Home Inspection FAQs

Home inspections are a vital part of the home buying and selling process but do you know what home inspectors actually do or if a house can even fail a home inspection? Luckily, we’ve put together the top twenty most frequently asked questions about home inspections and asked the professionals to answer them. Here is everything you need to know about your home inspection.

What is a home inspection?

A standard home inspection is a non-invasive, visual examination of the physical structure and major interior systems of a residential building. Without a comprehensive home inspection, you could end up paying thousands of dollars in repairs or possibly buy a house that is unsafe.

Here’s an overview of each element of a home that must be inspected.

Foundation: the inspector will take a look at the foundation to examine it for cracking and shifting, and to ensure that water is draining away properly from the foundation and basement

Lot: the lot will be examined for proper grading and drainage and the quality of walkways and the driveway will also be assessed.

Roof: the roof will be examined for faulty shingles, damaged flashing, signs of water damage, and overall integrity

Exterior: the exterior siding, windows, doors will be examined to assess their overall wear and condition

Attic: the attic will be inspected to ensure that it is properly ventilated and insulated

Interior: the interior of the home will be examined, including wall outlets, lighting fixtures, walls, doors, and all other such surfaces and areas

Basement: the basement is inspected to ensure that it is free from leaks and water damage. Issues like mold and water leaks are also quite common in basements

Electrical: your home inspector will make sure that all electrical outlets, switches, and lighting fixtures work

Plumbing: the functionality of the plumbing systems will be checked, including water pressure, hot and cold water, as well as functionality of all sinks, bathtubs, showers, and other systems

Appliances: major appliances will be tested and verified for proper functionality

HVAC: the furnace will be examined for integrity, and problems like cracks or wear and tear. Air ducts and air conditioning systems will also be examined and tested

What’s the difference between a home inspection and an appraisal?

When you’re getting ready to buy or sell a home, having a home inspection and appraisal is part of the process. Because it’s such a huge investment, your home needs to be evaluated. Some people think that appraisals and inspections are the same thing but they are, in fact, very different.

An appraisal is a concept of pricing a home based on specific factors, such as:

  • Location of the home
  • Proximity to desirable schools and other public facilities
  • Size of the lot
  • Size and condition of the home itself
  • Recent sales prices of comparable properties

The appraiser’s primary goal is to protect the lender against owning overpriced property. That’s why an appraisal is required before you can get a mortgage on your home. Appraisers do not conduct in-depth inspections of the home but they may take note of visible signs of neglect. This includes cracked walls, chipped paint, broken windows, damaged flooring, etc.

An inspection is a much more thorough overview of your home. Whereas an appraisal is required in order to get a mortgage, an inspection is not mandatory but it’s still a good idea to get one. A home inspector examines every aspect of the home, looking for issues that could negatively affect the buyer’s investment. While the appraiser is obligated to protect the lender, the home inspector is most often there to protect the buyer from making a poor purchase.

Why do I need a home inspection?

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If you are planning to buy or sell a home, it is recommended that you hire a certified home inspector to conduct the inspection. This is one way to learn the condition of the home and potentially gain more negotiating power during the sale/purchase of the home.

When touring a home, pay attention to anything that seems strange as it might be a red flag. Take note of any visible damage as well, as it might not be a problem now but it could turn into an expensive fix later.

These issues don’t have to be a deal breaker. They can, however, help you get a lower price for the home if you’re the buyer. Most home buyers agree that it’s worth spending a few hundred dollars on a home inspection to save a few thousand down the road.

How much is a home inspection?

How much does an average home inspection cost?

Most home inspection prices are based off of square footage. Other factors include the size and features of the house, its age, and additional considerations such as optional testing. It’s always a good idea to compare prices from several different home inspection services in your area, paying close attention to exactly what is included for the price.

Based on more than 80,000 home inspections conducted during the last year, data shows that the average home inspection costs $358.

Variables that will affect the cost include:

  • Location/region/travel time
  • Size of the home
  • Age of the home
  • How hot or cold the local real estate market is
  • How many inspectors are in the area and how busy they are
  • Additional services such as mold inspections or radon testing

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives a typical price range of $300-$500, and cautions that “cost does not necessarily reflect quality.”

Regardless, decent home inspectors are well worth the investment. Whether it gives you leverage to ask the seller to cover more fixes or sets your expectations for what to budget for, getting a home inspection is one of the smartest investments you can make in your new home.

Do home inspectors inspect pools, fences, or other outside structures?

Typically, basic home inspections don’t include comprehensive overviews of areas like pools, fences, and outside structures. When buying a house with a pool or other unique feature, it’s vital that each part of the purchase receive the same attention. That means you need to call a professional who knows these features and their potential pitfalls. Your home inspector may be able to provide inspection services for these areas at an additional fee or refer you to someone who can.

According to ASHI‘s Standards of Practice, section 4.2, E, “the inspector is not required to inspect out-buildings other than garages and carports.” Some home inspectors offer outbuilding inspections as an add-on service and some include it in the home inspection even though it’s not required. That’s entirely up to the inspector and local regulations. If local regulations require an inspection of every building on the property, then the inspector needs to follow those rules and include in the home inspection.

Why can’t I do my own home inspection?

When you’re purchasing a home there are many things to consider. From negotiating the price to understanding the resale value, the tasks can become overwhelming.

People often turn to their mechanics when purchasing a used car so why wouldn’t you turn to a home inspector when shelling out hundreds of thousands more for a house?

A professional home inspection can turn up issues that otherwise would have went unseen, such as the wrong gauge wire being used in the breaker box inlet, or an incorrectly hung cabinet that could become a hazard.

A home inspector’s job isn’t to spread doom and gloom, they’re your advocate. While we’re sure your realtor has done a great job showing you the house’s features and educating you on the school district, they typically aren’t able to teach you about the house structure or utilities.

Your home inspector will be able to shine a light on vital information that you likely wouldn’t have caught until after you had purchased the house.

Can a house fail a home inspection?

Not really. A home inspection is merely a thorough examination of the home’s current condition. It is neither an appraisal (which determines market value) nor a municipal inspection, which verifies local code compliance. Most home inspection professionals, therefore, will not “pass” or “fail” a house, but will accurately and objectively describe its current condition and indicate potential problems or concerns. It is really up to the buyer and their agent to determine if the home meets their needs and standards.

Do I need a home inspection for a new construction?

Your newly built home is likely to have all of the latest energy-saving features and comforts that you could ever want. But it’s always a good idea to get a home inspection, even on a newly constructed home.

There may be undisclosed issues or shoddy workmanship. Just because a home is brand-new doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been built with the highest workmanship standards in mind. The plumbing could have serious issues, the roof may be installed incorrectly, there may be issues with the chimney, and so forth.

Just like a regular home inspection, you won’t know about these problems unless the home is inspected. Even a single careless contractor or a tiny mistake made when building the home can cause serious damage. It’s possible the home may only be up to minimum standards.

Building inspectors only have to sign off on the construction of a new home and make sure that it’s up to code. These inspectors don’t work for you, they work for the county. They are only there to determine if the house doesn’t violate any building codes. So if the house just barely meets standards, they’ll likely sign off on it.

For a truly deep look at your home’s systems, you need to hire a home inspector. If you don’t, you’re taking an unnecessary risk.

Do I need to be present for the home inspection?

If you’re selling your home and having a pre-listing inspection, it’s a good idea to stick around for the inspection to give you some insight on what you should fix before listing your home. However, if the buyer hired the inspector, there’s no reason for you to be present.

If you’re buying a home, it’s not required that you’re present for the home inspection but it’s a good idea to be there anyway. Attending the home inspection on a property you’re considering buying gives you a great opportunity to get a better understanding of the condition of the home, and any potential issues that may be present. You may be thinking that you’ll just be able to see these in the report, which is true, however, walking through the home with the inspector will make these items easier to understand because they can explain it to you during the process.

Furthermore, being present for the home inspection gives you the opportunity to ask the inspector questions about the home. It’s a good idea to ask about the parts of a home that are most expensive to repair/replace, such as:

  • Roof: replacing a roof can cost thousands
  • Insulation: insulation has a huge effect on power bills
  • Electrical system: rewiring a home can be an expensive task
  • Plumbing: plumbing problems can be very costly to fix
  • HVAC System: these systems usually must be replaced every 10-15 years
  • Structure: if there is any kind of structural damage at all, you shouldn’t buy the home
  • Grading/Drainage: improper grading and drainage can cause foundation damage

I’m selling my home, should I get a home inspection before putting it on the market?

A seller’s home inspection is less common than a buyer’s home inspection but home sellers are realizing more and more that there are benefits to having their homes inspected before they even list their homes to sell.

The biggest benefit of a seller’s home inspection is to know all the potential issues before they are brought up in the buyer’s inspection report. This allows the seller to make sure any repairs get done ahead of time and most likely at a better price than the buyer would ask for as a concession during negotiations.

Home sellers can also be more realistic in their asking price, depending on any problems you want to leave “as-is.” Sellers can also include the inspection report with the disclosure statement, reducing their liability for any new findings.

Getting a home inspection prior to selling a house can sometimes even find safety hazards before agents and visitors tour the home, as these hazards could turn into a very expensive liability. The last thing a seller wants is for someone to fall down a flight of steps and get injured due to the lack of a safety railing that they didn’t even know they needed.

What if the home inspection report reveals problems?

If you find serious issues, you can back out of the sale due to a home inspection contingency clause or you can ask the seller to fix the issues before moving forward with the purchase of the home.

The seller is not required to make any repairs, except those which address structural defects, serious safety issues, or building code violations. Examples include:

  • Issues that violate federal or state code
  • Structural or mechanical problems
  • Defects that cause safety issues
  • Mold
  • High radon levels
  • Infestation

Cosmetic defects do not have to be repaired before the seller can sell their house, as they are not a hazard. You can ask them to make these repairs but they can refuse.

Typically the seller will offer you a repair credit and knock the price of the home down, based on the expected cost of the repairs. This is usually the best option when negotiating because some home repairs, like fixing a roof, can take weeks and become very inconvenient for both the buyer and the seller.

How long does a home inspection take?

While there are no set standards when it comes to the length of time it takes to inspect a home, the process usually takes about two to three hours. For larger homes or homes with additional features, this process will take longer, while for small homes and condos an inspection may only take an hour or two.

Here are some additional factors that impact the amount of time it takes to conduct a home inspection:

  • Size of the home
  • Age of the property
  • Total systems to be inspected (HVAC, electrical, water heaters, pools, multiple kitchens, etc.)
  • Accessibility to areas that need to be inspected
  • Weather conditions
  • State requirements
  • Time spent answering clients’ questions during the inspection
  • One or more inspectors on site
  • Additional services (radon test, mold test, water test, etc)

A home inspection isn’t something you want to rush through. This is an important step in the home buying process and affirms the value of your investment.

What are the most common issues found during home inspections?

Curious what the most common culprits are in a home inspection? Here’s a quick list.

  • Roof and gutter issues (leaks, damaged/clogged gutters, etc.)
  • Faulty wiring/electrical problems
  • Poor grading or drainage around the home
  • Dampness or mold/mildew in basements
  • Cosmetic wear and tear (peeling wallpaper, dirty/damaged carpets, cracked driveways/walkways, etc)
  • Plumbing issues such as leaks, clogged drains, poor flow
  • Inadequate ventilation or insulation
  • HVAC problems

Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, most home inspection findings are not deal breakers and will simply require you to negotiate a proper rate for the home based on what the inspector finds.

How can I avoid buying a money pit?

You’re already taking the first step. Hiring a qualified home inspector is the single best way to avoid buying a “money pit”. If you really want to be sure, you may want to consider hiring an additional inspector, and investing in some more specialized services, such as sewer pipe examinations and termite inspections.

Do all old houses have problems?

No. Many old houses are built to last for decades or even centuries – and a well-maintained, older home is often a great investment. However, because the building techniques and materials we’ve used for things like electricity and plumbing have changed, some older homes have issues like knob-and-tube wiring, or polybutylene piping. In many cases, these issues may have already been fixed by the current owner. If this is not the case, hiring a home inspector allows you to find out, and see if there are any major issues with the home’s critical systems.

What are the common plumbing issues in homes?

There are a number of common plumbing issues in most homes, but most are not a major cause for concern. This could include dripping faucets, sinks and drains that are clogged and do not drain properly, faulty or failing water heaters, or low water pressure. The most important thing to inspect in a home’s plumbing system is the condition of the pipes. If your pipes and other major water systems are in good shape, fixing more minor issues is usually quite simple.

What usually needs fixing in a fixer-upper house?

Well, each fixer-upper home is different. Once you have a home inspected, your inspector should be able to give you a list of any major systems – such as plumbing or wiring – that need to be repaired or replaced. Some of the other common systems that may need attention include the HVAC system, the roof, the structure of the home, and the doors and windows. Beyond this, you can fix things based on your personal preferences – re-arranging the kitchen and the bathrooms, for example, or adding new paint, appliances, and fixtures like sinks and toilets. It all depends on the house you’re buying – so make sure you hire a good inspector, and walk through the property a few times, to develop a “game plan”, and make sure you’re prepared for the purchase of a fixer-upper.

This article originally appeared on Spectora