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Home Inspection Guide: Everything You Need to Know

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Inspections are designed to protect homebuyers from both physical danger and financial emergencies. In an inspection, a professional views the home from top to bottom, giving results and recommendations. Homebuyers can ask the sellers to fix any problems that were discovered before the closing date or reduce the home’s price. Here’s everything to know about home inspections.

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What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a professional evaluation of a property’s entire physical structure, from the foundation to the rooftop. Its purpose is to discover anything that needs repairs or replacement so that you as a prospective owner and your mortgage lender are both aware of issues that could impact the home’s value.

You typically want to arrange for an inspection as soon as your offer has been accepted or before you finalize building plans. The earlier you discover any problems, the more time you have to fix them.

How much does a home inspection cost?

A home inspection can cost anywhere $300 to $1,000, largely depending on the home’s location and how much square footage the inspector must review. The price of a purchase home inspection is typically included in the mortgage closing costs the homebuyer pays.

Home inspection vs. home appraisal

An inspection looks at the structural health of the home, whereas an appraisal gives a firm estimate of the home’s value. Here’s more on the differences between a real estate inspection versus appraisal.

How long does a home inspection take?

A home inspection on a single-family property typically takes two to four hours and it can take one to two days for you to receive the inspection report, which will include all of the findings — complete with photos — and recommendations.

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) encourages homebuyers to attend the inspection. This way you can ask the inspector questions, see the process and learn about the big investment you’re about to make.

What do home inspectors look for?

Home inspectors look for signs of current or potential problems in the home, particularly with parts of the home that would be expensive to repair. Things they check for include cracks in the foundation, leaks in the roof and any issues with structural systems, including heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing.

What if a home inspector finds something wrong?

Anything that requires a repair or replacement will be noted in the inspection report. As the buyer, you can ask the seller to cover the costs and have the work done before you close on the house and move in. If the seller doesn’t agree, you have a few options.

  • You can ask for them to issue a credit for the estimated cost of repairs so that you can schedule contractors or do the work yourself.
  • You can walk away from the deal and not purchase the home.
  • You can decide that it’s worth it to buy the home anyway and cover the repairs yourself.

What are home inspectors not allowed to do?

ASHI inspectors aren’t allowed to have conflicts of interest — such as compensating real estate agents for business referrals or inspecting a property in which they have a financial stake. They aren’t allowed to act in bad faith and knowingly over or understate the conditions of the home.

They may be limited in what advice they can provide — they aren’t required to give engineering or architectural services. Inspectors also won’t take risks during an inspection, such as walking on a super steep roof or entering a locked area.

Home inspection checklist

What is and isn’t included can vary depending on the property. In general, these are the areas ASHI lists in their standards of practice:

  • Structural: Foundation, floor, wall, ceiling, roof
  • Exterior: Wall coverings, exterior doors, decks, balconies, porches, eaves, retaining walls, walkways, driveways, grading, surface drainage
  • Interior: Steps, cabinets, doors, windows, installed appliances, including microwaves, dishwashers and food waste grinders
  • Systematic: Basic plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling; and the insulation and ventilation of areas including the attic, foundation, kitchen, bathroom and laundry

What isn’t included in the inspector’s report?

ASHI lists the following categories as excluded from an inspection report:

  • Exterior features attached to the house: Screening, shutters, awnings, seawalls, break-walls
  • Recreational facilities: Swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball courts, docks
  • Exterior features distanced from the house: Fences, boundary walls, landscaping, geological and soil conditions
  • Specialty testing for: Asbestos, radon gas, lead paint, toxic mold and pests
  • Interior features: Paint, wallpaper, floor coverings, window treatments, certain appliance functions, including household appliance venting equipment

How to find a home inspector

Ask for references from friends, family and your real estate agent. Check out customer reviews on their website and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Depending on where you live, inspectors may not need to be licensed. If they are licensed, look them up with your state or county licensing agency.

Frequently asked questions

Do new homes need a new inspection?

Yes — even if all the major components are covered by a home warranty. After all, a home inspector is an unbiased party, and the inspection protects your investment.

Should I get a home warranty instead of an inspection?

No. Home warranties don’t always cover all of a home’s components and they don’t assess your home’s current condition. Plus, there are trip charges.

Is a home inspection needed for my loan?

No. However, your home inspection could indicate repairs that a home appraiser may require, especially if you’re using a government-insured loan to buy the home. Government lending guidelines have minimum property standards that must be met. If you negotiate for repairs to be done as part of your purchase agreement, the lender could request a copy of the inspection report for review, and require an additional appraisal inspection to confirm the work has been completed before funding the loan.

Can you fail a home inspection?

No. Home inspections aren’t designed to assess a pass-or-fail grade on a home. Ultimately, a prospective buyer has to decide if the issues revealed are worth negotiating with the seller to fix, or if it’s better to walk away from the transaction.

What repairs are mandatory after a home inspection?

It’s up to the buyer and seller to decide how to handle the issues flagged in an inspection report. Sellers can refuse to repair some or all of the issues discovered in a home inspection. That’s why including an inspection contingency is so important — you can cancel the contract and get your earnest deposit back if a seller won’t budge on repairs.

 

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