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What Do Home Inspectors Look For? Here’s a List of 7 Key Things

Before going through with a home purchase, it’s necessary to invest in a home inspection — it can save you money and headaches later. Take time to understand exactly what home inspectors look for when determining a property’s overall condition, and learn how to prepare for any surprises that may turn up.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is an overall review of a home’s current condition. A certified home inspector typically examines both the interior and exterior structure of a home, along with major home systems like those for plumbing, electricity and heating. The inspector then provides a written report that includes a visual assessment, as well as recommendations for monitoring or fixing potential problems.

The goal of an inspection is “to provide a snapshot in time of the condition of the house,” said Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).

Home inspections typically take two to four hours to complete and can cost between $300 and $500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) advises scheduling a home inspection as soon as possible to allow enough time to resolve potential problems.

A home appraisal is different from the home inspection process. It’s meant to be an unbiased opinion of a home’s value and is based on factors like the condition of the home, the value of similar homes in the neighborhood and recent sales in the area.

What do home inspectors look for?

Home inspectors check several features of a home to determine its condition. Below is a rundown of what to expect from a home inspection, based on the standard of practice guidelines issued by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Use it as a home inspection checklist to feel comfortable with the process.

HVAC system

The home’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems should be functioning properly. Inspectors are tasked with:

  • Opening readily available access panels
  • Inspecting installed equipment and distribution systems
  • Describing energy sources

Electrical system

Home inspectors check:

  • Interior and exterior components of the electrical service equipment, like cables and service panels
  • Conductors and service grounding
  • Overcurrent protection devices
  • A sample of installed lighting fixtures, receptacles and switches

Plumbing system

Your inspector will access your home’s interior water supply and distribution systems like faucets and other fixtures, as well as the following:

  • Interior drain, vent and waste systems
  • Water heating equipment and systems
  • Chimneys and flues
  • Sewage ejectors, sump pumps and any related pipes

Exterior

The inspector will also examine the outside of your home, focusing on features like:

  • Balconies, decks, porches, stairs, stoops and railings
  • Driveways, entryways and patios
  • Exterior doors, eaves, fascias and soffits
  • Grading, retaining walls, surface drainage and vegetation that might affect the home’s structure
  • Wall coverings, flashing and trim

Interior

An inspection of the inside of a home typically looks at the condition of ceilings, floors and walls, as well as:

  • Countertops and a sample of the cabinets
  • Doors and windows
  • Garage doors and operators
  • Kitchen appliances, including the dishwashing machine, garbage disposal, microwave and oven
  • Railings, stairways and steps

Overall structure

Your inspector will also examine the home’s overall structure, which includes its:

  • Foundation and framing
  • Floors, wall and ceiling structure
  • Attic
  • Underfloor crawl spaces

Roofing

One of the most important things you can do is to have an inspector check your potential new home’s roof. ASHI’s standard of practice directs inspectors to examine these roof parts:

  • Roof materials
  • Flashing
  • The drainage system (gutters and downspouts)
  • Chimneys, skylights and other penetrations

5 home inspection tips for buyers

When you’re buying a home, your lender typically won’t require a home inspection, but it’s highly recommended. After all, you don’t want to invest in a home that needs more repairs than you can afford or is in a condition that negatively impacts value.

Remember the following five home inspection tips to help you get through this milestone in the homebuying process:

1. Keep in mind that home inspections are visual. “Home inspections are what you can see without tearing things up,” said Bruce Barker, ASHI’s president-elect. Your inspector can only report on what’s visible and accessible throughout the home. Before your inspection, ask for clarification on what’s included if you’re not quite sure what to expect.

2. Be sure you can afford any immediate repairs. State law may obligate a seller to disclose a home’s known problems, but a seller is not obligated to make repairs. That means it’s on you to make room in your budget to fix any issues if you’re committed to buying a particular house. If you are concerned about potential problems — as well as your ability to pay for them — include a home inspection contingency in your purchase contract that lets you walk away if the inspection reveals major issues.

3. Understand that not everything has to be repaired right away. The inspection report may include cosmetic issues, such as dents, scratches or loose hardware. If that’s the case, remember to keep these issues in perspective, and that not everything needs to be urgently fixed before closing. “A lot of first-time homebuyers believe that anything the inspector mentions has to be repaired and, of course, that’s simply not true,” Gromicko said.

4. Set aside funds for future repairs. Major appliances don’t last forever and will eventually need to be repaired or replaced. Boost your emergency fund, which should include at least three to six months’ worth of expenses, to account for costs related to your HVAC unit, plumbing and other systems.

5. Accept that your home’s condition can change soon after an inspection. Remember, the inspection describes the condition of the home only at the time it’s inspected. “Something that worked during the inspection could fail 10 minutes after the inspector leaves,” Barker said.

In other words, as a potential homeowner, it’s important to prepare for the unexpected regardless of what your inspection report turns up.

 

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