Purchasing a home is one of the biggest investments most people will make in their lifetime. Before signing on the dotted line and committing to a property, it’s crucial to have a professional home inspection performed. This will help identify any issues or needed repairs so there are no expensive surprises down the road. Here’s what you need to know about home inspections and what to expect from the process.
Overview of Home Inspections
A home inspection service is a detailed visual examination of the physical condition of a house and its systems. An inspector will assess the structure, construction, and mechanical systems of the home to identify any material defects. This includes things like the roof, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, foundation, walls, floors, windows, doors, insulation, ventilation, and more.
The inspection provides an objective, unbiased assessment of the home’s condition. While inspectors will note areas that need repair or further evaluation, they do not make any guarantees about the future performance of systems or components. The purpose is to make you aware of issues that currently exist and may affect the home’s safety, function, or integrity.
Home inspections are typically completed over 2-3 hours for a standard single-family home. The inspector will comb through the property room by room, inside and out, documenting their findings in a report. You should expect to receive the full detailed report within 24 hours of completing the inspection.
What’s Covered in a Home Inspection
While the specific components examined can vary slightly by inspector, there are general areas that should be covered in every home inspection:
Exterior: The inspector will evaluate the exterior cladding, trim, eaves, chimneys, drainage, grade, walkways, driveways, decks, patios, fences, gates, and retained walls on the property. They will look for cracks, rot, water intrusion, or other deterioration.
Roof: The age, condition, and remaining useful life of the roof will be assessed. Inspectors will look for worn or missing shingles/tiles, sagging sections, evidence of leaks, and any flashings needed around joints or penetrations.
Attic: Attic insulation levels, ventilation, and any evidence of water entry or condensation will be reviewed. The inspector will also check for any signs of pests, rodents, or animals gaining access.
Foundation/Basement: The foundation will be examined for cracks, moisture intrusion, or evidence of settling. The condition of anchor bolts, sill plates, floor joists, and support beams will be noted.
Heating & Cooling Systems: This includes the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Inspectors will test functionality and look for leaks, abnormal vibrations, corrosion, or other damage.
Plumbing: Fixtures, faucets, supply lines, drain pipes, water pressure, and water heating equipment will be checked for proper operation and leaks.
Electrical: This focuses on the service panel, wiring, outlets, switches, and light fixtures. Improper installations, exposed wires, or overloaded circuits must be corrected.
Garage: The garage door mechanism, automatic openers, and safety auto-reverse function are tested. Fire separation and entry doors are also inspected.
Interior: Inside, the inspector will evaluate walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, steps, railings, smoke & CO detectors. They’ll look for water damage, stains, or other signs of defect.
Ventilation/Insulation: Exhaust fans, kitchen and bath ventilation, and clothes dryer venting will be checked. Insulation levels in attics, walls and floors are noted.
Fireplaces: The chimney, damper, hearth, and venting are all thoroughly examined, as well as gas log lighter systems.
What an Inspection Won’t Cover
While home inspections are very thorough, there are some limitations on what’s included:
- Hidden defects: Inspectors can’t see behind walls, under insulation, or underground. Significant issues can remain undetected.
- Wear and tear: Minor scratches, stains, or cosmetic flaws are considered normal wear and tear, not defects.
- Code compliance: Ensuring all upgrades are to code is not part of the inspection. Local permits must be checked.
- Aesthetic concerns: Matters of taste, such as carpet or paint color, are subjective and not addressed.
- Maintenance needs: Routine maintenance items like dirty gutters or lightly stained ceilings are typically excluded.
- Chimney flues: Flue interiors often can’t be examined and may need a specialist.
- Pool/spa: These require a separate detailed mechanical inspection.
- Low-voltage systems: Things like TV cable, phone lines, and landscape lights usually aren’t covered.
- Equipment testing: Appliances, security systems, and leisure electronics are excluded.
- Environmental hazards: Assessing for lead paint, asbestos, radon, or mold lies beyond an inspector’s scope.
- Engineering analysis: Calculating structural loads or analyzing original construction plans falls outside standards of a normal inspection.
The inspection is limited to visual observation and operation of basic functions. For areas that require invasive testing or special expertise, the homeowner will be advised to seek out qualified specialists.
What to Expect During the Inspection
In most cases, the buyer will attend the inspection so they can see the house through the inspector’s eyes. The inspector will initially tour the exterior, then move to the interior, including the roof, attic, and any crawl spaces or basements.
You should expect the inspection to be thorough and detailed, with the inspector looking closely at each area and system. The inspector will operate doors and windows, turn on faucets, flush toilets, test outlets, run the garbage disposal, assess water pressure, and check the function of appliances.
Their job is to be methodical and nitpicky, not saying everything is fine. Expect to hear them point out any chips, cracks, stains, worn parts, leaks, operational issues, or code violations. This doesn’t necessarily mean something needs immediate repair, but any notable concerns will be brought to your attention.
The inspection will identify both major defects as well as minor flaws and recommended upgrades. Ultimately, you get to decide which items are priorities or deal-breakers when negotiating with the seller.
Don’t be surprised if small problems like stuck windows or worn roofs are noted. Older homes often have a few flaws. Focus your attention on any major safety hazards, water damage, or items needing significant expense to remedy.
Key Things to Keep in Mind
Here are some important tips to remember about home inspections:
- Inspectors work for the buyer. They don’t have any interest in protecting the seller.
- Inspectors only report on visually observable issues and current conditions. They can’t predict future problems.
- Attend the inspection whenever possible so you can see the issues firsthand.
- Ask the inspector questions during the inspection to understand what they are looking at.
- An inspection shouldn’t deter you unless major deal-breaking issues are uncovered. Most inspection reports will contain some manageable concerns.
- Use the report to request credits or repairs from the seller, but keep things in perspective. Don’t nickel-and-dime small flaws.
- Get contractor cost estimates for larger repairs to determine if requesting credits is worthwhile. For minor issues, you’ll often spend more by requesting credits than just repairing it yourself.
- Focus on safety and function, not cosmetics. Worn carpets or an old bathroom aren’t huge concerns. But water damage or faulty electrical should be addressed.
- Review the inspection report closely once received and follow-up with the inspector about anything unclear.
By understanding the inspection process and keeping these tips in mind, you’ll feel confident hiring a professional home inspector and acting on the information they provide. Don’t let small issues derail a home purchase – an inspection is meant to protect you from unforeseen costs and hazards.
Preparing for Your Inspection
You can help ensure your home inspection service goes smoothly by taking a few steps to prepare:
- Have the property accessible. Make sure all areas of the home can be accessed. Provide keys, lock combinations, garage door openers, etc. Remove any items blocking access panels, gates, or stored goods in the way.
- Have all utilities turned on. Electricity, gas, and water should be activated so the inspector can test appliances, outlets, plumbing fixtures, furnaces, etc.
- Cut back vegetation. Trim back bushes or tree limbs obstructing the exterior. Inspectors need full access to the outside of the home.
- Clean up clutter. Excess clutter makes it hard for inspectors to examine the home’s systems and structure. Remove piles of items and furniture blocking their access.
- Disclose any known issues. Inform the inspector if you are already aware of problems with the home. Don’t let them waste time documenting things you already know about.
- Keep pets out of the way. For safety, make sure pets are kept in another area of the home during the inspection. Their presence can also be distracting.
- Have repair records available. Provide any documents showing repairs, upgrades, remodels, etc. done on the home over the years.
- Be present for the inspection. Plan to attend so you can see issues firsthand and ask the inspector questions. If not possible, have your real estate agent attend.
Taking these steps allows the inspection to proceed efficiently. A little preparation goes a long way toward an effective process. Know that inspectors are accustomed to working around a lived-in environment. Just make sure they have room to access all areas.
Understanding an Inspection Report
The inspection report provides detailed documentation of the home’s condition at the time of the inspection. Expect a report to be 20-30 pages for a typical single-family home. It should include the following:
Summary: A high-level overview of the inspection findings, including any items needing immediate repair or further investigation. This summarizes the most important issues.
Evaluations: Each component of the home is addressed, including the specific details inspected and any defects noted. Photos help document major concerns.
Recommendations: The inspector will recommend repairs, improvements, or further professional evaluations they feel are warranted based on their observations.
Condition Ratings: Components may be assigned a condition rating from very good to very poor.
For example, a roof might be rated as fair, while an HVAC system could be excellent. This provides perspective on which systems are near or beyond their useful life.
Scope limitations: The report will note any areas of the home not fully inspected due to lack of access or visibility. No inspection covers everything.
Code compliance notes: While inspectors don’t verify compliance with building codes, any observations indicating the home was modified improperly will be flagged.
Health and safety notes: Any issues posing an immediate safety hazard, fall risk, fire danger, or health concern will be highlighted for priority action.
Maintenance recommendations: The report may include notes on minor repairs and general maintenance, like caulking windows or adding GFCIs. These don’t indicate major defects but are good to address.
Disclaimers: Inspectors include clauses stating they don’t guarantee systems or make any warranties about future performance or occupant safety. The report is a snapshot reflecting visible conditions only.
A home inspection report provides a detailed reference document you can turn to anytime questions arise in the future about various home components and systems. Keep the report in your permanent home records.
Using the Inspection Report
Don’t let a long list of inspection findings trip you up. Use the inspection report wisely:
- Note any immediate safety hazards. Address anything posing an imminent fire risk, electrocution issue, or other danger right away.
- Separate minor flaws from major defects. Small cracks or signs of wear are inevitable in any home. Focus on potentially expensive repairs identified.
- Get contractor estimates. For big items, talk to contractors to learn what repairs or replacements might cost. That will determine if you want to negotiate credits or lower the offer price.
- Prioritize the issues. Don’t expect every nick and scratch to be perfected. Decide what you want fixed and what you can live with.
- Use report findings in negotiations. Share serious issues with the seller and request credits equal to the repair costs. This avoids overpaying for problems you’ll immediately have to fix.
- Circle back with the inspector. Call them to discuss any aspects of the report you find confusing or need clarified.
- Keep a report handy after moving in. Refer back anytime you need information about aspects of the home. It provides a baseline to compare any changes against.
While an inspection report may seem daunting at first, it provides valuable insights that can save you from nasty and costly surprises. With a level-headed approach, you can use it to help you make an informed purchasing decision.
Why Professional Home Inspections Are Important
Given the large commitment a home purchase represents, obtaining a professional inspection is well worth the time and nominal cost involved. Here are the biggest benefits a home inspection provides:
Identifies hidden defects – Inspectors may discover issues not visible to the untrained eye, like early roof leakage, insufficient insulation, or faulty wiring. You’d otherwise have no idea about these lurking problems.
Provides negotiation leverage – Documented defects let you request repairs or credits from the seller, potentially saving you thousands. Negotiations are based on objective findings, not just subjective opinions.
Helps set repair budgets – The inspection report allows you to plan for upcoming maintenance, repairs, and system replacements before they turn into an urgent crisis.
Educates on the home’s systems – Most homeowners have limited knowledge of furnace operations, electrical capacity, or plumbing functioning. An inspection helps you understand what’s going on “under the hood”.
Provides documentation – The report creates a permanent record you can reference for all components of the home if any issues arise in the future.
Limits nasty surprises – Finding out you need a new roof or HVAC system after you move in is a terrible shock. Inspections give you advance warning of large impending costs.
Brings peace of mind – You’ll rest easy knowing you understand the home’s systems and have a plan to address any needs. Realizing you haven’t taken on unforeseen headaches is a big relief.
While no inspection is foolproof, the small upfront cost to have a professional evaluation performed can end up saving you a fortune. Don’t skip this essential step in protecting your investment!
Summary of Key Points
Choosing a professional home inspector and carefully evaluating their inspection report will give you invaluable insights. Keep these main ideas in mind:
- Home inspections help identify material defects before purchase so there are no unpleasant surprises later.
- A thorough inspection covers all major home systems – roof, structure, exterior, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, etc.
- Inspectors note observable issues but don’t make guarantees about future repairs or performance. Their role is informational.
- Cosmetic flaws and routine maintenance needs may be mentioned but are not the focus – serious safety and operational issues are.
- Use inspection findings to help negotiate credits or repairs from the seller for major defects uncovered.
- Don’t let the inspection deter you unless very serious deal-breaking problems are revealed that pose safety risks or require urgent expensive repairs.
- Keep the inspection report on file to refer back to anytime questions arise about the home’s systems and components.
Investing in an inspection provides one of the best returns on investment you’ll ever get when buying a home. Don’t skip this critical step that can potentially save you thousands down the road!