Should you get a home inspection when buying a house?

Share this article
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
August 4, 2020

Buyer’s home inspections are a smart idea to ensure a safe and stress-free new home. Hiring an inspector can be pricey, but it’ll give you peace of mind. But where does a buyer even begin when considering an inspection of a prospective home?

What is a buyer’s home inspection?
Why you need an inspection before purchasing a home
Who pays for the inspection of a home listed for sale?
How much does a typical home inspection cost?
What a typical home inspection consists of
5 common issues home inspectors discover during inspections
What to know before hiring a home inspector
What happens after the home inspection
4 tips for buyers looking to hire a home inspector
Finding a qualified home inspector

Bringing an inspector when buying a house

What is a buyer’s home inspection?

A home inspection involves hiring a professional inspector to examine and report on any issues with the structural integrity and safety of a home. These are typically done after an offer is made, but before the deal closes. Sometimes, when major issues are discovered, it ends the buying process. Inspections are never pass/fail nor required for buyers but are a smart way to make sure your new home is safe to live in for years to come.

Why you need an inspection before purchasing a home

Some (but not all) states require sellers to conduct an inspection of their property prior to listing it, known as a “prelisting inspection”. Legally, all serious defects must be reported to prospective buyers. However, some will skip these inspections or omit the results if they think it will hurt their ability to sell the property. Prospective buyers should look to get their own inspection of the home done—you don’t want to rely on an inspection that you didn’t arrange, if one has even been done at all. Even if a seller has an inspection done and makes repairs or informs prospective buyers of reported issues, it’s still a good idea to do an independent buyer’s inspection. You want to ensure you have unbiased, accurate, and complete information on the condition of your next home. You don’t know if the seller’s inspector was a qualified professional you can trust.

Who pays for the inspection of a home listed for sale?

Typically, the buyer organizes and pays for the home inspection—but it’s an optional process. Sometimes, home sellers will arrange and pay for a “prelisting” inspection, if deemed necessary or legally required by their state. However, buyers have the option to pay for their own independent inspection of the home, which they should do for their own benefit.

How much does a typical home inspection cost?

Home inspections aren’t cheap but are worth it. The price to inspect an average-sized home (2,000 square feet) typically ranges from $300 to $500, with larger homes costing more. Older homes and/or those requiring specialized inspections (more on this later) can easily push costs to $700+. Location also plays a role, with inspections in urban areas typically costing more than rural locations. Regardless, paying for a home inspection now can save you the hassle of dealing with costly repairs in the future. Plus, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you and your family are living in a safe environment.

guide to hiring house inspector

What a typical home inspection consists of

Inspections usually take a few hours to complete, with a conditions report prepared for the buyer over the following week. During the inspection, inspectors follow an extensive checklist to investigate the structural condition of a property and identify any discovered safety issues. Inspectors will walk through the interior and exterior of a home, as well as the area around it, making many rounds to ensure accuracy. A home inspector will look for any defects to the building’s structure and physical components, both inside and out, reporting issues mainly related to:

  • Foundation
  • Roofing
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing and drainage
  • Ceilings and walls
  • Windows and doors
  • HVAC systems

Inspectors ignore cosmetic defects and areas unseen to the naked eye. For example, an inspector will not look at the inner workings of an HVAC system and will only check that it’s operating normally.

5 common issues home inspectors discover during inspections

No two homes are the same but time will take its toll on any building, resulting in a handful of common problems identified during home inspections (usually in older homes):

  1. Water intrusion. Inspectors often come across excessive moisture in and around windows, doors, ceilings, walls, and basements which can lead to mold and other unsafe growth.
  2. Defective electrical systems. This includes anything from exposed or damaged wires, to old fuse boxes, to outdated knob-and-tube wiring, and so much more (you’d be surprised at the number of crude DIY electrical work discovered during inspections). Problematic electrical systems are at extreme risk of fire damage, so this is not something to dismiss.
  3. Roof damage. Roofing material won’t last forever, especially for homes in harsh climates. Common problems include deteriorated shingles, missing flashing, and problematic DIY repair work.
  4. Issues with the foundation. Cracks, excessive sloping, and inadequate reinforcement are just some of the foundation-related issues commonly identified during home inspections.
  5. Pest infestations. Since inspectors do not examine inaccessible areas, infestations of any kind are not always caught. However, of those that are, termites tend to be one of the more common infestations discovered by inspectors.

What to know before hiring a home inspector

Most buyers probably ask themselves, “Is it worth it to pay for an inspection of the home I’m looking to buy” and the answer is absolutely. Here are some things to know before starting the process.

  • Different homes have different needs. If you can afford it, there’s no reason any buyer should skip a home inspection. Nevertheless, you should consider what your share of repair costs may be for any reported issues. For example, owners of condos in large multi-family buildings may have less individual financial responsibility over repairs compared to owners living in a duplex as there are more residents to split costs. Some also argue that newly constructed homes should be inspected as well, but many choose not to.
  • Home inspections are not always perfect. Besides not inspecting inaccessible areas that may be concealing damage, even the most experienced inspectors may not catch every single issue. After all, they only have a limited time to conduct the inspection and are humans who make mistakes just like the rest of us. If you feel uncomfortable with your inspector’s concluding remarks, you can always hire a second inspector to confirm any suspicions.
  • You have options if you find damage after moving in. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may want to speak with a lawyer if you believe the inspector should be held responsible for negligence. Do keep in mind though that several factors are at play when determining if an inspector is liable for missing a defect during the inspection. Generally, inspectors are liable when they’ve missed issues that should have otherwise been easily caught by a trained professional.

What happens after the home inspection

A report with the conditions of all inspected areas is given to the buyer as part of the home inspection process (example available here). If it concludes the home to be in good shape, you can then safely proceed with the purchase. If not, there are steps you may want to look into to assuage any concerns.

  • Review the home inspection report with the inspector to identify the biggest concerns. If the report shows major structural defects or malfunctions, you may be able to use it to negotiate repairs with the seller. Other options include having the seller provide a closing cost credit or lower the purchase price, which are ideal for buyers so they can arrange and ensure quality repair work.
  • Know when to negotiate vital home repairs with a seller. This does not include cosmetic blemishes or repairs that will generally cost less than $100. Reasonable requests include those related to major structural and safety defects that require immediate attention and/or costly repairs. If unsure of whether or not your request is reasonable, ask your inspector prior to negotiating.
  • Get all negotiated terms with the home seller in writing. Just like any deal in life, make sure to get any agreed upon terms in writing to safeguard against any “he said, she said” after buying your home.

4 tips for buyers looking to hire a home inspector

  1. Attend the inspection with your realtor. You should try be there for the duration of the inspection along with your realtor. There’s always a chance you hired a lousy inspector who will under or overemphasize the severity of a defect. Most realtors have extensive experience with inspections, and can possibly keep an eye out for things missed by the inspector.
  2. Ask questions. If you see something curious before, during, or after the inspection, ask! You are doing this to ensure your future safety—which isn’t something to compromise on. Knowing which defects to address right away and which problems will worsen significantly with time is important.
  3. Consider specialized inspections for hidden defects. Concealed pests and hazardous substances like asbestos are often not within the purview of general home inspectors. If you wish, you may want to look into specialized inspections to analyze hidden areas of the home. Your inspector will usually tell you if they believe it’s necessary to follow up with a specialized inspection, but be sure to ask if not.
  4. Remember: you can always back out. Unless you sign a contract agreeing to buy the home, you don’t have to proceed if you don’t want to. Inspection reports identifying major problems often end the home buying process—especially when sellers aren’t willing to negotiate on repairs.

Finding a qualified home inspector

Home inspectors are not required licensing in many states. To ensure you’re hiring a real professional, get one in a professional association or with an inspection company. Two associations to look into include, the American Society of Home Inspectors and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Watch out for companies that offer other services that send “inspectors” who really do something else, like renovation work. Your real estate agent may be able to provide you with recommendations, but it’s best to hire independently. This is a major purchase that will be with you—and you alone—for years to come.

Share this article
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Related guides

Find your next home on Localize