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Don’t let your dream home become a nightmare. Before you seal the deal on your home purchase, do yourself a favor and get a home inspection done. It’s one of the best ways to avoid moving into a house that will require unexpected expensive repairs.
What Is a Home Inspection?
A home inspection – which is a service provided by a professional home inspector – is like a checkup for a house. It details what condition the house is in before you buy it.
The inspector performs a top-to-bottom examination of a home’s interior and exterior, pointing out any major defects or areas that may require repair. Most home buyers order a home inspection right after their offer is accepted.
A house doesn’t have to look like a “before” picture on a home remodeling show for something to be wrong with it. Home inspectors look past the pretty photos and savvy staging to uncover what’s behind the curtain.
How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?
Inspections cost you money now – but may help you save a lot more money later on.
In general, a home inspection will usually cost around $300 – $500, but its final cost will be based on several factors, including the size, age and location of the home. In fact, you may end up paying even more if you bring in a specialist to tell you how much any repairs will cost.
If you’re a first-time home buyer scraping together money for a down payment, closing costs and other expenses, you might be tempted to save a few hundred dollars and skip the home inspection. But is it worth saving a few hundred now to (potentially) spend thousands later over a repair or defect that could have been pointed out during a home inspection?
Repairs can eat up a lot of money. It’s estimated that one out of every 20 homes needs over $5,000 in repairs. What if the house you want is one of the 20?
What’s in a Home Inspection Report?
Although every home inspection report is slightly different, you can expect almost every report to include sections like the evaluation of a home’s major systems. A home inspection will typically include a review of the:
- HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning)
- Electrical wiring
- General exterior (foundation, structure, etc.)
- The roof’s remaining life span
Once you’ve received your inspection report, you’ll decide which findings need to be addressed. Some inspectors choose to include every detail – including missing light bulbs – in a report. Remember, the major issues highlighted by an inspector are important to address and are the reason why an inspection is a valuable part of the home buying process.
What’s Not Covered in a Home Inspection?
Although a home inspection can be fairly comprehensive, it’s not exhaustive and doesn’t cover every aspect of the home. For those other areas, it may be prudent to order a specialized inspection. A standard home inspection usually doesn’t cover:
- Inside pipes
- Inside walls
- Inside chimneys
- Hazardous materials, mold and toxins
- Code violations
What About Specialized Home Inspections?
Home inspectors with specialized training can inspect for:
If an inspector specializes in any of these, you should expect to pay more.
A good home inspector will let you know if they spot something suspicious and will likely recommend that you hire a specialist to take a closer look.
What requires a specialized inspection?
A specialized inspection is usually only necessary when there is a major issue that could pose a threat to someone’s health or safety. Specialized inspections are typically much more common in older homes, which are more likely to contain hazards like lead-based paint, faulty electrical wiring or have foundation issues.
Consider a specialized inspection for:
- Radon gas: Radon is an invisible, odorless radioactive gas found in soil. Homes with basements should always be tested for radon.
- Old or leaky roofs: If the seller doesn’t know when the roof was last replaced, you may want to hire a roofing specialist to conduct a thorough inspection of the roof’s condition.
- Lead-based paint: Lead-based paint can pose a serious threat to health. The federal government banned lead-based paint in 1978. But if you’re buying a pre-1978 home, a special inspection may be worthwhile.
- Rodents and other pests: Rodents and pests can carry diseases and will gnaw on everything from a fresh loaf of bread in your kitchen to the electrical wiring in your basement. If you see little droppings around the house or any evidence of chewing, a special inspection may be in order.
- Termites or other wood-destroying pests: Tiny but mighty, the termite is the bane of every homeowner’s existence. Termites can wreak havoc on a home’s structural integrity, making a specialized termite inspection a must for many home buyers. If you see a series of little holes in any wood – particularly wood that’s in contact with the ground – you may want to schedule a termite inspection.
- Electrical wiring: An inspector will review a home’s electrical systems, but if you’re buying an older home, there may be older wiring that could pose a fire hazard. Consider a specialized electrical inspection if you have any doubts about a home’s electrical wiring.
- Asbestos: Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can become a serious problem when it’s disturbed. A specialized asbestos inspection is usually only necessary on homes built before 1989.
- Mold and spores: Mold and other spores can become more than a stinky nuisance – they are a hazard to human health. A specialized mold inspection can determine if you need remediation, which are any processes used to remove mold from a home.
- Water quality: A simple water quality inspection can tell you how safe your water is, providing peace of mind every time you turn on a faucet. If the home you are buying is on a well, check your local government for well-water tests. Many provide them free of charge to residents.
- Septic tank: Septic tanks should be inspected annually to ensure they’re functioning properly.The last thing you want to be stuck with is the stench of a busted septic tank. Trust us – this is one inspection that’s worth the money, especially if the seller doesn’t have a recent inspection report.
- Underground oil tanks: Underground oil tanks fell out of favor in the 1980s, but some properties are still home to these buried containers. Underground oil tanks can quietly leak toxic chemicals into soil and local water sources, harming surrounding areas and homes.
Where Can I Find a Home Inspection Checklist?
Our home inspection checklist is a quick rundown of what home inspectors typically look at. Of course, an inspector’s checklist will be much more detailed – which is what you’re paying them for!
Home inspection checklist
Nice curb appeal, but it’s time for a close-up.
- Chimney: Is the chimney’s structure straight and free of cracks?
- Doors: Do they have working locks and weather stripping?
- Driveway and sidewalks: Are there cracks, crumbling concrete or edges you could trip over?
- Exterior walls: Is there peeling paint, staining, lead paint, cracking or rotting siding?
- Foundation: Is it straight and stable? Is any water getting through it?
- Drainage: Does the ground slope far enough away from the house to prevent water damage?
- Garage or carport: Is it structurally sound? Does the garage door work well?
- Gutters: Do they drain water properly? Are they attached to the house?
- Roof: Are there any holes, bad repair jobs or signs the roof is getting old?
- Windows: Do they open and close? Is there rotted wood around them? Do they have locks?
Sometimes beauty is only skin-deep.
- Attic: Is there any evidence of roof leakage? Is it insulated and well ventilated?
- Appliances: Do appliances like the fridge and oven work?
- Bathroom: Are there any leaks? Is the water pressure good? Does the exhaust fan do its job?
- Basement or crawl space: Are there any moisture or ventilation issues?
- Electrical: Do the plugs and switches work? Are there signs of fire, shock or burn hazards?
- HVAC: How old (and efficient) are the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems?
- Garage: What’s the fire-safety rating of the walls between the garage and the house?
- Kitchen: Do the garbage disposal, exhaust fan, dishwasher drain, etc. work?
- Laundry room: Are there any signs of water leakage? Is the dryer properly ventilated?
- Plumbing: Do all the faucets, toilets, showerheads, etc. function well? Are they leak-free?
- Smoke detectors: Are they working and placed where they should be?
- Water heater: How old is it? Does it work? Is it safely installed and secured?
Nope, not our job
Inspectors usually don’t inspect:
- Floors underneath carpeting
- Inside water pipes
- Inside chimneys
- Spaces in between walls
- Swimming pool equipment
- Lawns, trees, bushes, gardens – or garden gnomes
- Design choices made by the previous owners
How Do You Find a Home Inspector?
Where should you start looking for a certified home inspector? Well, you can start by asking your real estate agent if they’re comfortable recommending anyone.
You can also try the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors®. Use their websites to filter for specialties. On the ASHI website, you can even filter for inspectors by language. Maybe you need an inspector who knows American Sign Language, specializes in FHA loans and tests for mold.
Pro tip: The ASHI site has a home maintenance checklist to help homeowners keep their homes in good shape. Why is that important? Well, maybe someday a buyer might be inspecting YOUR home.
When Should You Schedule a Home Inspection?
Most people order the home inspection during the due diligence period, which is the period after you sign a purchase contract. During that time, you can back out of the deal penalty-free if the inspection finds something that conflicts with one of your contingencies.
Home inspections usually take around 2 – 3 hours for a single-family home because the inspector has to test, evaluate and document the condition of the house. Try to be there for the entire inspection. The inspector can answer your questions in real time as they walk you through the good, the bad and the (potentially) freaky.
You can – and should – be there for an inspection. But be forewarned: It’s like binge-watching a house. So maybe bring a snack and some water.
If you tell your inspector you want to be there, and their response is, “Yeahhh … no,” seriously consider hiring a different inspector.
What Happens After a Home Inspection?
Your inspector should email you a PDF of the home inspection report within 1 – 2 days.
The report should include photos and descriptions of any problem areas, along with thoughts about what needs to be repaired or replaced – and how urgent it is.
As a home buyer, you can use the inspection to help you decide your next move:
- If the defects or required repairs are adding up to an expensive hassle, you can step away from the purchase offer and look for a different house.
- If you still want the house, negotiate with the seller to fix the most important problems. The seller can either give you a cash credit at closing so you can fix the problems or the seller can reduce the home’s purchase price.
- If you really want the house but the seller won’t negotiate on repairs, figure out which repairs need to be made first – and start saving.
Knowing what inspectors will look for before you get an inspection will help you become a savvier home shopper.
Get It Inspected for Peace of Mind
When you’re spending tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars to buy a home, you might be tempted to knock off a few hundred where you can. That’s not unreasonable. But are you willing to sacrifice your significant investment in a home to save now, but potentially pay dearly later?
Worst case scenario? An inspection saves you from buying a home with major defects, and you restart the home shopping process. Best case scenario? You spend a few hundred dollars and buy yourself some much-deserved peace of mind.
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The Short Version
- Most home buyers order a home inspection right after their offer is accepted
- Home inspections usually take around 2 – 3 hours for a single-family home because the inspector has to test, evaluate and document the condition of the house
- Inspections cost you money now – but may help you save a lot more money later on
Department of Housing and Urban Development. “TEN IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HOME INSPECTOR.” Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/sfh/insp/inspfaq
PolicyMap. “The Real Cost of Home Repairs.” Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.policymap.com/solutions/housing-quality