When it comes to buying or selling a home, what’s hidden under the surface matters. And those hidden parts of a house—the foundation cracks, the barely-holding-together plumbing, or the broken appliances—can make or break the deal. A professional house inspection is an essential part of the home-buying process. It allows the buyer to rest assured that any critical flaws with the property have been found—and addressed.
In this article, we’ll talk about what a home inspection is and how to prepare for one, with a handy checklist to ensure no item goes unchecked.
What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is a comprehensive examination of the condition of a property in which the physical structure of the home, such as the roof and the siding, as well as systems, such as plumbing, electrical, and heating and cooling (HVAC), are looked at to find any significant faults. The inspection happens after a buyer puts in an offer on the property, and both parties sign the purchase agreement and go into escrow.
While the inspection happens simultaneously with a home appraisal, it’s important to remember that these are two separate things. A house inspection is a process to look for potential issues with a property and acts as a safeguard for the buyer, while an appraisal is an estimate of how much the property is worth. Lenders use an appraisal to ensure the home is worth the mortgage. Local property values and overall condition determine the number.
Suppose a professional home inspection does reveal defects in the house. In that case, the buyer can ask for the seller to deal with them or renegotiate the property’s asking price before finalizing the deal. If serious issues are uncovered, potential buyers can back out of the home purchase as long as they have a home inspection contingency clause in their purchase agreement.
What are home inspection contingencies?
A home inspection contingency is a clause added to a real estate contract that states the purchase is contingent on the home inspection results. This protects a buyer in case of a severe issue with the house, which could lead to costly repairs following the purchase. With a home inspection contingency, a buyer can either negotiate repairs with the seller or cancel the sale entirely and get back their deposit. With the home inspection contingency clause, there is a time frame within which the home inspection must be completed—typically 1-2 weeks.
Finding a home inspector
To find a home inspector, the easiest thing to do is ask your real estate agent. Most real estate agents can guide you towards a bonded and insured company, though in some instances, lenders insist that you use certified home inspectors that they have chosen. Licensing requirements for professional home inspectors vary from state to state, so check the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) website for a map that lists specific license requirements for each state. You’ll also want to ask for previous reports to see how thorough the inspection is and evaluate their comments. While some reports run to almost a hundred pages, others are checklists with brief notes.
Contingency clauses on contracts specify time limits on home inspections, so research and choose a home inspector early to schedule your inspection quickly.
The cost of the inspection can vary depending on the region and the house size, but it will almost always be somewhere between $350 and $600. The average cost for an inspection is $450.
Preparing for a home inspection
As a home buyer, you’re looking for not minor issues that can be fixed quickly and inexpensively but larger damages or deal breakers severe enough for you to walk away from a deal. No one wants to purchase a house only to realize that there are massive issues with the foundation or plumbing that will take thousands of dollars to fix. The house inspection acts as your safety net. So, in addition to being present during the walkthrough, you want to focus on more significant issues rather than minor ones.
Remember, while the inspector’s job is to look at the property and evaluate its condition, they will not be able to offer you any advice on the purchase or any cost of repairs. Further, certain things are excluded from a home inspection. These include internet service, sprinkler systems, and landscaping. The inspection primarily focuses on the property itself, and any elements seen as extras are left out of the home inspection.
Typically, a house inspection will take two to four hours, though this can vary widely based on home size, number of defects, and the inspector’s thoroughness.
Your home inspection checklist
It is helpful to know what the inspector will be looking for so you can ask questions and better understand the extent of the damage. Here’s a checklist of what to look for in a home inspection. Do note: this is not an exhaustive list but only a guide to some of the things you want to look for as you go through the home inspection process.
- Good drainage, away from the house, with no standing water.
- Septic tank is not leaking.
- No cracks in the driveway or walkways.
- Secure deck and stair railings.
- Detached garage, shed fence, and the deck has no rotted wood or evidence of termites.
- No staining on the exterior walls.
- Visible foundation is straight and with no visible cracks.
- No sagging or bowing on exterior walls.
- No sign of damage or cracks in the bricks.
- No cracks, decay, or curling in the siding.
- Paint is neither chipped nor flaking nor blistered.
- No large cracks in the stucco.
- Aluminum and vinyl siding isn’t loose or damaged.
- No missing or damaged shingles and no signs of curling or cupping.
- There is no excess roofing cement or patches.
- The flashing around the roof penetrations is in good condition.
- Fascia board lines are straight and level.
- No decay, staining, or rust on gutters.
- Gutters are securely attached with downspouts.
- Chimneys are in good condition.
- Vents for eaves are clean and not obstructed.
Doors and windows:
- Doors have weather stripping and latch properly.
- Thermal glass or storm windows have been installed.
- Joints are caulked, and drip caps are installed.
- No cracks or decay in frames and trim.
- No sign of condensation inside the double-paned windows.
- Door frames and windows appear square.
- No evidence of moisture or water damage.
- No cracks or staining in the exposed foundation.
- No damage or decay in visible floor joists.
- Properly operational sump pump.
- Radon test.
- Secured cables, good condition of wiring, no exposed electrical splices.
- No knob-and-tube wiring or aluminum cable for brand circuits.
- A service panel with adequate capacity.
- No evidence of damage or leaks in visible pipes.
- Drain pipes slope toward the main waste outlet.
- Water heater is the appropriate size, and the manufacture date is within the length of expected use.
- Hot water temperature at fixtures does not exceed 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heating and cooling system:
- No gas odor.
- Clean air filters.
- Fully operational air conditioning and heating with good airflow.
- No rust around the cooling unit.
- Good condition of ductwork.
- Toilets flush and fill; tub, shower, and sink drain properly.
- Working exhaust fans.
- Good water pressure and flow for both hot and cold water at all faucets and fixtures.
- Plumbing under the sink is in good condition, and there is no leaking around the tub or shower.
- Caulking inside and outside of the tub and shower is in good condition.
- Tiles in the bathroom are secure.
- Working exhaust fans.
- Adequate water flows to the sink; the sink drains properly.
- Plumbing under the sink is in good condition, and there are no leaks or stains.
- Dishwasher is operational, and there is no evidence of rust.
- All built-in appliances are in good condition and operate correctly.
- Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles for all electrical outlets located within 6 feet of sinks.
- All doors and drawers of cabinets open and close correctly.
- Floors, walls, and ceilings appear straight, with no significant cracks.
- Doors open and close easily, with no broken glass and no sashes painted shut.
- Operational lights and switches.
- Adequate number of 3-pronged electrical outlets that function property.
- Heating and air conditioning vents in all rooms.
- No cracking or damaged masonry on the fireplace.
- Crawl spaces must have adequate ventilation to the exterior and no evidence of damage.
- Automatic garage door operates appropriately and stops for obstructions.
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working in the required areas.
The home inspection report
Once the home inspection is complete, the buyer will receive a detailed report. This report can be pretty extensive, with the list of “problems” running into the dozens. Don’t be alarmed if this is the case. What the inspection is meant to do is point out the flaws in the property. These can be simple things, such as chipped paint, or more problematic areas, such as an overloaded electrical panel or the presence of asbestos or mold. For a home buyer, only severe problems are relevant. If that’s you, talk to your real estate agent about any issues to negotiate to get them fixed. If you are still trying to agree, you can also choose to back out of the purchase.
One more thing to remember: A home inspection report is not the same as a Seller’s Disclosure statement. While the inspection report records the condition of a seller’s house and lists any problems or safety issues, the Seller’s Disclosure statement states details or problems with the house that the homeowner is aware of, but that may take time to notice.
The bottom line
When you buy a house, the last thing you want is a nasty surprise that takes time, money, and effort to fix, especially after you’ve already spent considerable cash on your new home. If you’ve bought an investment property, an issue like this could eat your profit margin and lose you money. That’s why a home inspection is essential to plan and prepare for.
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