When you’re buying a house, it’s easy to jump into an exciting sale. You think you’ve found the perfect place and the price is right; why hesitate?
Even if the home looks nice on the surface, there may be major problems lurking where you can’t see them. There could be foundation problems, plumbing issues, and even serious damage that the sellers aren’t aware of (or that they’re trying to hide)
Keep reading to learn all about what the home inspection process looks like and why it’s worth it.
How to Hire a Home Inspector
Sometimes a good real estate agent will recommend a top-notch home inspector for you to make the process easier. That said, not all real estate agents have your best interests in mind. After all, they want the sale to move quickly.
Research, the agent that they suggest, and don’t be afraid to look for your own. You can start by looking at the American Society of Home Inspectors to find several in your area.
Look into each inspector’s training and experience, and don’t be afraid to ask for a sample inspection. Let them know about your goals and determine whether or not their availability works for you.
How Much is a Home Inspection?
Home inspection costs vary. The national average is $358 at the moment, but the cost will vary depending on where you live and the size of the home. You may pay as much as $600.
You can ask for estimates before committing to a home inspector. Feel free to ask several different inspectors so you can find one within your budget.
How Long Does a Home Inspection Take?
As with the cost, the duration of a home inspection varies depending on the size of your home and whether or not the inspector is noticing significant issues with the home. If they see surface-level problems, they may look deeper (which will take longer). On average, an inspection takes three hours.
Even if you get frustrated with how long the professional home inspector is taking to do their job, keep in mind that you don’t want them to cut corners.
Should Buyers attend Home Inspections?
There are several schools of thought on whether or not a home buyer should accompany the inspector while they’re working. We think that buyers have the right to attend inspections, and they should do so if possible.
Not all inspectors are comfortable with this, but this is a red flag. A good home inspector knows that many buyers prefer to tag along.
It’s helpful to know what problems the inspector is seeing to identify them on your own. The inspection also teaches you how the home operates and what future issues you can look out for. Also, when you tag along, you know that you can trust the results from the inspection because you’ve seen them with your own eyes.
Home Inspection vs. Home Appraisal
Many first-time buyers may not know the difference between a home inspection and a home appraisal. After all, they both look at the condition of the home, right?
While this is true, there are some differences that you should keep in mind.
An inspection focuses on the property (and mostly the condition of the home). It aims to identify significant or worrying issues and focuses on the negatives rather than the positives.
A quality home inspection is thorough, while an appraisal tends to be more general. The inspector will cover every square inch of the home (even the roof!) to make sure they get a full scope of its condition.
An appraiser takes a general look at the home to determine its value. They’ll take the inspection into account, but they also want to look at the general area, the size of the lot, and the age of the home (among other things).
In the simplest terms, an inspector looks at the property’s condition while the appraiser looks at the value.
What a Home Inspection Covers: Exterior
You might be wondering what your appraiser will be up to while they’re nosing around the exterior of your future home. They’re looking for several potential issues that could cause problems in the future. Here are a few of them.
Foundation and Structure
One of the most important things that your home inspector is going to look at is the home’s overall structure (including the foundation).
The foundation is the lowest part of your home. It supports the rest of the structure, but it’s subject to damage because it bears so much weight. Foundation problems can lead to uneven floors, flooding, cracks in the walls, and other serious issues that will be expensive for you to fix in the future.
The inspector also wants to look at the overall structure of the home. Structural issues are often the most expensive problems for homeowners. They can include fire damage, water damage, or even the results of wood-destroying termites.
These things aren’t often visible to the average person, especially if sellers try to cover them.
The home inspector will go up onto the roof to make sure there are no serious issues. Many homes get roof replacements before they’re sold, but older roofs can have problems.
These problems aren’t expensive to fix (unless they require a full re-roofing), but they will turn into expensive problems when left unchecked.
Your inspector will look for leaks, holes, missing shingles, and damage from storms, debris, or animals. If you have an attic, they may inspect from the inside to see if they notice any problems in there.
Roofs also often have damage around the chimney.
If your new home has a garage, you’re lucky! Protected parking is a huge selling point when you’re purchasing a home. That said, garages can also have damage.
Your inspector may make sure that the door is in good mechanical condition and that there are no holes in the garage’s roof. They’ll check for the same structural damage as they would for the rest of the home, and they’ll look for cracks in the floors.
What a Home Inspection Covers: Interior
So now that your inspector is done with the outside inspection, what happens when they’re inside? Why are they looking up-close at things that you may not have otherwise noticed? What problems are they looking for?
Let’s find out.
Plumbing (Bathrooms and Kitchens)
The last thing that you want is a serious plumbing problem in a new house. Many sellers like to pretend that their plumbing is fine when in reality, they have leaks, creaky pipes, and rust.
Your inspector will look at all of the faucets, run the water on each bath, shower, sink, and toilet, and listen to all the pipes for potential problems.
They’ll look for any signs of leaks or water damage. Is there mold underneath the cabinets? Are tiles coming up around the toilet or bathtub?
These are all things that you need to know before you move into your new home.
Next, they want to look for electrical problems. They’re going to check every light switch, check the generator, look at the circuit board, and even look at individual wires.
They want to make sure that everything is working, there are no missing or broken wires (that can become fire hazards), and there are no unusual or misplaced wires.
Heating and Air Conditioning
Your HVAC system is crucial. It helps keep you cool during the summer and keep you warm during the winter. If it’s not in good condition, you’ll be in for a nasty surprise.
Your inspector will look for clogged coils, problems with ductwork, and overall poorly managed or maintained HVAC systems. These are often easy fixes, but they’re ones that the sellers can cover, so you don’t have to.
Many new homes have brand new appliances to make them more appealing. If you’re buying a home with old ones, though, you need an inspector.
Old appliances come with problems. Old ovens with faulty wiring can cause fires. Gas stoves can release dangerous carbon monoxide.
Your inspector can note these things and determine whether or not it’s important for the seller to replace them (or offer you money to do so).
Finally, your home inspector will look at the safety items within your home. These include any built-in burglar alarms (as well as safety features that can prevent break-ins), your locks, your fire alarms, and your carbon monoxide detectors.
While these things are, again, easy to fix, you need to know about any issues before you move in. Many new homeowners don’t think to check their safety devices after buying their homes.
What’s Not Covered in an Inspection?
So with all of that in mind, what don’t home inspectors look for?
There are plenty of minor problems that inspectors don’t bother themselves with. You can ask about them while you’re going through the inspection, and they may offer suggestions, but they won’t affect the value of your home.
These things include minor chips or scuffs in the paint or floors, pests (unless they’ve already caused damage), and swimming pool issues (unless they relate to plumbing).
Sometimes you need specialists (and a home inspector can let you know if you ask). Not all home inspectors can identify deadly mold, lead paint, or asbestos. They may not look at air quality.
These things are still important, so consider having a specialist visit your home for a supplementary inspection.
Next Steps After a Home Inspection
So you’ve completed the inspection. Now, what do you do with this information?
Your real estate agent will walk you through this next step of the home buying process, but here’s a quick rundown to prepare you.
You’ll take the information from the home inspector and bring it to the buyer (or the real estate agent). Often, real estate agents handle this part of the process, but it varies.
If the home is already up to your standards, the process ends here.
If you have significant issues to address, you can talk to the seller to begin negotiations. They may already have the results from their own inspection that contradict yours, so prepare for this potentiality.
Making a Counteroffer
If you’ve decided that the home isn’t worth the agreed-upon price anymore, make a counteroffer. This part of the buyer and seller negotiation process can be tense, but most of the time, sellers are willing to adjust the price or pay for repairs if it means you’ll commit to buying.
Calculate the cost of repairs for your home and base your counteroffer on that number. Keep in mind that they may also counter your counteroffer, and this process can go back and forth.
Withdrawing Purchase Offer
If you’re not satisfied with the results of the negotiation, you can withdraw your offer. It’s difficult to give up your dream home, but there’s no reason to buy a home that has significant problems if it’s overpriced.
Sometimes the threat of withdrawal is enough to get the sellers to accept your ideal price.
Is The Price of Inspection Worth The Cost?
Make no mistakes: the price of a home inspection is worth the cost.
As we mentioned, a home inspection costs hundreds of dollars. On top of all of the other fees and closing costs associated with buying a home, this might seem excessive. That said, if you’re already paying several hundred thousand for a home, what’s a few hundred more?
A home inspection can save you thousands of dollars in repairs in the future. A few hundred dollars is nothing in comparison.
Advantages vs. Disadvantages
There are very few disadvantages to getting a home inspection.
If a seller decides that the inspection results are inaccurate and they aren’t willing to lower their price, you can lose the home. That said, you’re losing a home with enough damage that it requires a lower price.
You also need to keep in mind that inspectors can still miss problems which may give you a false sense of security.
On the upside, though, you’ll save so much money by investing in a home inspection. You can catch problems before they impact you, and you can have peace of mind before moving in.
What is a Seller’s Disclosure Form?
A seller’s disclosure form is there to protect and inform buyers. Sellers need to disclose any potential downsides about the home they’re aware of so buyers can make informed decisions about their purchase.
Disclosers include (among others)
- A death in the home
- Water or fire damage
- Recent serious repairs
- Local nuisances
- HOA information
Learn more about seller’s disclosure forms here to make sure that you get an accurate form while you’re going through the buying process.
Home Inspection Contingency Pros and Cons
When you include a home inspection contingency, it means that you have the right to withdraw your offer if the home inspection results aren’t up to your standards.
Overall, this is a positive thing. It means that you’re under no contractual obligation to buy the home or pay any penalties if you withdraw within a specific timeframe.
Some sellers may reject this contingency (which is the only con). In this case, though, it likely means that there are problems within the home, so it’s not a loss.
Home Inspection Frequently Asked Questions
This is a lot to think about, so we’ve broken down a few frequently asked questions that you can use as a quick guide. Some may have been addressed earlier on, but this is a good reference for when you’re finalizing your buying process.
1. What If I Can’t Accompany The Home Inspector?
Between work, school, and other responsibilities, it’s not abnormal for buyers to be unable to attend inspections. While it’s ideal to accompany the home inspector, it isn’t necessary.
As long as you vet your inspectors and trust them, you shouldn’t feel worried about missing the inspection. Ensure that you ask for specific problems and ask their opinions on what they would do in your position. If possible, ask for pictures.
2. Can Licensed Home Inspectors Fix My Problems?
Inspectors are not there to fix the problems inside the house. They can note them, and they may offer ideas for how to fix them (or suggestions for local contractors), but they won’t make the fixes themselves. You’ll need to hire someone else.
3. What If The Home Inspector Is a Contractor?
This is tricky. Some home inspectors do contract work on the side. If this is the case, are they able to fix your home for you?
This is a conflict of interest, so most of the time, it isn’t acceptable. If you have an untrustworthy inspector, they may report more problems than they can fix, even if the problems aren’t noteworthy.
Offering to fix your problems goes against their code of ethics. Again, though, they may suggest a contractor that can help you.
4. Are Home Inspections Ever Perfect?
Unless you’re buying a brand new home, it’s unlikely that there will be no flaws at all (and even new homes often have small defects). This doesn’t mean that the flaws will change the selling price.
Even if you think a home is perfect, it’s helpful to get an inspection just in case.
5. What Major Problems Should a Seller Fix from a Home Inspection?
So you’ve found some issues in the new home. What is the seller responsible for?
A seller doesn’t have to fix anything, but if the sale is on the line, they should provide monetary help for several serious issues (or hire contractors to fix them before the transaction).
Things like structural damage, serious electrical issues, infestations, and HVAC problems may impact financing options for the home. These things need to be repaired before the buyer can close on the home one way or another.
6. What If The Home Inspector Misses Something during an inspection?
Home inspectors aren’t perfect. Even the most experienced inspector can miss things despite their thorough inspections. You’ve already bought the house, so now what?
Some qualified inspectors offer a buy-back guarantee through their association. Ask your inspector whether or not this applies to them.
If this is the case, you have 90 days to contact the inspector and let them know about the problem. Their association may be able to pay you the full price of the home if you list it with a licensed real estate agent.
This doesn’t apply to problems that occur after the sale, and not all people will qualify for this. Again, ask the inspector first. They won’t be offended.
7. When Does The Home Inspection Usually Happen?
With all of this information in mind, when should you start the inspection process?
Most of the time, inspections happen after you’ve committed to buying the home but before the closing date. This gives your inspector enough time to find and report any serious problems during the real estate transaction.
In rare cases, inspections happen after the closing date. This is a riskier move, and it’s crucial that you try to get the inspection within a few days of the closing date.
Home Inspections: They’re Always Worth It
A home inspection is the difference between wasting thousands of dollars and getting a fair price on your home. You want to detect any major problems before the sale so you can move in with the peace of mind that you’re ready to start your new life worry-free.
Never neglect the importance of a qualified home inspector.
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