From Spotlight: Get The House (Without Overpaying)

8 Eye-Opening Things Home Inspectors Can’t Tell You

What’s included in a home inspection may not be as important as what isn’t.

Man with respirator mask on peering out from basement window
Image: Love, Sweat, & Years

home inspection may feel like a final exam, but it's not quite so clear cut. Your inspector's report won't grade a house a definitive A+ if it's a keeper or an F if it's a money pit.

What is included in a home inspection report is a set of neutral facts intended to help you decide on a home's final grade.

Oh sure, a seasoned home inspector will know if a home is a safe bet or full of red flags. But they're bound by a set of rules that limit what they can tell you.

Here are some things they can't say:

#1 Whether They Would Buy This House

Here's the big one: Many buyers think a home inspector will give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down, but they can't do that. Giving real estate advice violates the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors' code of ethics.

Clues to look for: Count up the issues in the home inspection. Larry Fowler, a home inspector in Knoxville, Tenn., says based on his experience an average inspection turns up around 20 issues.

The bottom line is every house and buyer are unique, and inspection results that are acceptable for one person may not be for another. Confer with your agent once you have the report.

#2 If the House Has Termites, Rats, or Mold

Yikes! You might assume this trio of homewreckers would be part of every home inspection checklist, but your inspector isn't licensed to look for them.

Clues to look for: Home inspectors can note that those sagging floors are evidence of termites, or that shredded insulation is evidence of rats, or that the black stuff on the walls is evidence of fungal growth. To turn evidence into proof, ask a specialist for a follow-up inspection.

#3 If the Pool or Septic System Is in Good Working Order

Home inspectors aren't certified to inspect everything that could appear in any home. So, for example, if there’s a pool, some may turn on the pool pump and heater to make sure they work, but they won't look for cracks or plumbing leaks. For that, you'll need to find a pool inspector. In other cases, you may need an expert on septic systems or wells, or a specialist on asbestos or radon.

Clues to look for: Any special feature is your cue to find a specialist. "We're general practitioners," Fowler says.

And here's a bonus tip: Consider a home's advanced age a "special feature," because older homes are likely candidates to have radon, lead paint, asbestos, and other age-related hazards. Each potential toxin needs its own specialist, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

#4 That They Might Be Making the House Look Worse Than It Is

Some home inspectors make note of every tiny thing in a house, even seemingly inconsequential ones. Like chipped paint, scratched windows, or surface mold in a shower. These folks are sometimes known as deal killers.

Clues to look for: If your home inspection report is pages long and full of items that won't hurt the value of the home, it may not be a big deal. Go through the report with your agent to determine which if any issues could affect your offer.

Note: See sample home inspection reports from around the country at the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors website.

#5 If That Outlet Behind the Couch Actually Works

An inspector can check only what they can see without moving anything. This means the foundation could be cracked behind that wood paneling in the basement. Or the electrical outlet behind the sofa might not work.

Clues to look for: The inspector should note if they're unable to inspect something critical. If that happens, consult with your agent about what to do. For example, you might ask the seller to take down the paneling or offer to pay to have it removed. Alternately, offer a lower price.

#6 Whether They've Inspected the Roof Closely

Some inspectors will climb up on the roof to look closely at shingles and gutters — but they're not required to. If it's raining or icy, or the roof is steep or more than two stories high, they can stay on the ground and report what they can see from there. Many use binoculars or drones.

Clues to look for: They should note how they observed the roof, but if it's not clear, ask. They should note any missing or damaged gutters or downspouts and the general condition of the roof based on what they can see from the ground.

First-Time Buyer is presented by The National Association of REALTORS®

#7 What You Should Freak Out About (or Not)

It's a home inspector's job to find things wrong with the house. Big things, little things, all the things. It's not their job to categorize them as NBD or OMG. A checkmark next to a crumbling foundation will look the same as a checkmark next to chipped paint.

Here are a few things you may find on an inspector's report that usually aren't a big deal:

  • Condensation in a basement or crawl space
  • Early signs of wood rot on trim
  • Cracks in bricks from the house settling
  • Faux stone siding that's been improperly installed
  • Radon levels below 4 pCi/L

The following items, however, could trip your freak-out response if you're not prepared to address them:

  • Standing water in a basement or crawl space
  • HVAC not working
  • Outdated wiring, especially knob-and-tube wiring or aluminum wiring
  • Wood rot
  • Old plumbing pipes
  • Radon levels above 4 pCi/L

#8 Who They'd Recommend to Fix It (and How Much It Will Cost)

Your home inspector may seem like the perfect source for insider info on repairing issues they see all the time, but the opposite is true.

You wouldn't want your inspector to make financial decisions based on their report. Think about it: If an inspector's buddy Steve got a plumbing gig every time a certain issue turned up on a report, that inspector could face some pretty big motivations to find that issue.

Even giving you a price range for the repair is off-limits. It's not a home inspector's area of expertise; it creates a conflict of interest (they could be endorsing Steve's great deal); and, most importantly, it violates the ethics rules.

Clues to look for: This is good home ownership practice Try to price out every item on your home inspector's report, big and small. Do some research and call three contractors, or check out three retailers for the service or part needed to resolve each issue. You've got this, future homeowner!

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Related: What to Expect During a Home Inspection

A headshot of Leanne Potts
Leanne Potts

Leanne Potts is an Atlanta-based journalist and serial home remodeler. She's tackled five fixer-uppers and is working on a sixth. She's written about everything from forest fires to dog-friendly decor and spent a decade leading the digital staff of HGTV.