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What Do Home Inspectors Look For?

How Does a Home Inspection Work?

The last line of defense that a potential buyer has is a home inspection. This is your opportunity to find any potential problems the house may have before you buy it. This is also where you can negotiate the sale price if there are any issues found.

This article will help prepare you for inspection day, as both a buyer and seller. Read on to learn more about what inspectors look for and what happens if any issues are found.

What Is a Home Inspection?

If you are buying a home, the inspection is the last opportunity you will have to find any potential issues with the house. This is also the time that you can negotiate for the seller to pay for the issues, fix them, or lower the purchase price.

If a buyer has a home inspection contingency in their purchase agreement, they can back out of a sale or renegotiate the sale price if the home inspection finds anything serious. A common provision in the home purchase contract is the inspection contingency. This will give buyers a chance to find any serious issues and resolve them before they close.

From a seller’s point of view, you may be interested in what an inspector will look for. To get prepared for an inspection here are some things inspectors typically look at:

  • Home inspections can take anywhere from two to four hours. The time is dependent on the size of the home. 
  • The most important things inspectors will look at are the roof, HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems, foundation, and structural components. 
  • After the inspection, it may take a couple of days for the inspector to send the written report. 
  • It’s recommended that buyers attend the inspection so they can learn more details about their potential home, and are allowed to ask the inspector questions during the inspection. It can provide you with more details about the home than you may find on the inspection report. 

It’s common to have a list of things listed on your report that need to be fixed. These issues tend to be minor things that are easy to fix. You should look for any major issues or severe problems that could be deal breakers. If the inspection does bring back any serious issues, you can always talk to your real estate agent about how to move forward. 

Some Common Things Inspectors Look For

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) gives a list of what a certified home inspector will look for: 

  • Heating system
  • Interior plumbing and electrical
  • Central air conditioning system
  • Walls
  • Attic, including insulation
  • Roof and gutters
  • Floors
  • Ceilings 
  • Structural components
  • Basement
  • Foundation
  • Doors and windows 

There is no need to worry, the inspector will not start tearing your house apart looking for issues. If they can access the interior and exterior parts of the house, their report will be more detailed. 

Which Party Is Responsible for the Inspection?

The home inspection is usually paid for by the home buyer. You can negotiate when you make an offer that the seller pays. There are also certain situations where the seller can get their own inspection before listing this house. This will let sellers fix any issues before listing and lets potential buyers know the house has already been inspected.

Experts recommend that you do not accept an inspection that has a report paid for by the seller. You should always choose your own inspector who is knowledgeable about homes and has no ties to the seller or the seller’s realtor. 

So, Are Home Inspections Expensive?

Forbes recently published a nationwide average that buyers can expect to pay for inspections. They estimate that the average cost is $340, but can range from $200 to $500. Other factors will impact the cost of your inspection. 

One of the biggest factors for the cost of a home inspection is the home size. Because inspectors charge based on the size of your home, the cost will increase for bigger homes. The location of the house also factors into the inspection cost. 

Not every state requires home inspectors to be licensed, so make sure you pick an inspector that is not only experienced, but also qualified. 

Are There Any Follow-up Costs?

If a home inspection brings up some serious issues, the buyer may want to hire a professional in that area. These specialists would deal with:

  • Mold
  • Asbestos
  • Lead paint or pipes
  • Radon
  • Termites 
  • Water Damage
  • Other health hazards 

When looking at an older house one of the biggest concerns is asbestos and lead. These materials were commonly used during the construction of older homes. You can also pay for further inspection of the sewer lines and plumbing system by an inspection that uses a camera service. 

While all of these services listed above will be at an extra expense to the buyer, some inspectors will throw in some extra testing for free. You can commonly find home inspectors that will do radon testing and have great referrals for asbestos testing. 

Does It Take Long to Get a Home Inspection?

It will generally take an inspector between two and four hours to complete their inspection. This could take longer if they find any alarming issues. Some factors that can cause the inspection to take longer are:

  • Home size
  • Number of issues
  • How thorough the inspector is
  • How helpful was the seller when preparing for an inspection

Can Buyers Attend the Inspection?

Very few inspectors will have an issue with the buyer coming along. It’s recommended that you do attend the inspection. This will give you the chance to further explore your new home and ask your inspector important questions. 

In-person, your inspector will be able to give you more details than they could in their report. You would also be able to ask how impactful the issues are. 

During an Inspection What Should Sellers Do?

It is beneficial to the seller to make sure the inspector has quick and easy access to everything on the home inspection checklist. Some ways you can help do this are:

  • Leave any important keys where the inspector can find them. 
  • Even in the summer, make sure any pilot lights are on for furnaces or fireplaces. This will allow the inspector to check the heating and other appliances. 
  • Clean up the basement. The inspector should have an unobstructed path to get to the water heater/HVAC unit/ furnace or anything else they need to see. 
  • Clean up the attic the same way that you did the basement. 
  • If any utilities have been shut off, have them reconnected.
  • Make sure the inspector can easily access the septic tank, drainage access, and any crawl spaces. 

Making sure these steps are followed will not only allow the inspector to get done faster, it’s also considerate. 

Can Sellers Make Repairs Before the Inspection?

Having a home inspection checklist is very valuable when selling your property. You can find any potential issues in advance if you know what an inspector is looking for. Even for new construction, it’s rare to see an inspection report free of any issues. You may have already negotiated over known issues and adjusted the price. 

Doing some quick and inexpensive fixes can help shorten the list of issues the report will show. A shorter list will increase your chances of having a quick and smooth closing. It’s generally a good idea for sellers to make whatever repairs they can before the inspection. 

How to Get a Great Report on Your Home Inspection

It’s easy to judge a book by its cover. Inspectors will often associate a good-smelling, clean home with owners who take care of their property. Starting on a good note can never hurt. Keep in mind, while all of this is great, a good-smelling candle will not offset any major home issues. 

More than likely your house is still prepared from when you were showing it and it’s in near-perfect condition. It’s still important that you look for defects. Fix any shingles that maybe have fallen off or a window that is cracked. It’s a good idea to look at getting your HVAC serviced.

While small things are great to fix at this stage, major remodels or projects are not ideal during the inspection. Every small mark on the report is cause for the buyer to try to get the purchase price lowered. 

What Happens After the Inspection?

The home-buying process should continue as expected if there were no major problems identified during the home inspection. You can still choose to give the seller or their realtor a list of minor issues to fix. 

It will shorten your to-do list when you move in if the sellers replace a missing doorstop, fix a leaky faucet, or fix the gutters. After the repairs are completed, you are allowed to do your own walk-through to make sure the issues were all properly fixed. 

Serious Issues on a Home Inspection

If the home inspection brought back serious issues, you have a major decision to make. Are you still going to buy the home?

If you still want to buy, you need to consider:

  • Additional inspections- Home inspectors are usually not specialists, and you should contact one. A structural engineer would be a great choice for determining the severity of damage and the costs to fix it. 
  • Negotiating- As a condition of buying the home you will need to request repairs. A seller can agree to lower the purchase price if you buy the home in the condition that it’s in. You can also negotiate for them to fix the problems before closing. It is all up to what the buyer and seller work out. 
  • Follow up- If major repairs were needed like water diversion or foundation issues, get the expert who identified the issue to come back and inspect. You want to make sure that the repair work is legitimate and is not a quick fix. 

Home Inspection as a Home Improvement Guide

Home inspectors are a very important part of making sure you’re purchasing a solid home. They also provide important information that is valuable after closing. You should keep your home inspection report and use it as a guide on what you may need to fix in the future. 

Let’s say the inspector noted the HVAC system was 17 years old and had an inefficient blower. You will know that you need to start budgeting for a new one. If the inspection showed your roof is nearly 10 years old, you can use the information to start budgeting for a newer roof. 

The home inspection can also come in handy when buying a home warranty on the systems in your home. Some warranties will let you choose the level of protection you want. If the inspection showed some systems were more vulnerable, you will know they would be the most important to cover. 

What Should I Do if My Inspection Shows Multiple Issues?

Because there is no such thing as a perfect home, most reports can list dozens of defects. Even newer construction can still show crazy amounts of defects. It’s important not to worry about the number of problems listed, but the severity of the problems. 

Most issues listed are easy fixes like loose doorknobs, loose baseboards, missing doorstops, and blown light bulbs. While these can be a pain to deal with, they are usually cheap and easy to fix.

However, some issues can be serious and place the purchase in jeopardy. If there are any problems with the structure of the home, lead pipes, improper installation of the furnace or water heater, or other safety issues, these can be major issues. 

It’s best to talk with your home inspector and real estate agent about the best way to move forward. Depending on how serious the issues are, it may be best to walk away. Other issues can be negotiated for the seller to fix or lower the price. 

Home Appraisal vs. Home Inspection

A home appraisal is needed by mortgage lenders to determine the value of the home you are buying. The appraisal is a routine part of the home buying process, like looking at your credit or debt-to-income ratio. 

An appraisal is there to determine the value of the home, not the condition that it’s in. Appraisals deal more with the home’s size, location, and overall condition. The appraisal will not get as involved as an inspector. They won’t crawl around your attic or basement; they will do a quick look over. 

An inspector’s job is to find any issues, no matter how major. They will spend hours looking at how well your major appliances and system work and address the foundation’s condition. While home inspections are not always required, it’s recommended that you always get one. A home may seem great, but underlying issues can be hidden away. 


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