A home inspection is a professional inspection of a home that takes place after a seller accepts your offer but before you close on the sale. Homeowners can also get a pre-inspection to find out any issues with their home ahead of time when getting ready to sell.
Home inspections are a careful examination of the home, including its structural integrity and any safety hazards. They provide vital protection for buyers, so, unless absolutely necessary to close on a home you love, you shouldn’t waive your right to have one.
If you're a homeowner, you'll want your home to pass inspection when selling your house so that the buyer doesn't change their mind about if it's in especially poor condition.
An inspector will conduct a thorough review of the home’s most important components and make a report on the condition of the home. This process helps identify things that need replacing immediately, items that may be an issue in the near-future, and gives you a better understanding of the house beyond a cosmetic perspective.
Home inspections are not always required, although most lenders will require one for if you're taking out a mortgage to buy the house (whether it's conventional or backed by the government.) If you have a large down payment, you may be able to waive a home inspection to juice your offer, but we don't recommend it.
Home inspections typically range from $300 to $500 but they can save you far more money in the long run — and the inspection process doesn't take very long.
A standard home inspection covers the structure of the home, as well as the functional components that make the home habitable.
A licensed home inspector conducts a visual inspection of all parts of the property that are easily accessible and makes note of the condition of the home. It’s not a “pass/fail” kind of test — it provides an assessment of what may need to be repaired or replaced in the home. Having a professional inspector identify them before you close can give you greater flexibility and negotiation leverage at the closing table. Here's what the inspection typically covers:
→ Check out the ultimate home inspection checklist
The standard home inspection only covers visual cues, however. It’s important to understand that this isn’t an in-depth, under-the-surface exam. Regular inspectors cannot check:
Again, each of these hazards can mean a significant extra investment from a buyer after closing. If you’re concerned that a house (especially if it’s older) may have some of these hazards, you may want to consider some of these other specific inspections.
A standard home inspection provides a buyer with a detailed report on the home they’re interested in buying. It doesn’t cover everything, however, and depending on the age, location, and condition of the home in question, you may need additional inspections focusing on septic, hazardous materials, and more.
According to the EPA, if you see mold, you have mold, and you should get a mold inspection to see the extent of the damage. A mold inspector uses a moisture meter to detect dampness in drywall, insulation, and other building materials while also taking air samples from inside and outside the home. Through a mold inspection, you can see just how bad a mold problem is so you can go into remediation.
A standard home inspection might note some structural issues with a home, but it won’t closely inspect the home’s foundation. If the house appears to be in rough shape on the outside or has obvious cracks in the foundation, a foundation inspection is necessary. These inspectors analyze a house’s foundation and note potential issues like drainage problems, tree roots, cracks, and other indications of movement. If there are real problems, you may have to hire a structural engineer to fix the house.
→ Learn more about foundation issues
Radon is a silent killer; a carcinogenic, radioactive gas that seeps through foundation cracks or near electrical outlets and pipes. About one in every 15 homes in America is suspected to have excess radon levels according to the EPA. It’s not an extreme concern, but the only way to know if you’re at risk is to test for radon.
Older homes are more likely to be at risk of elevated radon levels. While the recommended testing takes more than 90 days, you can do a short-term test that takes about 48 hours. It’s not as thorough, but it should tell you if there is a dangerously elevated presence of radon in the house.
→ Learn more about air quality inspections
While a home inspector will conduct a visual test of the roof, it’s not the most thorough examination. If the inspector flags that the roof looks damaged, you should pay for a roof certification. A roofing company will not only determine the health of the roof but will give you an estimated length of time before the roof needs replacement. Roof inspections can be integral for older homes.
Home inspections don’t look closely at plumbing or septic tanks. These can be very expensive fixes so it’s a good idea to invest in a local plumbing company or septic inspector to analyze the overall condition of a home’s waste disposal during a separate septic inspection. It’s especially important if the home is more than 20 years old.
Termites are especially common in Louisiana, Texas, Hawaii, California, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, and Tennessee. In some of these states, you might be legally required to complete a termite and wood infestation report to get final loan approval. Likewise, if you’re using a VA loan or a FHA loan, a WDO inspection is likely required.
During this pest inspection, an inspector looks for signs of active infestation, past infestation, and potential trouble spots. The detailed report will help you determine if you need an exterminator and help you prevent WDO infestation.
→ Find out when to get a pest inspection
We’ve touched on some of the most important reasons to get a home inspection when you're buying a house, but we want to hammer home the point here. There are a number of very good reasons why, for your protection, you should get a home inspection instead of waiving it.
As the previous section lays out, homes may contain hidden hazards. For your family’s health and personal safety, it’s important to know that a house is completely safe before moving in.
Every item on the home inspection report is an opportunity for buyers. If an inspector finds things that need fixing or replacing, you can negotiate a price reduction or credit from the seller. Better yet, you can insist the seller just make the fixes themselves before closing.
Home inspectors can help you gauge the costs to bring a home up to an acceptable condition, which will give you a precise number to ask for. Working with the inspector and your agent, you may leverage a better deal on the home.
Many people get work done on their homes without going through the proper channels. It’s convenient for them and may save them money, but not all buyers are comfortable buying homes that may not be up to code. Inspections can reveal if renovations or remodels were done without the proper permitting. Those changes could impact the insurance costs, taxes, and overall value of the home. If you buy the house, you will become responsible for retroactively getting the proper permitting or paying the adjustments in taxes and insurance.
Before the inspection, you’ll have an idea of what you’ll pay for your monthly mortgage. An inspection, however, can approximate other future costs. A home inspector will get a rough idea of how old major systems like plumbing and HVAC are, and estimate when you’ll have to replace them and for how much. They’ll tell you how long finishes have been in the home, diagnose the condition of the home’s structure, and help you understand just how costly a home will be to maintain.
If you’re not interested in pouring a ton of money into your home right after purchase, a home inspection may help you avoid that issue entirely.
Even more importantly, an inspection will help you figure out what type of home insurance coverage or warranties you should consider.
The biggest reason why a home inspection is important is that it gives you an out from a potentially catastrophic financial hole. Buying a house is a huge financial obligation and if you’re nearing the closing table, an inspection is the last, best chance to raise red flags.
In most negotiations, a home inspection contingency ensures that a buyer can pull their offer without losing any earnest money if the house “fails” an inspection. That’s a huge protection, especially if you’re buying your first home and you’re not entirely sure what to look for.
Put bluntly, waiving a home inspection is a bad idea, even in a hot housing market. Home inspections are crucial to identifying potential problems with the home and laying out what you might spend on maintenance after moving in. An inspection may also raise issues that you can’t overcome, helping you avoid buyer’s remorse. It’s pretty simple: For your protection, get a home inspection.
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