What to Know About Home Inspections

Home inspections are a very common {and very important} part of the process of buying a house. The inspection helps a buyer make an informed decision before finalizing the purchase of one of their greatest assets.

what to know about home inspections

What is a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is a thorough visual examination and evaluation of the condition of a residential property. It’s performed by a licensed professional home inspector. It is usually conducted when buying or selling a house or before making significant renovations or repairs.

When Does a Home Inspection Take Place?

When buying a house, a home inspection takes place during the option period. This is the time period purchased by the buyer to do their due diligence on the house. I advise my clients to book the inspection as soon as possible once we’re under contract so there’s lots of time to review the inspection report and negotiate repairs. Last minute negotiations before the option period ends are never ideal.

Do You Need a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is not required when purchasing a home but it is in a buyer’s best interest to get one unless they know the house will be torn down or fully renovated … and even then it might be a good idea to do an inspection so the buyer knows exactly what they are purchasing.

An inspection is really the best way to find out about large problems like foundation issues, roof problems, plumbing problems, or pest damage. Some issues in a home stick out like a sore thumb but there are all kinds of problems that aren’t obvious during a regular walkthrough.

During the crazy post-pandemic market, we saw all kinds of terms being offered on properties, including no option period and no inspection. Home buyers were trying to do anything they could to win in a bidding war. Except in very specific situations, I don’t recommend skipping the option period. However, it’s important to know that even if you skip the option period you can still get an inspection done. You no longer have the unrestricted right to terminate the contract but an inspection will give you clarity on the property.

Home inspections aren’t just for buyers. For some sellers, getting a prelisting home inspection before putting a property on the market is a smart idea. The seller can get ahead of issues before the house is under contract. Nothing scares a buyer more than a long list of problems on an inspection report.

What Do Home Inspections Include?

During a home inspection, the inspector looks at the systems, components, and structural elements of the property to identify any issues, defects, or safety concerns. This typically includes:

  • structural components: the inspector checks the foundation, walls, roof, attic, floors, and other structural elements for signs of damage, deterioration, or structural instability.
  • exterior features: the inspector examines the exterior of the house, including the siding, windows, doors, chimney, gutters, and drainage systems, to assess their condition and identify any potential problems like wood rot or holes that might lead to pest or moisture intrusion.
  • interior features: the inspector inspects the interior spaces, such as rooms, ceilings, walls, floors, staircases, and railings, to look for issues like disrepair, water damage, leaks, or signs of pests.
  • plumbing system: the inspector assesses the plumbing system, including pipes, fixtures, faucets, water heater, and sewage systems, to ensure they are functioning properly and to detect any leaks or plumbing issues.
  • electrical system: the inspector checks the electrical system, including the main panel, wiring, outlets, switches, and fixtures, to verify compliance with safety codes and identify any electrical problems or fire hazards.
  • heating, ventilation, and air conditioning {HVAC} system: the inspector evaluates the HVAC system, including the furnace, air conditioning, ductwork, and ventilation, to ensure proper functioning and identify any maintenance or safety issues.
  • appliances and fixtures: the inspector tests the operation of appliances, such as the stove, and dishwasher, and also checks the condition of bathroom fixtures, faucets, and toilets.
  • attic and insulation: the inspector examines the attic space and insulation to assess their condition and evaluate if there is adequate insulation for energy efficiency.

In addition to a standard home inspection, you may also want to get a pool inspection or an inspection of the sprinkler system. And if issues are identified, like foundation or roof, you can get further evaluations done by trained professionals during the option period.

How Long Does a Home Inspection Take?

A home inspection usually takes three or four hours, depending on the size of the home and any additional inspections {sprinkler, wood destroying insects} that have been added.

How Do I Find an Inspector?

Because I work with buyers and home inspectors regularly, I can always recommend a few inspectors to my clients but a buyer can use any inspector they want. Looking at online reviews or asking friends who they’ve used can help narrow the choices down.

Can I Attend the Home Inspection?

If possible, it’s a great idea for a buyer and/or real estate agent to attend the inspection although most inspectors don’t recommend being present for the entire inspection since it slows them down and may be distracting. Showing up at the end of the inspection gives the buyer an opportunity to discuss any potential issues that were flagged during the inspection, and to get clarity on the home. Buyers will be presented with a full inspection report but having a conversation about some of the items often helps buyers understand whether the items on the report are a true issue or whether they just need a little more investigation.

How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?

Home inspections typically cost $350-500 with additional fees added for things like sprinkler system and wood destroying insect inspections.

How to Interpret the Home Inspection Report

As I mentioned above, talking to the inspector is important because it will give a buyer a better feel for the overall status of a house beyond just the black and white words on the report. In any home, especially an older home, you should expect that there will be a number of items on the report and it’s important to correctly assess what’s going on. Are these items of deferred maintenance that show a lack of care for the home or are they small issues expected in an older home? Are they items that have to be noted because they no longer meet current code {but may not be an actual problem}? Or are these safety items that have to be addressed?

It’s important to sift through the report and figure out what’s actually an issue now rather than what could be an issue in the future. For example, a seller is not going to replace a functioning air conditioning unit just because it’s getting near the end of its life. On the other hand, if the air conditioning unit and the water heater are both near end of life, a buyer may consider whether the house is a good investment or not. At a minimum, the buyer should be budgeting for these items to be replaced down the road, and although we won’t get them replaced by the seller, maybe we can ask the seller to pay for a home warranty that will buy a little time and peace of mind.

Rather than finalizing a buyer’s thoughts on a house, the inspection may also lead to further investigation. The inspector may note signs of a suspected foundation issue or roof issues and it may be wise to have those assessed further by a qualified contractor.

Regardless of what the report entails, perspective is key and it’s important to look at the whole picture.

What Happens After a Home Inspection?

If there are serious concerns about the home, buyers can weigh whether or not to continue with the transaction. Sometimes the lender will not approve a loan with major issues, and insurance companies may deny coverage in certain circumstances. Once buyers have the information they need about the house, the option period is the time to negotiate repairs or price adjustments with the seller or to make an informed decision about the property’s condition.

The home inspection is one of the biggest hurdles in the home buying process but a good agent will bring clarity to the process and help you make the best decisions for your situation.

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