You’ve found a home you love. It checks every box on your must-have list. And you’re ready to make an offer and close as quickly as you can — no matter what it takes.
Not so fast. You’d be skipping over a critical step in the homebuying process: the home inspection.
Why do I need a home inspection?
A home is a big investment and probably the largest purchase you’ll make in your lifetime. With so much on the line, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into, down to every last detail.
The fact is, the seller knows a lot more about your future home than you do. And they’re aiming to get the highest price for their house. That might mean withholding some minor — or major — information about the home’s history or all the projects piling up on the home improvement list.
A home inspection puts you on a level playing field. You get a detailed list of everything that’s in good shape and that needs to be addressed in the short-term and years down the line. You can use this information to negotiate a better price or concessions from the seller to make improvements before you move in.
Is a home inspection required?
The good news is that most real estate agents encourage a home inspection as part of the homebuying process. As your representative, they want to give you a clear picture of the property so that you’re a happy customer and not surprised by unexpected expenses after you take ownership.
But a home inspection is not always a requirement.
Some types of mortgages or lenders may require a home inspection as a condition of your loan. Others only present it as an option and the onus is on you to hire a home inspector. Almost all will require a home appraisal. But that’s an assessment of a home’s market value — not to be confused with a proper inspection into the health and safety of the house.
Whether a home inspection is required or not, it’s always in your best interest to have it done before you sign the papers.
What do home inspectors look for?
In short, home inspectors are looking for problems. They evaluate the house, top to bottom, inside and out, to identify everything that’s in working condition or in need of repair.
Home Inspection Checklist
Home inspectors typically walk through a house with a checklist, marking off what they’ve evaluated and making notes along the way. They are all thorough, but no inspector is flawless and no checklist is comprehensive. So don’t expect every single inch of the house to be inspected and all issues to be uncovered.
You can expect a home inspector to prioritize the areas that most directly impact the condition — and price — of a home:
- Water damage – Water flows to the lowest spot and will find its way into any crevice. A home inspector will look for signs of water leakage in the foundation or basement, moisture, mold and more severe signs of water damage.
- Structural integrity – Both water and weather can damage a home’s structure. An evaluation of the interior and exterior structure can find cracks, uneven floors, gaps in windows and doors and other signs that the structure has shifted or weakened.
- Roofing – A strong roof protects a home and its structure from water and weather damage. An inspector will climb on your roof for a closer look to find any leaks, moisture, gaps, soft spots or deterioration of the shingles.
- Electrical system – Electrical issues are a leading cause of home fires. An inspector will check the outlets, switches, breakers and fuses to ensure it’s all installed properly and presents little fire risk.
- Plumbing – Minor leaks and rust may be masking major plumbing problems. Setting up a home inspection helps find the source of these issues as well as simple fixes like a leaky faucet or running toilet.
- Insect or pest problems – There are a variety of wood-destroying insects that feast on homes, like termites and carpenter ants, but other insects can cause frustrating infestations. A quality inspection will discover not only damage or obvious infestations, but also the cracks and gaps you can fix to prevent pest problems later on.
- HVAC system – Much of a home’s comfort hangs on the health of its heating and cooling system. A home inspector looks it over to make sure it’s working correctly, has been properly maintained and doesn’t show signs of damage or breakdown.
Building Code Violations
A good home inspector will also call out which parts of the home are not up to code. There could be a number of reasons why part of your home is in violation of home building codes. The house could have been built years ago and not updated to modern standards. A contractor or DIYer may have cut corners or incorrectly completed a home improvement project.
Home code violations are often unintentional. They vary from city to city and aren’t always the easiest to understand. A quality home inspection can turn up these code violations and make you aware of the potential problems and costs they may cause. It might be worn wiring that poses a fire hazard or old windows that no longer meet safety standards.
Often, it’s something that poses no imminent danger and can simply be added to your to-do list down the road. You might even get a little money back from the seller to make the needed improvements.
How do I find a home inspector?
You can trust your real estate agent to line you up with a home inspector. They may have a set of trusted inspectors they use regularly that you can choose from.
However, you don’t have to go with who your agent recommends — especially if you don’t have an established, trusting relationship with your agent. Your agent is incented to close the deal and that may be at odds with you getting a thorough home inspection.
You can choose a home inspector on your own and by your own criteria. Begin by talking to friends, family and neighbors who have recently switched homes. Their experiences — good and bad — can provide a good list to start. Maybe they even have a copy of their home inspections so you can see the quality of the report for yourself.
Expand on the list with the help of a professional organization like the American Society of Home Inspectors or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. These organizations help train and certify inspectors, so you know names on their lists have the certification to back up their skills. You can ask these professionals for report samples as well.
A home inspection is a critical piece of the homebuying process, so you don’t want to leave the job up to chance. A quality inspection from an experienced professional will give you knowledge you would not otherwise have about your new home — and the ability to act in your best interests before you close the deal.