Before purchasing a property, you should order a home inspection. The home inspection report will include:
- Interior of the home
- The exterior of the home including windows
- The structure of the home; foundation, walls, roofing, attic, and ceilings
- Systems in the house like plumbing, cooling, heating, and electrical
Any defective systems will need to be repaired or replaced.
What Is the Purpose of a Home Inspection?
According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), home inspections are a visual examination of the physical structure of the home and its systems from the roof of the home down to the foundation.
You should keep in mind that home inspections are visual. Any issues that are visible, more often than not, will usually lead to bigger problems that are hidden. These issues are typically highlighted in the report to warrant further investigation.
A home inspector will not bring a sledgehammer to a house and start knocking down walls to check the drywall and insulation. They also won’t dig around your foundation to check for issues. They will check the systems and assess the things they can easily see and access.
You should make sure the owner has reconnected any systems that are important for the inspection. For example, if all the utilities have been shut off, the inspector won’t be able to check many of the systems. They also may not be able to know the full status of the HVAC’s cooling system in the winter because there won’t be hot air to cool.
Your Home Had No Issues Until a Month After You Moved In
It’s a good day if you get your inspection report back and it shows the home is clean. The report can list some issues, but they are all minor. You are now confident enough to continue and purchase the home. However, weeks or months later, major issues can come up. What should you do?
You get your home inspection report and it’s relatively clean. All reports reveal minor issues but yours doesn’t flag anything too scary.
You confidently buy the home. Months later, major problems arise. What can you do?
Are You Able to Sue?
Your first course of legal action will usually be against the sellers. If there is a major issue, they most likely knew about it. If they were aware of the issue, they failed their legal duty to disclose it to the buyers.
The home inspectors could potentially be on the hook as well. This would all depend on whether or not they noticed the issue and if another inspector would have noticed it. If so, you may be able to sue for professional malpractice, negligence, or a breach of contract.
Remember, a home inspection is not a home warranty. If you are looking for that level of protection, you will have to purchase it separately. A home inspection reports on the visual condition of your home on that particular day. It’s not a guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen.
Home inspectors usually carry professional liability insurance, commonly referred to as an Errors and Omissions (E&O) policy. They also have coverage for general liability. Some states mandate home inspectors have these insurance policies.
Other states do not mandate home inspectors to have this insurance. Regardless of your state’s rules, you should always pick an inspector who is fully insured.
What a Home Inspection Report Includes
The ASHI suggests the items a report typically addresses are:
- Heating system
- Central air conditioning system
- Interior plumbing and electrical systems
- Structural components
- Windows and doors
It’s hard to imagine a professional home inspector not covering all of these issues in depth. However, the closest thing to a nationwide standard is ASHI’s Standard of Practice document. You may want to make sure your inspector complies with that or something very similar.
If anything about the home bothered you when you looked around, by all means, ask the inspector to investigate. Put in your request in advance of the inspection. Alternatively, you may attend the inspection and ask questions as you go.
How Deep Does a Report Go?
Total Home Inspection publishes a checklist for inspectors. It is seven pages, so let’s look at a sample section to see the sort of detail a report might contain. This section deals solely with attics and is copied directly from the THI website:
- No stains on the underside of the roofing, especially around roof penetrations
- No evidence of decay or damage to the structure
- Sufficient insulation and properly installed insulation (moisture barrier installed closest to the heated area of the house)
- Adequate ventilation, clear path into the attic for air entering through soffit vents, adequately sized gable end louvers, all mechanical ventilation operational
- No plumbing, exhaust, or appliance vents terminating into the attic
- No open electrical splices
To repeat an earlier caveat, inspectors can only report on what’s visible. ASHI’s code of practice prohibits inspectors from exploring attics where insulation material is so thick they can’t see where it’s safe to tread. In the code’s words, they must not “traverse attic load-bearing components that are concealed by insulation or by other materials.”
Such access issues can undermine the value of a report, and they don’t just apply to attics.
For example, ASHI says inspectors should not enter crawl spaces with less than 24 inches of ground clearance or hatches that are smaller than 24 inches by 18 inches.
Similarly, a home inspector can’t be expected to clear furniture and boxes to make a path to something that needs inspection. In an attic, that might include ventilation points and, in a basement, it could include the furnace or HVAC system.
You also can’t expect an inspector to take a machete to the backyard to check the sewage system or view the foundation or wall structure. You will need to make sure the homeowner will provide good access to all the elements you want to be checked out.
What’s In …
An inspector will normally check the function of most kitchen appliances, providing they’re installed rather than freestanding. ASHI lists those as “ovens, ranges, surface cooking appliances, microwave ovens, dish-washing machines, and food waste grinders.”
The check is turning them on and off to make sure they work in primary function mode in normal conditions. It is not about checking that the oven’s thermostat is accurate or that the microwave’s door seals are sound or that the dishwasher cleans plates well.
… And What’s Not
Laundry appliances aren’t usually tested, even if they’re installed. There are also other general exclusions.
For example, inspectors won’t comment on the condition of (let alone the current owner’s taste in) paint or wallpaper or other wall finishes, nor carpets or other floor coverings. You can see that for yourself.
They won’t check on the functionality of recreational equipment, and they won’t look at central vacuuming systems, nor the hermetic seals or coatings in windows.
Manage Your Expectations — And Your Inspector
By now, you should have a better feel for what’s going to be covered in your home inspection report. It won’t cover absolutely everything, and the biggest exclusion is that it only relates to what’s visible.
However, engaging a home inspector is your opportunity to get a licensed or certified professional with experience, qualifications, and expertise to alert you to potential problems with your next home. Make sure you choose a good one — and then manage him/her, so you make the most of their abilities.
Clear the way by asking the homeowner to supply easy access to all the things the inspector needs to see. Alert your inspector to any doubts you have, and attend the inspection so he or she can talk you through the issues (and expect a long list of those, though hopefully most or all will be minor).