A home inspection can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in the home buying process, regardless of whether you are the buyer or the seller. If you are the seller, you are concerned that some unknown issue could force you to drop the price, pay for repairs, or seek another buyer. As the buyer, you are worried that unforeseen issues may persuade you out of your new home or force you to conclude that it is not worth the asking price. Either way, it is important to know the truth about a home before a transaction takes place.
Buyers typically hire the home inspector as part of the mortgage loan process, but sellers sometimes ask for home inspections prior to putting a home on the market as a pre-emptive measure. Home inspections tend to cost anywhere between $200 and $500, so a pre-emptive inspection may well pay dividends in allowing you to fix problems before sale and/or ask for a higher price with confidence.
How do you choose a home inspector?
Your realtor may have a list of preferred inspectors, and friends and relatives may also have an opinion — but follow up on any suggestions. Check for professional affiliations such as membership in the National Association of Home Inspectors or similar organizations.
Home inspectors are generally licensed by states; so consider checking with your state for any information on licensing status. Many have a background in construction or contracting, but that is not a given. Find out if the inspector has relevant experience in the type of home you are purchasing and ask for references and/or sample inspection reports.
What should you expect during a home inspection?
The home inspector should conduct a thorough review of the complete physical structure of the house and its supporting systems — mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. That includes inspections of attics, basements, crawl spaces, utility closets, and other areas that are infrequently accessed, so sellers must make sure that access to these areas is not obstructed. Exterior walkways, driveways, curbs, and similar features are also inspected.
It is wise to accompany the inspector on the tour so you can learn about elements of your new home that you may not have known about or understood. Stay within your comfort zone — you don't need to go down in the crawlspace unless you are at ease doing so — but make sure to ask questions and take note of all suggestions for future maintenance and improvements.
Your inspector will be making an objective analysis of each of these systems, taking notes and providing comments if you are tagging along. Do not hinder the inspector in doing his or her job, but feel free to ask questions about issues that you do not understand.
After the inspection, you will receive a report from the home inspector that details all of his or her findings. Typically, they will be broken down by specific areas (roof and attic, garage, kitchen, bathrooms, etc.) and will contain relevant comments and any recommendations for repair or maintenance in each area. Fictional sample inspections may be found here.
It is also important to understand what a home inspector will not do. An inspector cannot evaluate anything they cannot see, such as sub-surface mold or termites, nor is an inspector obligated to check compliance with any local building codes. As part of his or her objectivity, an inspector should not comment on the sale price or whether the asking price is reasonable based on the findings.
It is up to you to read the inspection report fully and make sure that you understand it before deciding if any action or negotiation is necessary based on the results. Your real estate agent should be able to help you determine your next step, if any.
As nerve wracking as a home inspection may be, it is a necessary step in any real estate transaction. Take comfort in the fact that a competent home inspection makes sure that both buyer and seller are receiving fair value in the process. After all, a post-sale discovery of significant plumbing or electrical problems with your new home would elevate "nerve wracking" to a whole, new level.