A home inspection sets both buyers and sellers on edge. It may feel like the buyer has the upper hand, but everyone involved is eager for this part of the sale to go well and understand its value in the process. In fact, 90% of homeowners believe that home inspections aren’t a luxury but a necessity, according to a poll from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Realizing that each side ultimately wants the same thing—and that you can work together toward closing a deal—should set all parties more at ease. Start with these 7 home inspection tips for buyers that offer hidden lessons for sellers, too.
Tip #1: Make the inspection official by writing it in as a contract contingency.
It’s not enough to tell the seller of a house verbally that you plan to get the house inspected before closing. You’ll need to work with your agent to make sure it’s written into the contract as a contingency clause. The inspection contingency clause in particular allows a buyer to stipulate that they have a certain amount of time (typically within 10 days) to inspect the property after both parties sign the purchase offer. This gives the buyer the chance to back out of the deal and get their earnest money back if they can’t come to an agreement on repair negotiations.
In the event that you’re buying the house from a friend or relative—or trying to compete in a hot market with fierce buyer competition—you might be tempted to waive the inspection. This can be a serious mistake. Even if a seller isn’t deliberately hiding something, some maintenance issues aren’t apparent to an untrained eye. It is important you potential expenses upfront, before making such a big financial investment.
Tip #2: Resolving items that are on an inspection report is just a normal part of the home buying process.
Realize that, as in any negotiations, you probably won’t get everything you want. There is always a give and take. Additionally, there are often some unexpected items which are discovered by the home inspector, so be mentally prepared for that and don’t panic. There is almost always a solution for each potential item.
- Listen to your agent’s advice. Your agent has experience and knows what is considered “normal” in your area. They help resolve issues every day. They are experts.
- Prioritize what matters most to you and focus your energy on addressing those items. It’s not realistic to expect the seller to do everything listed on a home inspection report.
- Realize that not everything has to be “fixed”. Some items can simply be accepted as is. There is a difference between items which should be fixed and items that could be improved.
- Understand that no home is perfect, so we encourage you not to walk away from a good home just because the inspection may have revealed some flaws.
Tip #3: Realize that no home is perfect. Even new construction homes!
It is important to keep things in perspective. You can still be in love with a home and realize that each home has imperfections and will need work. There are very few “deal killers” and the small things that get blown our of proportion tend to not matter weeks or months later.
- A Minor Defect or Maintenance Item is an item in need of a simple inexpensive repair, or maintenance, but there is no urgent need to do anything. The buyer usually does not ask the seller to address minor defects or maintenance items.
- A Defect or Recommendation is an item which is improper or not working as intended. The client is usually encouraged to make a repair or correction.
- A Safety Hazard or Major Concern is an item, that the inspector believes, has a major impact on the value or safety of the home. The client is strongly encouraged to have all material defects, further evaluated and / or repaired, by a qualified professional.
Material defects are usually handled before closing. It’s important to understand that an inspection report is NOT a mandatory list of repairs. Neither you nor the seller is required to do anything recommended on the inspection report. The main purpose of the inspection report is to describe the true condition of the home. From there it is completely up to you to decide what is important to correct / repair and what items, if any, you will ask the seller to address.
Tip #4: Attend the inspection and be prepared!
Carefully read the sellers disclosure form and find out as much information as possible in advance. Any items of concern can be evaluated and focused on during the inspection.
Prepare a list of any general questions you would like to ask concerning the home’s condition or future maintenance, and make sure to tell the inspector about anything you are especially concerned about, so he can address those items during the inspection.
A typical inspection takes between 3 – 4 hours, your inspector or agent will confirm the exact time based on the details of the home. Plan on at least one hour at the end for a walkthrough and to review findings with the inspector. If it is not possible for you to be on-site, find out if your inspector can conduct a video walkthrough for you. This can be especially helpful for out of state buyers.
The complete inspection report will be e-mailed to you, usually the same day or within 24 hours. If you were not able to attend the inspection feel free to call the inspector with questions or concerns about anything in the report.
Tip #5: Now's your chance to get specialty inspections too!
Although home inspectors are trained and certified to assess several parts of a home, they also can specialize in more detailed reviews focusing on individual components. If they don’t have the right expertise themselves, general inspectors might refer the buyer to specialty inspectors who can more accurately assess components such as the home’s foundation or signs of termites. These types of specialty inspections are an additional fee.
Depending on where you live, radon inspections are a common one for home buyers to get. This colorless, odorless gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in rock, soil, and water, so any home can have a radon problem, the EPA says. However, people tend to think of radon testing more readily in homes that use well water or that have basements.
Other specialty inspections include termite or pest inspections, swimming pool inspections, well testing and sewer scopes where they insert a special camera into the sewer line underground to make sure the pipe is functional.
Additionally, an inspector may discover something during the inspection that could use the benefit of further testing or evaluation. If there is visual evidence of apparent mold, for example indoor air quality testing or mold sampling for lab analysis and further investigation might be advised.
Additional inspections done before you purchase a property can prevent major surprises or problems later on. It is much cheaper to pay for an inspection before you buy, than it is to pay for a repair after you’re in the home.
A general home inspection is a visual, noninvasive inspection, which typically includes the following parts of a home.
- Roof – Some inspectors start with the roof, which includes the roof coverings (type and condition of shingles), gutters, downspouts, vents, flashings, skylights, chimney and other roof penetrations.
- Exterior – One of the first things that an inspector does is inspect the exterior structure of the home, including the siding, eaves, soffits, fascia, windows, doors, trim, walkways, driveways, porches, decks, drainage and other basic structural elements of the house, to ensure that they are free of major issues.
- Basement, Foundation, Crawlspace & Structure – An important part of the home inspection covers the foundation, basement and crawlspace. The important part here is differentiating major structural signs versus typical settling and hairline cracks.
- Plumbing – Understanding the functionality and location of the main water and fuel shut-offs is very important. You’ll also learn about your water heater, operation of toilets, sinks, tubs, showers, drain, waste & vent systems, and sump pumps.
- Electrical – Another critical area that includes service drops, conductors, mast, electrical meter and panels, grounding and bonding, testing a representative number of switches, lighting fixtures and receptacles (AFCI & GFCI), and the presence of smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors.
Electrical systems will be checked, too. Fuse boxes and circuit breakers are tested, as are light switches, power outlets, and other electrical systems.
- Heating/Cooling Elements – The inspector will inspect the heating and cooling systems, using normal operating controls and describe the location of the thermostat, energy source and heating/cooling method.
- Fireplace – If applicable, the inspector will check readily accessible portions of fireplaces & chimneys, lintels, damper doors, and clean out doors and frames.
- Attic, Insulation & Ventilation – Making sure the home has sufficient insulation and ventilation can save problems down the road.
- Doors, Windows & Interior – Checking a representative number of doors and windows, floors, walls and ceilings, stairways, railings, and the garage door and openers is all important since it’s the areas where you’ll spend the most time!
A home inspection is primarily for the structural, mechanical, and safety related components of the home at the time of the inspection. You should not rely on the home inspector to report defects in cosmetic items, such as floor coverings, paint, and decorative trim. Inspectors are trained to look for function, structure, and safety. Cosmetic conditions are inherently subjective; therefore, it is the buyer’s responsibility to evaluate cosmetic conditions and decide what is acceptable to them.
Not all home inspection companies are the same, and it’s not even remotely close to the same. There is an enormous variation of skill, knowledge, and professionalism in the industry. A bad home inspector can cause a lot of problems, so do your homework.
- Does the inspector have the proper experience and training? Do they have insurance?
- How thorough are they? Do they go on the roof, or just look from the ground? How about the attic and the crawl space?
- Will they go over the inspection with you on site and take time to answer your questions?
- What guarantees does the inspector provide. Great companies stand behind their work.
- A well written report delivered quickly really helps the transaction proceed smoothly. Ask for a sample report and make sure it’s easy to read and not a 100-page PDF filled with jargon.
- Not all home inspections are equal and as a result they don’t all cost the same. Don’t make the mistake of hiring a company based on price alone. Look at the total value, not just the price. Some companies are just better, and they provide more to the buyer. I really doubt when you started looking for a home you said, “I just want the cheapest home on the market.”
- Look at the reviews online of any company you are considering and see how other customers who have used that company feel after the inspection.