Examining the Home Inspection Process

With all the assorted fees and costs that come with buying a home, shelling out hundreds of dollars to have the house inspected can seem like a prime area to save money by skipping a step. But foregoing the inspection could end up costing you thousands of dollars later, even on new construction. So if you are going to spend the money, you might as well get the most out of it. Here’s how to optimize this important process.

Why it’s important

  • It can save you a lot of money in the long-run in the form of repairs performed or building code violations fixed.

  • It can help ensure your personal safety against fire hazards, unsafe structures or various types of poisoning.

  • It may be required for insurance purposes or certain government loan programs.

When it happens

  • Usually the inspection takes place after you are under contract to buy the home, but you can request that one take place before that.

How to best find an inspector

  • Choose the inspector yourself. It is not wise to let someone who has a financial interest in the sale going through pick the inspector for you.

  • Ask around if you have had friends or relatives in the area buy a home recently.

  • Find an inspector who is registered with one of the major inspector licensing organizations like American Association of Home Inspectors, American Society of Home Inspectors, National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers, National Association of Home Inspectors, or National Institute of Building Inspectors. In most cases these organizations have a website that allows you to search for a certified inspector in your area.

  • Read reviews online at websites like Yelp or Angie's List.

  • Research whether your state has a government organization that licenses or oversees inspectors. If so, check for complaints against an inspector. Also check the Better Business Bureau.

  • Ask to see a sample report from an inspector. The more different types of inspections they perform the better. If you can find an inspector who does septic or structural analysis evaluations, this will save you money since you won’t need to bring in separate people for those.

  • Ask a prospective inspector what happens if they miss something that costs you money after you move into the house. Many carry “errors and omissions” insurance, which is like malpractice insurance for inspectors. Even if they don’t have insurance they should have some kind of process in place for resolving mistakes, such as arbitration.

What the inspector should check

  • Air conditioning
  • Appliances
  • Attic
  • Doors
  • Drainage
  • Duct work
  • Electrical
  • Exterior
  • Floors
  • Foundation
  • Heating
  • Insulation (visible)
  • Plumbing
  • Roof
  • Ventilation
  • Walls
  • Water heater
  • Windows

How long it should take

  • The average thorough inspection lasts 3-4 hours.

What you will likely pay

  • Expect to shell out between $200 and $500. Keep in mind that this is not a time to be looking for a cut-rate deal. 

What the inspector usually won’t do

  • Asbestos
  • Lead
  • Mold or mildew
  • Pests
  • Radon, methane, radiation or formaldehyde
  • Swimming pool problems
  • If your inspector doesn’t cover these things, it’s worth your time and money to bring in separate specialists in these areas.

What you get after the inspection

  • An inspection should always culminate in a detailed written report, ideally with photos of potential problem areas. The report should include unlivable problems, items that will need to be replaced, and items that will need close monitoring going forward.

What to do if the report points to problems

  • Ask that the seller fix them before the deal goes through.

  • Negotiate a better price or money up front for repairs.

  • Walk away from the deal.

What you can do on your own

  • Inspect the home purchase agreement (or have your lawyer do it) to make sure there is an inspection contingency included.

  • Before the inspection, ask for disclosures from the seller of any problems they know about. This is required in some states, but it always best to make sure you have this.

  • Be present for the inspection to follow along, take notes and ask questions.

  • Consider getting a second opinion if you weren’t entirely comfortable with the first inspection.

  • Ask the inspector if he/she thinks there are other types of inspections you should get besides what was covered in the general one.

  • Set aside time before closing on your purchase to perform a final walkthrough of the property, checking as much as you can about the property’s day-to-day functionality.
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