Home Inspections Before You Buy
Before you close on a home, get an independent home inspection by a professional inspector. Some buyers do this even before they make an offer.
Sellers are aware that buyers will likely ask for an independent inspection of their own.
Many sellers have inspectors and appraisers look at their home before they list it. They may have that inspection report available during an open house.
In this article, we include helpful information about:
- Why inspections are necessary
- What to look for during house inspections
- What to look for when hiring an inspector
Why Home Inspections are Important
According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), more than 90% of home sales include a home inspection. While this number doesn't differentiate between a seller-based inspection and a buyer-based inspection, it certainly indicates the significance of home inspections in the buying process.
If you, as a buyer, have an inspection performed by a professional before the home purchase is final, any problems uncovered are the seller's (if your purchase agreement includes a contingency clause that lets you out of the contract.) If the home is being sold as-is, any issues that are not uncovered are the buyer's responsibility.
If you choose not to get an inspection before the sale is final, any defect that is discovered later is your problem. (Unless the seller acted fraudulently. Even then, it would be difficult to pin liability on the seller.)
Home inspectors may find that homes are not particularly well-maintained by current homeowners. Common problems include:
- Leaky roofs
- Leaky faucets
- Slow drains
- Old pipes
- Old HVAC systems or water heaters
- Unmaintained greenery that could pose a fire hazard
If homes where the homeowner is residing can be so neglected, imagine the conditions a foreclosed home can hide!
Humidity and mold are among the biggest concerns. If a home has been boarded up and there is no ventilation for weeks or months, mold can grow. Mold is a serious environmental hazard that can create legal liability for the buyer. City health inspectors can condemn a property if the mold levels pose a health risk. In a townhome or condominium, mold in one unit can endanger those in other units.
Protect your investment. When making an offer on a home, make it contingent upon the findings of an inspection. If the home inspection comes back clean, you can continue with the sale with confidence. If the report contains negative information, you can:
- Reduce your offer
- Ask the seller to pay for any repairs
- Ask the seller to credit the cost of repair to you during the escrow process
- Back out of the purchase agreement altogether
What Are an Inspector's Qualifications?
Many states have a licensing process for home inspectors; some do not. State requirements vary. Take Vermont, for example: It requires that an inspector have 80 hours of education in an approved course, pass a home inspection exam, and be certified through ASHI.
Additional requirements that are common across the U.S. include:
- Having completed 30 to 120 hours of education
- Passing a test
- Carrying a specific amount of insurance coverage
- Being re-certified on a set schedule
- Having performed a certain number of paid home inspections
- Passing a background check
Even if your state does not require licensure, an inspector may have received training through ASHI or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Ask the inspector you are considering hiring if they are a member of one of these organizations or are a licensed expert in home construction.
Even without professional licensing, a home inspector is still subject to trade practice laws. For example, in California, any deceptive conduct by an inspector could be subject to the California Business and Professions Code.
How Do You Find an Inspector?
It's safest for the buyer not to take the seller's inspection report at face value. It may not be as thorough as the report you would like to receive. You may not want to hire your real estate agent's inspector either, because your real estate agent has an interest in the sale of the house as well. That said, most homeowners do take a referral from their realtor. Your realtor may know several reputable inspectors so you will have options.
What a Home Inspection Entails
It is important for buyers to know what they should expect from the home inspection process. What are you getting for your money?
Home inspections vary according to the person or company that does them. Generally, a home inspection will report on the condition of the following issues:
- Heating and cooling systems
- Electrical systems
- Plumbing, and possibly a well or septic system
- Walls, ceilings, and flooring
- Foundation and basement
- Earthquake preparedness
Inspections do not usually include an analysis of problems for which licensed professionals provide advice, although the inspector may be willing to share their suspicions "off the record." This can clue you to the need to consult with a professional on issues such as:
What Is Covered in an Inspection?
A home inspection generally covers only moderate to serious issues and does not detail each and every scratch and dent in the home. If you want a more detailed report, you should discuss this with your inspector. If you go this route, expect a higher fee.
In any case, it's a good idea to walk through the home with them during the inspection if possible. Not only will you learn more about the process and what to look for, but they may give you information on small flaws that they may not include in a report.
A house inspection will run about $400 to $700, depending on the person doing the inspection and factors such as the size of the home, age, and type of home.
It may be in your best interest to get additional inspections if,
- A pest inspection would be in order if there is any evidence of termites or wood ants.
- If you live in an area where radon is frequently found in basements, you may want a radon test.
- There has been an increase in insurance companies doing inspections before issuing insurance policies to homes located in areas at risk for wildfires (called urban-wildland interface zones).
Some engineering firms offer a seismic home assessment to identify building risks associated with earthquakes.
Problems with a Home Inspection? Talk to a Lawyer
If you bought a home and the home inspection failed to expose costly problems, you may have legal standing to bring a lawsuit against a building inspector. Talk to an experienced real estate attorney near you.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.