From Spotlight: Stumble-Free Steps to Home Buying

What to Expect During a Home Inspection

From finding an inspector to dealing with surprises — this is your guide to getting a house checked out.

Home inspection illustration
Image: HouseLogic

The first thing you need to know about a home inspection: You’ll feel all the feels. There’s the excitement — the inspection could be the longest time you’re in the house, after the showing. Right behind that comes anxiety. What if the inspector finds something wrong — so wrong you can’t buy the house? Then there’s impatience. Seriously, is this whole home buying process over yet?

Not yet. But you’re close. So, take a deep breath. Because here's the most important thing to know about a home inspection: It’s just too good for you, as a buyer, to skip. Here’s why.

What a Home Inspector Does

A home inspector identifies any reasonably discoverable problems with the house (a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, etc.). Hiring an inspector is you doing your due diligence. To find a good one (more on how to do that soon), it helps to understand what's involved in the typical home inspection. 

Reviews of the Seller's Property Disclosures

Before an inspection, the home inspector will review the seller’s property disclosure statement. Each state has its own requirements about what sellers must disclose on these forms. Some have stronger requirements than others. The statement lists any flaws the seller is aware of that could reduce the home’s value. 

The disclosure comes in the form of an outline, covering issues such as:

  • Mold 
  • Pest infestation
  • Roof leaks
  • Foundation damage
  • Other problems, depending on your state mandates

During the inspection, an inspector has three tasks:

  1. Identify problems with the house that they can see
  2. Suggest fixes
  3. Prepare a written report, usually with photos, noting observed defects

This report is critical to you and your agent. It’s what you’ll use to request repairs from the seller. (We’ll get into how you’ll do that in a minute, too.)

What a Home Inspector Won’t Check

Generally, inspectors examine houses for only problems that can be seen with the naked eye. They won’t tear down walls or use X-ray vision to find hidden faults.

Inspectors also won’t put themselves in danger. If a roof is too high or steep, for example, they won’t climb up to check for missing or damaged shingles. Instead, they'll use binoculars or drones to examine it.

They can’t predict the future, either. While an inspector can give you a rough idea of how many more years that roof will hold up, they can’t tell you exactly when it will need to be replaced.

Finally, home inspectors are generalists. A basic inspection doesn’t routinely include a thorough evaluation of:

  • Swimming pools
  • Wells
  • Septic systems
  • Structural engineering work
  • The ground beneath a home
  • Fireplaces and chimneys

When it comes to wood-burning fireplaces, for instance, most inspectors will open and close dampers to make sure they’re working, check chimneys for obstructions like bird nests, and note if they believe there’s reason to pursue a more thorough safety inspection.

If you’re concerned about the safety of a fireplace, you can hire a certified chimney inspector for about $175 to $449 per chimney. Find one through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Explore More Topics:

Make an Offer & Negotiate

Buy a Home: Step-by-Step

Check Home Inspector Qualifications

Now you’re ready to connect with someone who’s a pro at doing all of the above. Here’s where — once again — your real estate agent has your back. They can recommend reputable home inspectors to you.

In addition to getting recommendations (friends and relatives are handy for those, too), you can look for professional inspectors at their trade association websites. The American Society of Home Inspectors Find a Home Inspector tool lets you search by address, metro area, or neighborhood. You can also search for inspectors by state at InterNACHI.

Ask Interview Questions

You’ll want to interview at least three inspectors before deciding whom to hire. During each chat, ask questions such as:

  • Are you licensed or certified? Inspector certifications vary based on where you live. Not every state requires home inspectors to be licensed, and licenses can indicate different degrees of expertise. ASHI lists each state’s requirements here
  • How many inspections have you done? Look for someone who has done many inspections. Note that the number of years of experience doesn't necessarily correspond to the number of inspections performed.
  • How much do you charge? Home inspection costs an average $342, although pricing varies based on location and the size of your house, as well as market conditions, demand, and supply.
  • What do you check, exactly? Know what you’re getting for your money.
  • What don’t you check, specifically? Some home inspectors are more thorough than others.
  • How soon after the inspection will I receive my report? Home inspection contingencies require you to complete the inspection within a certain period of time after the offer is accepted — normally five to seven days — so you’re on a set timetable. A proficient home inspector will provide you with the report within 24 hours after the inspection.
  • May I see a sample report? This will help you gauge how detailed the inspector is and how they explain problems.

Sometimes you can find of inspectors on sites like Angi and Yelp, too, if past clients’ feedback helps you make your decision.

Show Up for the Inspection (With Your Agent)

It’s inspection day, and the honor of your — and your agent’s — presence is not required, but highly recommended. Even though you’ll receive a report summarizing the findings later on, being there allows you to ask questions and learn the inner workings of the home.

Block out two to three hours for the inspection. The inspector will survey the property from top to bottom. This includes checking water pressure, leaks in the attic, plumbing, etc., as well as whether door and window frames are straight (crooked could indicate structural issues), electrical wiring is up to code, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working, and appliances work properly. Outside, they will look at features like siding, fencing, and

Review the Home Inspection Report

Once you receive the inspector’s report, review it with your agent.

Legally, sellers are required to make certain repairs. These can vary depending on location. Most sales contracts require the seller to fix: 

  • Structural defects
  • Building code violations
  • Safety issues

Get Ready to Negotiate

Most home repairs, however, are negotiable. Prepare to pick your battles. Minor issues, like a cracked switchplate or loose kitchen faucet, are easy and cheap to fix on your own. You don’t want to start nickel and diming the seller. 

If the house has major issues, your agent can submit a formal request for repairs that includes a copy of the inspection report. Repair requests should be as specific as possible. For instance, instead of saying “repair broken windows,” a request should say “replace broken window glass in master bathroom.”

  • If the seller agrees to make all of your repair requests: They must provide you with invoices from a licensed contractor stating the repairs were made. Then it’s full steam ahead toward the sale.
  • If the seller responds to your repair requests with a counteroffer: They will state which repairs (or credits at closing) they are willing to make. The ball is in your court to either agree, counter the seller’s counteroffer, or void the transaction.

At the end of the day, remember to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling about all this. Be realistic about how much repair work you’d be taking on. At this point in the sale, there’s a lot of pressure from all parties to move into the close. But if you don’t feel comfortable, speak up.

The most important things to remember during the home inspection? Trust your inspector and your gut, and lean on your agent. They likely have a lot of experience to support your decision-making.

That’s something to feel good about.

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