A home inspection is a visual exam of the structure and systems of a house. It details problems with the property and if they’re serious enough to prevent a sale. The three main points of an inspection are physical condition, items in need of repair or replacement, and the remaining useful life of major systems.
A report won’t cover defects that are not visible, inoperable systems (e.g., A/C during the winter), or code violations.
It’s a good idea to be present during the inspection: you can ask the inspector questions, and the inspector can point out areas of potential trouble and may offer maintenance tips.
Expect an inspection to take 2-5 hours (old homes may take longer), and expect charges of $200-$500 depending on size.
The seller is not required to make repairs, but the buyer can use the report in negotiating (e.g., if a repair is made, the buyer will offer to pay more, otherwise the buyer will bid lower).
To hire an inspector, get recommendations from your Realtor or from others who have used them, or check the phone book under “Home Inspection.” Be sure to ask about references, memberships in professional associations, professional training, and experience.
Should I Get a Home Inspection?
Absolutely. You’re not just buying that beautiful master suite or stone-lined fireplace, “you’re also buying any problems lurking in the walls or the crawl space or the attic,” says Alabama home inspector Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). The home inspection is your chance to avoid those problems—or, at least, use the results to negotiate with the seller to pay for repairs.
A typical inspection starts at the roof and ends at the foundation, with stops in between at every major house system (plumbing, electrical, heating, septic, etc.). Most also include tests for radon gas and water safety. A good inspection, by a professional inspector to the standards set by the American Society of Home Inspectors, costs about $500 and takes 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size and age of the house. Oh, and don’t skip inspections on new construction. Just because something’s new doesn’t mean it’s flawless.
After you receive the detailed findings, you’ll need to evaluate whether there are any deal-breakers, such as serious structural defects. You may want to handle minor fixes yourself to avoid nitpicking with the seller. For cases in between—water-damaged carpet, for example—consult with your agent. You can ask the seller to pay for repairs or give you a credit at closing so that you can choose the contractors and materials you prefer.