problems. The inspection report serves as a critical guide to help you make an informed decision about proceeding with the purchase.
While inspections are commonly recommended, the process itself can still seem a bit mysterious, especially if you’ve never purchased a home before. This ultimate guide breaks down everything you need to know about home inspections. Read on for details on what to expect, why they matter, how to choose an inspector, what’s checked, what to look for in the report, and more.
Overview: What is a Home Inspection?
A home inspection services is a visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a house. The inspection provides a detailed evaluation of the current condition of the home.
The inspection involves an intensive top-to-bottom tour and investigation of the property. The home inspector will assess everything from the roof, plumbing, electrical systems, HVAC (heating/cooling), insulation, walls, floors, windows, and more. Cosmetic issues like stains on carpet or scratches on floors are generally excluded.
The purpose is to identify material defects, safety hazards or necessary repairs. After thoroughly evaluating the home, the inspector will compile their findings into a detailed inspection report.
As a buyer, this professional assessment equips you with an understanding of what shape the home is in. It also arms you with information to negotiate with the seller, plan for repairs, or back out of a purchase if needed.
Why are Home Inspections Important?
Home inspections serve a number of valuable purposes:
Learn about the home’s condition: An inspector will be able to point out problems that may not be obvious or readily visible. This provides insights you can’t easily detect on your own.
Make an informed decision: The inspection report allows you to make better-educated decisions about moving forward. You can use it to renegotiate the purchase price, ask the seller to address select repairs, or walk away knowing it’s the right call.
Address maintenance issues: An inspection identifies systems or components that will likely need maintenance or replacement in the near future. This allows you to budget, prioritize and plan ahead.
Reduce risk: Discovering defects only after you purchase a home can mean costly surprises. Inspections greatly limit risk and head off unexpected issues down the road. The modest upfront investment can potentially save you thousands.
Verify facts: If anything about the listing seems questionable or too good to be true, an inspection verifies the true condition. For instance, it can confirm the home does indeed have a new roof as advertised.
Satisfy mortgage requirements: Most lenders require a home inspection services to ensure the property’s value supports the loan. Reports also affirm the home meets safety standards.
Gain peace of mind: Most importantly, an inspection grants peace of mind. Knowing what shape the home is in allows you to proceed confidently with one of the largest purchases of your life.
What Does a Home Inspector Check For?
Home inspectors take a comprehensive look at the interior and exterior of the home. The inspection checklist includes a detailed analysis of.
- Roof: The roof is carefully examined to determine its age, condition, estimated remaining life, leaks, and potential problem areas. Inspectors will also evaluate related elements like gutters, downspouts, skylights and chimneys.
- Exterior: The home’s siding, trim, paint, decks, porches, windows, doors, and exterior structures are all visually assessed. Inspectors check for cracks, rot, water damage, drainage issues, etc.
- Foundation: Basements and crawl spaces are evaluated to identify structural concerns like cracks or evidence of moisture. Inspectors look at the foundation walls and floor, support beams, insulation, ventilation and more.
- Framing: Within unfinished areas, inspectors examine the wood framing for proper construction techniques, moisture damage, signs of insects, rot and other deficiencies.
- Plumbing: All accessible pipes, water supply lines, drain lines, valves, water heaters, and plumbing fixtures are checked for leaks, corrosion, improper installations, clogs, proper ventilation and more.
- Electrical: Inspectors tour the service panel, wiring, outlets, switches, junction boxes, lighting fixtures, and other components. They look for issues like inadequate capacity, unpermitted work, exposed wires, or outdated systems.
- Heating and cooling: The furnace, central air, heat pump and other HVAC systems are all turned on to test functionality and distribution. Ductwork is also examined.
- Ventilation: Kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and other spaces are checked to ensure proper exhaust fans or ventilation ducting. Proper moisture control prevents mold.
- Interiors: Inside the home, inspectors examine the walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, cabinetry, built-ins, railings, counters, sinks and more. Cosmetics are generally excluded, but major flaws or safety issues are noted.
- Garage: The garage door mechanism, automatic openers, fire separation from the home, and vehicle door functionality are reviewed.
- Pools/hot tubs: Private pools and hot tubs are evaluated to determine if equipment is in working order. Surrounding decks and enclosures are also examined.
- Safety: Inspectors keep an eye out for any safety hazards, code violations or risks that could jeopardize a home’s insurability.
The inspection aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the property so buyers have a complete picture of its current shape and condition.
What is NOT Included in a Home Inspection?
While home inspections are thorough, there are limitations to the scope. Some exclusions to note include:
Appliances: Appliances are not thoroughly inspected for functionality. However, inspectors will point out any clearly visible issues. Appliance inspection services are available to test operations.
Environmental tests: Specialized tests for radon, mold, asbestos and lead paint are not included, though inspectors will point out visible signs warranting testing.
Pests: Termite or other pest inspections require trained specialists and are not part of a standard home inspection.
Pools/hot tubs: A standard inspection won’t assess chemical composition, pumps below water, heaters, filters and similar details. Pool specialists are recommended for comprehensive reviews.
Low-visibility areas: Inspectors can only assess readily visible and readily accessible areas. They will not dismantle components or move belongings.
Building code compliance: Inspections focus on physical condition, not adherence to code at the time of construction. Separate code inspections may be required by the lender if major renovations were completed.
Cosmetics: Minor cosmetic flaws, small drywall cracks, worn carpets, faded finishes and the home’s cleanliness are generally excluded. But inspectors still evaluate operation and safety.
Future failure prediction: While an inspector may point out systems at the end of their lifespan, they can’t guarantee future failures or estimate remaining time left.
If any areas of special concern arise that fall outside the regular scope, your inspector can recommend specialists to contact for further evaluation.
What to Look for in a Home Inspector
Choosing the right home inspector is key to getting an accurate, unbiased report. Look for these qualities:
- Licensed inspector: Home inspectors should be licensed in your state, which requires meeting experience and training requirements. Licensing provides accountability along with continuing education.
- Industry membership: Many belong to professional organizations like The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) or The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) which require ongoing qualifications.
- Full-time inspector: Choose an inspector who works in the field full-time, not someone dabbling on the side. Experience inspecting hundreds of homes is ideal.
- Sample report: Ask to see a sample report so you understand the level of detail provided. Look for reports that are clearly organized, easy to understand yet thorough.
- References: Strong references from past clients help affirm quality. Verified reviews from services like Google or Yelp also provide assurances.
- No ties to transaction: An independent third-party inspector without any ties to the sale or agents ensures unbiased findings. Avoid arrangements that seem linked to selling a property.
- Expertise: Some inspectors specialize in certain structures like historic homes. Match expertise to the specific property. Generalists are ideal for typical homes.
Take time to research options and find an established local inspector you feel confident will provide an objective assessment.
When to Schedule the Home Inspection
Inspections are generally scheduled after the buyer has already visited and decided they are interested in pursuing the property. They take place after the home is under contract but before the closing.
It’s best to schedule it as soon as possible during this period to allow time to review findings, negotiate with the seller, schedule any repairs, and back out if severe issues are uncovered.
Aim for 7-10 days if allowable under contract terms. Scheduling it weeks in advance risks something occurring after the inspection but before closing that goes undetected.
Communicate the planned inspection date with real estate agents so they can notify the sellers to prepare the property and expect the visit. In most cases the sellers will not attend.
Also built in a few day’s cushion in case the initial date needs rescheduling due to weather, inspector availability, or property access issues.
How Long Will the Inspection Take?
A standard home inspection services for a typical single-family home usually requires two to three hours from start to finish. Very large custom homes can take longer while smaller condos may take less time.
During this multi-hour visit, the inspector will methodically and thoroughly examine all areas of the interior and exterior per the inspection scope. Expect them to take their time and carefully evaluate each room, structure and system.
As a buyer, you’re encouraged to attend so you can witness the inspection process yourself, ask questions, and gain first-hand insights. The sellers are generally not present.
You don’t need to plan to be on-site for the entire inspection if you can’t take that much time off work. Discuss options with your inspector such as meeting them there initially and again at the end to get reports and ask questions.
What Will I Receive After the Inspection?
After thoroughly combing through the property, the inspector will take time to analyze their findings and compile a detailed home inspection report. This written report is the official documentation that will be your guide as you determine next steps.
Expect to receive the full report within 24 hours of the completed inspection in most cases. Some inspectors can provide it immediately if they complete reports on a tablet on-site. But in other cases inspectors still rely on taking handwritten notes and typing reports at their office after assessing photos and notes.
The report should provide a room-by-room overview highlighting any recommended repairs, concerns, systems at the end of their lifespan, items needing further evaluation, and maintenance suggestions.
Sections are usually categorized by structure like roof, exterior, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc. The report also includes a summary of any critical items or safety hazards requiring immediate attention.
Photos will supplement descriptions of issues discovered. The report should be clear, comprehensive, and written using everyday terms easily understood by a typical homeowner.
If any areas were inaccessible, those should also be noted so you can revisit those areas after taking possession. The inspector can only report on what could be examined at the time.
Ideally the inspector will review the full report with you and answer any initial questions about findings so you clearly understand the implications.
What Kinds of Problems Might Be Found?
There’s no way to know exactly what will turn up in an inspection, but here are a few common issues that could be uncovered:
- Roof damage: An aged roof, curling shingles, leaks around vents or chimneys, or evidence of moisture in the attic often show up. Roofs can be expensive so this is one of the biggest concerns.
- Foundation cracks: Small cracks are common in foundations and don’t necessarily indicate a structural issue. But large active cracks could signal a potential problem to monitor.
- Plumbing leaks: The inspection often reveals leaks in supply lines, drain pipes, toilet seals, or water heater connections. Dripping faucets, showerheads and exterior hose bibs may also leak.
- Electrical issues: Faulty GFCI receptacles, open grounds, undersized panels for the home’s needs, loose wiring and outdated components like fuses can require upgrades.
- HVAC problems: Old AC units or furnaces near the end of lifespan, low refrigerant, faulty heat distribution, dirty ducts, or improper venting are common.
- Pest damage: Carpenter ants, termites, rodents or other pests can sometimes infest the framing, leaving behind damage. Further evaluation is needed.
- Moisture damage: Leaky roofs, plumbing fixtures, broken windows and other sources can cause moisture damage like mold, peeling paint or rotting wood if left untreated.
- Major safety hazards: Any issue posing an immediate safety risk like exposed electrical, propane leaks, fire hazards, or critical structural failures requires urgent attention.
An inspector will also point out things functioning properly but nearing the end of usefulness, like an older furnace or water heater. Their professional eye can spot underlying issues not visible to the average homeowner.
What if Problems are Found?
It’s very common for an inspection to reveal at least some flaws, maintenance needs or concerns. Only the seller’s disclosure and inspection reports provide a true picture of a home’s condition.
If issues surface, don’t panic. Consider the following options:
- Ask sellers to repair: Based on findings, you can request sellers address certain items discovered before closing. Be reasonable and strategic in requests.
- Negotiate concession: Ask for a closing credit to allocate towards priority repairs or replacements yourself after taking ownership.
- Adjust offer price: Factor repair estimates into negotiations to adjust the price downward accordingly.
- Walk away: If critical and expensive issues emerge that you aren’t prepared to take on, you can exercise your right to terminate the contract.
- Accept issues: If defects are minor, you can move forward as-is prepared to address concerns yourself when needed.
Work with your real estate agent to determine the best recourse based on inspection results. They can also provide approximate costs for common repairs.
The inspection report serves as an important tool as you explore options and negotiate the best path forward with eyes wide open.
Can the Sellers Make Repairs Before Closing?
Making repairs is always at the seller’s discretion, but you can request they address inspection findings prior to closing. Most purchase contracts include an inspection contingency clause allowing you to ask for certain repairs.
Which repairs to request depends on factors like:
- Severity: Priority issues threatening the safety, structure or function of the home take precedence. Hold off on minor cosmetic fixes.
- Cost: Smaller inexpensive repairs have a higher likelihood of being approved compared to 5-figure foundation work for instance.
- Lifespan remaining: Items at the end of their useful life that will need replacement soon regardless are lower priority asks. You may be better off receiving a closing credit.
Present your repair requests professionally and politely, understanding sellers are likely to push back on big-ticket items. Provide quotes from licensed contractors to justify your requests and be prepared to negotiate.
If you feel strongly about significant repairs being completed upfront, make that a condition of moving forward. If sellers refuse and you aren’t comfortable with the property’s existing shape, you can exercise your right to void the contract.
Should I Attend the Inspection?
Attending the inspection provides first-hand insights you can’t gain from just reading the report. By observing the inspection process, you also know what areas were accessible and in what conditions (furnished, cluttered, etc).
Accompanying the inspector allows you to:
- Ask questions on the spot and clarify anything concerning
- Hear concerns voiced in real-time versus reading dry reports later
- Develop a mental list of items needing attention
- Spot areas that may require closer re-examination later
- Point out anything missed by the inspector
- Gain home maintenance tips from the expert during the visit
- Review main findings with the inspector immediately after while on-site
If your schedule prohibits attending the full inspection, aim to at least be present for the overview at the start and final recap at completion.
Should I Hire Multiple Inspectors?
A single thorough inspection from a qualified general home inspector provides comprehensive coverage of all major systems and components from roof to foundation. This delivers an understanding of the property’s overall condition.
However, if the general inspection reveals issues requiring follow-up assessments, calling in additional specialists makes sense. For example, if there are signs of termites, hire a licensed pest control operator. If the chimney has cracks, consult a masonry pro.
As a buyer, you also have the option to hire specialized inspectors from the start to provide additional focus in key areas:
- Roof inspector: Dedicated analysis beyond a generalist’s basic evaluation, looking at individual shingles, flashings, venting, etc. Helpful for older roofs.
- Plumbing inspection: More extensive testing of water flow, drain function, pipe integrity and fixtures than typical inspections.
- HVAC inspection: Beyond basic operation checks, includes heat/cooling capacity, duct integrity, refrigerant levels and other in-depth systems analysis.
- Electrical inspection: Looking at conduit, wiring gauges, load capacity and accurately identifying any code violations.
These specialty inspections require an extra fee but might provide greater insights for key components beyond what a generalist covers. Consider your budget, risk tolerance and the home’s specifics when deciding.