It's no secret, the home buying process can be a difficult and stressful time.
Often, the most challenging part of the entire buying process is the home inspection. At Spectora we see thousands of home inspection reports a month and hear from buyers just like you. These are the most important things we have learned from dealing with home inspectors, real estate agents and homebuyers.
We hope this information can help you navigate the process of the home inspection with confidence, and help you successfully complete the purchase of your new home.
Understand what is and what is not included in a home inspection.
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.
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 homes 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.
Have enough time scheduled so that neither you nor the inspector is rushed. A typical inspection takes between 3 – 4 hours. If you cannot attend the entire inspection, plan on at least one hour at the end, to review findings with the inspector.
Your inspector should review the inspection summary with you on site. 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 any question or concerns about anything in the report.
The 3 – 4-hour inspection window is typically the longest single period of time you will spend in the home prior to closing. You can use this valuable time to plan furniture placement or window coverings or anything else which may be important to you. You may want to bring a pen and paper for taking notes, a tape measure, or even a camera. You might consider bringing some snacks and water.
Consider additional inspection types when appropriate.
You are encouraged to think about any items, or special features in the home, which should also be inspected prior to closing, such as a sprinkler system or a swimming pool. Septic systems can be very expensive to repair or replace and if present, should be inspected before purchasing a home.
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.
Be considerate of the seller's home and property.
Remember you are a guest in someone else’s home. Homeowners often feel anxious and uncomfortable about the home inspection and we want to make things as smooth and comfortable for them as possible.
- Treat everything in the home with respect.
- Leave everything in the home the way you found it.
- Don’t speak negatively about the home, or the home owners. Things that are said often have an amazing way of getting back to people.
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.
You will most likely need to negotiate with the seller after the inspection.
Resolving items on the inspection report is just a normal part of the home buying process today.
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.
Hire the right home inspection company!
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. In fact, sometimes I think a buyer may be better off not having the home inspected at all rather than hiring a bad inspector, so do your homework.
- Make sure that the Inspector is licensed. This is the most basic qualification, and something you should check, but just because an inspector is licensed does not mean they are qualified.
- 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.
Hat tip to Apple Tree Inspections in Greenville, South Carolina for contributing to this article!