What you need to know before hiring a home inspector

Whether you’re a new home buyer or are trying to sell your home, understanding how the home inspection process fits into a real estate transaction is essential.

Let’s take a look at the importance of hiring a good inspector and how to prepare properly for the inspection.

Why should you hire a home inspector?

While it may seem off-putting to think of dropping a few hundred dollars on a home inspection on top of all the other costs associated with home buying, the expense of a home inspection will seem like a drop in the bucket compared to shelling out for pricey home repairs down the road.

Many homes that appear in perfect shape are hiding potentially disastrous issues, like termite damage, an unstable foundation, or a broken water heater. Without a home inspection, you’ll have no way to know whether the home you’re about to buy will cost you thousands in repairs.

Also, you’ll want to make sure your new home will be a safe place to live. Home inspections often reveal dangerous issues, such as:

  • Radon: an odorless and colorless gas that’s the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking
  • Mold: though it seems innocuous, it can aggravate asthma and allergies
  • Outdated electrical system: pre-1960s electrical systems are likely not up to code and could present a fire hazard — and can be extremely costly to replace

A home inspection can give you confidence in the structural integrity of the home you’re about to purchase — or if it has significant issues, a home inspection gives you one last opportunity to hit the reject button on the deal.

Investing in a quality home inspection will also provide you with leverage in your negotiations, since discovering a potentially expensive issue can provide you with some bargaining power with the sellers.

How do you prepare for a home inspection?

If you’re a seller, you might want to order a pre-listing inspection to avoid being blindsided by the buyer’s inspection.

You can prepare your home for inspection by ensuring your house is clean and every area that needs to be checked is accessible. This includes attics, utility closets, under sinks, basements, and furnace rooms. It’s also a good idea to spot-check your home for small problems that you can fix before the home inspector arrives, like:

  • Make sure your toilets are running properly and drains are unclogged in your bathtubs and sinks.
  • Fix small things like cabinet and door hinges, broken door knobs, and broken window locks.
  • Test all light switches and ceiling fans to make sure they work.
  • Turn all your pilot lights on, including in a gas fireplace.
  • Correctly label your fuse box.
  • Clean or replace the return filter in your furnace.
  • Clean your oven and stove.
  • Replace batteries in your smoke detectors.
  • Take care of pest issues; exterminate infestations.

You’ll want to clear the clutter in the exterior of your home as well, including around windows and doors. Clean debris from your gutters and roof if possible, and make sure your downspouts are in the right position. If you see damage to your roof, you might want to fix it prior to the inspection.

If you’re a buyer, you can prepare for a home inspection by making arrangements to attend it along with your inspector and real estate agent. If the inspector doesn’t want you to be present at the end of the inspection, that should be a red flag. When you’re preparing to attend the inspection, don’t forget the following:

  • Tape measure: this will be the last time you’re in the house before move-in day, so this is a great opportunity to take any last minute measurements.
  • Notebook: come prepared with any questions you have, and write down any questions that come to you during the inspection.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the outdoors, since a good portion of the inspection takes place outside. The inspector will be checking the foundation, siding, windows, and other outdoor concerns.

What Should You Ask During a Home Inspection?

During the inspection, ask the inspector what they will inspect and what isn't covered in the inspection. Ask them about anything you are worried about, like a sagging roof, poor electrical, or rusty or slow-flowing water out of the taps. Don't be afraid of asking questions during the inspection from "is this a big problem or a little problem?" and if they can explain any functions of the home you might not be familiar with, like a fireplace or an oil burner.

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Ask to see a sample report before you hire me

It will give you a good idea of what kind of inspector I am. Do I include digital pictures and estimate repair costs or not? It’s a great way to compare two inspectors. Check out these 40 things you should know about a home by age 40.

What Fixes are Mandatory After a Home Inspection?

Legally, you don't have to get anything fixed after a home inspection. However, you may not be able to obtain financing if the house has electrical issues, water damage, structural issues, damaged roofing, problems with HVAC, poor plumbing, or infestations of pests like rats, mice, or insects.

Sellers: If you have a detached garage, leave me the keys

And if you have an attic door in your closet, move your clothes out of the way. I’m not going to move your stuff, so if you don’t make it accessible, it may hold up your deal because I’ll have to come back another day.

What to expect on inspection day

Inspection day is finally here, but what can you — as the buyer — really expect from the day? You will want to feel prepared for the inspection. Be aware of what the inspector should be looking for (more on this below!). Bring a pen and paper along with you to take notes on what the inspector finds, and be sure to allow the inspector to do their job. If you feel they aren’t being thorough enough, say something.

Burlison recommends that her buyers be present at the inspection. “It’s valuable to be able to go through the inspection with the inspector one-on-one and look at the items [the inspector] feels needs care or maintenance,” she explains.

Attending the inspection can also take some mystery out of the inspection report because you are better able to understand what items the report is referring to. If you’re unable to go to the inspection, your agent can attend on your behalf to observe any notable findings that may be used as leverage during negotiations.

The seller and the listing agent generally won’t be present during the inspection. It’s also a good idea not to have friends and family present, or other professionals (like a general contractor) so you can allow the inspector to do their job with minimal interference.

Things the inspector should check during your home inspection include:

  • Home exterior
  • Roof (if visible; if it’s covered in snow the inspector cannot inspect it)
  • Garage
  • Crawl space or basement
  • Attic space
  • HVAC
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Windows/doors
  • Interior condition
  • Floors
  • Pest inspection
  • Water/fire/mold inspection
  • Foundation
  • Structural components

Keep in mind that elements that can’t easily be inspected visually might not be checked. For example, the inspector won’t be tearing open walls or inspecting potential issues that they cannot see.

Burlison tells her clients to expect the inspection to take roughly one hour for every 1,000 square feet. This is a rough guide to know how long it will take, and often older homes may take longer as they tend to have more wear and tear. Additionally, smaller homes may take less time to inspect, and the home’s layout may also affect the length of the inspection.

Once the inspection is complete, you should expect to receive the inspection report within a few days. When you get the report, you and your agent can review it and decide if renegotiations are necessary.

Source: (Jesus Rodriguez / Flickr via Creative Com
Source: (Jesus Rodriguez / Flickr via Creative Commons Legal Code)

Ask your realtor for references

Just because you may have come across an experienced home inspector doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right one for the job. This is another area where your realtor can be of assistance. If you’re wondering how to choose a home inspector but aren’t completely sure where to start, we suggest getting references from your real estate agent.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it, as a seasoned realtor likely has several preferred home inspectors and a handful of ones they stay away from at all costs. Keep in mind that the best inspectors are often the ones who not only do a thorough job, but also effectively communicate from start to finish.

The Bottom Line: Inspect The Home Inspector

Use these tips to ensure you have a thorough inspection and don’t wind up paying even more for your home than planned because of repairs and renovations. Once you choose a home inspector, review this home inspection checklist to better understand what the home inspector will look for during your home inspection

Understand What Your Home Inspection Will And Wont Cover

Before your home inspection, it may be a good idea to understand what your home inspection will and won’t cover. You can read the Standard of Practice as well as the Code of Ethics for home inspectors, made available by American Society of Home Inspectors. Both publications give you guidelines for what you should expect from your home inspection.

Most of the items you can expect to be covered by a home inspection are visual. Most of the time home inspectors do not take a deep dive in the structure of the home. Some items your home inspection should cover are:

  • Central heating
  • Cooling systems
  • Attic and visible insulation
  • Plumbing and electrical systems
  • Roof
  • Walls

Some features your home inspection may not cover are:

  • Warped floors
  • Permanent pet or cigarette odors
  • Septic tank systems
  • Landscape

It’s easy to become jaded when buying your new home, but make sure you check every inch of your house for issues you may not be able to live with. You never know what you will find.

Most likely, your home will need some sort of work or repairs. Some of these repairs may cost you a lot of money if you aren’t careful. Some of the most expensive repairs include:

  • Issues with the foundation of your home
  • Mold
  • Any type of water damage
  • Roofing problems
  • Faulty wiring
  • Pest and insect control

How real estate agents can help their clients choose a home inspector

Real estate agents often play a big role in their clients’ home inspector choices. If you’re a REALTOR®, you’ll need to understand why it’s important to assist your client in making this choice — and how to help them make the right one.

Why should you help your client choose a home inspector?

While it might seem like a conflict of interest (and some clients will prefer to choose the inspector themselves for this reason), in reality, you want your client to get a thorough home inspection of the property they’re considering.

After all, it’s not in your best interest for your clients to be left ignorant of major problems with the property they’re purchasing, because once those problems pop up, that client will be dissatisfied with their purchase.

An unhappy prior customer is never a good thing for a real estate agent.

As an agent who cares about customer satisfaction, your priority should be making sure your clients are getting a house they’ll be happy with in the long-term. And if you’re a seller’s agent, you will want to help them receive thorough and honest feedback on their home so that they can be prepared for negotiations with the buyer.

Since a quality inspection is helpful to your clients whether they’re buying or selling, it follows that you would benefit from getting involved in the process of choosing a home inspector.

As a professional in the field, you’ll have access to many inspectors and will know what to look for. You’ll develop lasting relationships with quality inspectors in your area and know who to recommend, which will be an excellent way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise to your clients.

How do you help your client find a home inspector?

As a professional in the industry, a real estate agent can be an excellent resource for matching clients with other industry professionals. If you’ve been in your area for a long time, it’s natural to develop relationships with a few other local pros, like inspectors, appraisers, plumbers, and contractors.

Your client will most likely ask for your advice on finding a trustworthy home inspection company. To help them make a decision, you should first make sure you understand your client’s needs. Are they concerned with specific issues, like checking for radon? Do they need extra-communicative service from an inspector who can explain what they’re doing in-depth?

When you’re considering a new home inspector, here are some qualities to look for:

  • They demonstrate a willingness to communicate. They return messages promptly and converse easily with your clients.
  • Their inspection company is licensed, bonded, and insured.
  • They have positive reviews or referrals.
  • They have experience with the type of property you need to be inspected.
  • They allow you and your client to accompany them on the inspection.
  • Their sample home inspection report is sophisticated and readable.

Also, it’s helpful to understand whether the home inspector might have a potential conflict of interest. Do they have financial ties or business relationships with other industry professionals, like real estate brokerages or contractors? You’ll want to help your client find an unbiased source of information on the property in question, and financial ties with other interests might cause unwanted bias.

Interview Your Potential Candidates

Once you have a reputable inspector in mind, reach out to them. There are several questions you will want to verify before moving forward. Here are a few questions to ask your inspector before hiring them.

Are you certified and licensed? Some states don’t require a certification or a license. However, most new home buyers seek to find a certified inspector. If your home inspector has a certification or license, you will know that they have been professionally trained and had to complete course work.

Are you insured and bonded? By having insurance, the home inspector is covered in the case that there’s a mistake in their inspection report and the new homeowner decides to take legal action. For example, if the inspector misses something that ends up costing thousands of dollars in repairs and the inspector doesn’t carry error and omissions insurance, the buyer is liable and will have to pay for correcting the mistake.

Are you a full-time home inspector? If they are, then you know that the demand for their services is high enough to make a living out of it, possibly indicating that they are good at what they do.

How long will the inspection take? If it takes less than two hours, the home inspector may not be spending enough time to do a thorough inspection.

Will you provide a full report of the inspection? What will this report include? Does it include pictures? Do you have a sample? How long will it take for me to receive it? By asking to see a sample, you can determine if you’ll be able to understand the reporting style. Also, you should be able to receive a report within 24 hours of the inspection (pending any home tests that need longer to be completed).

Are you a member of a professional home inspector association? Some of the largest associations include the National Institute of Building Inspectors (NIBI)the American Home Inspectors Training (AHIT)the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). If they are members of any of these organizations, ask for their membership ID.

How do you keep your expertise up to date? What training do you have? This will give you an idea of how serious and professional the home inspector is. A good inspector will stay up to date on their training.

Can I get names and contact information of your last three references? You’re really interviewing this person for a job. It makes sense that you do your due diligence before trusting them with such a large purchase.

The importance of home inspections

As you can see, choosing a home inspector can be quite the process. Whether you’re about to put an offer on your first home, second home, or forever home, you want a dependable inspector by your side. Learn more about the importance of home inspections and how the right inspector can make all the difference. 

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