Of all the various professionals involved in the homebuying process, probably the most underrated is the home inspector. As the buyer of a home filled with unknowns, a qualified home inspector can be your best friend. He or she can highlight any significant flaws in the property and give you an opportunity to have them repaired before closing.
Some buyers pass up a home inspection. Others have it done, then ignore what’s reported. Don’t do either! Get the home inspection, read it carefully, and act on any recommendations made. By doing this, you can save many thousands of dollars after the closing.
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What Exactly Does a Home Inspector Do?
A home inspector’s job is to determine the integrity of a home, and its various components. In inspecting a home, they’re looking to determine its safety, livability, and the utility of its systems. A qualified home inspector will do a thorough inspection of the home, then provide a written report on every major aspect of the property, including:
- Gutters and downspouts
- Windows and doors
- Structural elements (foundation, basement, attic, visible flaws in construction that may be due to structural problems)
- Plumbing (including sinks and toilets) and electrical systems
- Furnace, water heater and air conditioning
- Evidence of water or pest damage
- Toxic conditions, such as lead paint, asbestos, radon testing or mold
After inspecting the property for all these elements, a detailed report will be prepared. It’s usually in the form of a checklist, ensuring that all components of the home have been inspected. The report will note any deficiencies. Some may be cosmetic in nature, while others may require further action.
Further action may include getting an additional inspection from a specialist, such as a roofer, plumber, or electrician. In other instances, the inspector will recommend an outright repair of a deficient condition.
Why You Shouldn’t Take the First Referral or One Referred by Your Realtor
If you’re working with a real estate agent, he or she will be anxious to provide a home inspector. There’s a reason why this is true; some real estate agents prefer home inspectors who don’t make a habit of reporting conditions that will “kill” their deal. That kind of inspector will be good for the real estate agent, but not for you as the homebuyer.
A better route is to get referrals from other recent homebuyers, particularly those where the report indicated significant deficiencies in the property. That lets you know that the inspector gives an honest report.
As well, it’s important to make sure the home inspector is working directly for you. This is very different from an inspector who frequently works with your real estate agent, and doesn’t want to do anything to upset that relationship.
Credentials You Should Look For
Unfortunately, home inspection is something of an open field. People from different backgrounds consider themselves to be home inspectors. It could be a carpenter, a former real estate agent, or even an appraiser who does home inspection on the side. None of these backgrounds indicate the person is qualified as a full-service home inspector.
Preferably, the inspector should be a member of either the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI) and/or the National Society of Home Inspectors (NSHI) (be sure to verify this with either association, and not just take the inspector’s word for it). Membership in either organization will help to ensure the inspector isn’t just doing the work on a casual basis.
Be sure the inspector has a website you can check, as well as business cards and professional stationery. This will help to ensure the inspector is actually in business, and not just occasionally moonlighting in his spare time.
Also check with the local Better Business Bureau (BBB). They’ll provide both an overall rating, as well as customer reviews. Read those reviews and look for recurring situations, they can be quite revealing. As well, BBB lists how long the practitioner has been reviewed by BBB, and even when his or her business began.
Questions to Ask a Home Inspector Before You Make Your Decision
Since you’re paying the home inspector, you have a right to ask any questions you’d like. Start with these:
What are your credentials? Ask how long they have been doing inspections. Don’t be afraid to ask exactly what will be inspected. This is your opportunity to make sure that nothing important is left out of the inspection.
What type of properties do you normally inspect? You want to be sure the inspector is thoroughly familiar with the type of property you’re buying. Some inspectors do specialize in different kinds of properties. Since it’s a residential home, you don’t want an inspector who specializes in commercial or agricultural properties, or even apartment buildings.
Can I attend the home inspection? If you can, attend the home inspection while it’s being performed. This will give you an opportunity to see exactly what the inspector is looking at, and to explain any conditions you consider questionable or concerning. If the home inspector is not open to you being present, it’s a good indication that you need to work with a different home inspector.
How Much Should You Expect to Pay?
The website Home Advisor.com gives the following price range for home inspectors:
Be aware that these represent ranges for typical homes. If the house is particularly large, contains unusual features, or is multifamily, the home inspection fee may exceed the numbers given above. Rates also vary by location. In high-cost metropolitan areas, fees will be higher.
How Long Does an Average Home Inspection Take?
A typical home inspection will take 2 to 4 hours, depending on the size of the property, as well as the condition. Naturally, a property with more deficiencies will take longer to inspect.
Once the physical inspection is complete, it will take additional time to complete the inspection report. Depending upon market conditions, and how busy the home inspector is, it may take several days to get the report back from the inspector.
How Choosing the Right Inspector Can Save You Money
If you choose the home inspector, he or she may be the one person in the home buying transaction who is truly working for you. Don’t be upset if the inspector reports disturbing conditions with the property. In fact, that’s the best possible outcome.
Any deficiencies reported can enable you to negotiate their repair by the sellers. If your real estate agent is doing his or her job, there should be a contingency clause in the contract calling for a home inspection, and a dollar threshold of repairs that will need to be made by the seller. The home inspection will reveal those repairs.
By having them repaired before closing, and by the sellers, you’re ensuring that they won’t become your problems and expenses after the closing. You could either require that the deficiencies are cured by the seller, or even use them to renegotiate a lower sales price.
Either way, the few hundred dollars you pay the home inspector can be the best money you spend in the entire transaction. They can spare you having to pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars once you become the proud owner of the home.