Understanding Home Inspections: What You’ll Need and How to Get Started
You found a home you love. It has the floor plan of your dreams, a yard you always wanted and a bathroom. Before you sign the mortgage papers, you want to know your beloved house is more than just a pretty face. This is why home inspections are a vital part of the home buying process.
While everything may look great on the surface, home inspections provide a licensed, neutral third party to review the home for potential issues. A certified professional will inspect the house, looking for things most buyers will miss. This guide will provide you with a better understanding of what to expect during the home inspection process, how to find a reliable inspector and what happens following the inspection report.
What Is a Home Inspection?
The home buying process can be nerve-wracking, especially for first time homebuyers. Once you’ve found a home and agreed on a price with the seller, there are multiple steps you, your agents and your lender will take before you close on your new home.
As part of an offer to the seller, buyers often include a home inspection contingency. This allows a buyer to hire a third-party expert to walk through the home and review its current condition. An inspection can reveal if a house is well maintained, if repairs are required and the status of the home’s mechanical systems.
Most homebuyers do not have the knowledge and experience to identify concerns successfully or how to address them. A professional and licensed home inspector will notice specific issues, so the buyer is better informed. Because the home inspection benefits the homebuyer, they are usually responsible for finding and paying for an inspector. Your real estate agent is a useful resource for finding a trustworthy and certified home inspector.
How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?
The cost of a home inspection depends on where you live, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $500. Like most things, you get what you pay for. The internet is full of stories of great deals that do not meet industry standards, and cost buyers their dream home or lead to surprise expenses later.
What Is Included in a Standard Inspection
A home inspection includes a visual exam inside and outside the property. Inspectors provide you informative observations of the current condition of the home and its systems.
A home inspection report will include a written status of the following items, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors:
- Basement, foundation and crawlspace
- Attic, insulation and ventilation
- Doors, windows and interiors
What Is Not Included
The most important thing to understand about the limits of home inspections is they are noninvasive. This means the inspector cannot alter the property to discover a problem. They can only report on what they see and cannot predict future outcomes. For example, they cannot put a hole in the drywall to discover mold in the walls or pull up the carpet to check if the subfloor is rotted.
An inspection report will not include the life expectancy of the home’s elements. It will only provide an approximate age of the roof, water heater, appliances and heating and cooling systems. The report will lay out the house's status, and the buyer will have to decide what to do next. You won’t find advice on if you should buy the property or not.
Is Your Home Insurance Provider Requiring a Home Inspection?
Whether or not you are required to have a home inspection for insurance depends on the provider. Most major insurance companies do not require an inspection for homes built in the last 25 years. If the home is older or in a high-risk location, your insurance provider may require an inspection before issuing you a policy. It's best to get a quote from multiple home insurance providers to find the best homeowner's insurance policy for you.
Types of Special Home Inspections
There are limits to what a standard home inspection includes. If you are concerned about specific risks associated with your new home, there are specialty home inspectors available for an additional cost. Unlike a standard home inspection, many of these inspectors are also contractors and may price out the cost to fix issues.
Average Cost: $300–$400
While a standard inspection includes a look at your foundation, not trained to assess comprehensive issues. A structural engineer should perform a foundation-specific inspection. They have the training to offer a more comprehensive report on cracks, load-bearing walls, concrete integrity or slopes in the floor. Because of their extensive training and demand for services, a structural engineer inspection can be expensive.
Average Cost: $650
A mold inspection is expensive and is not recommended without signs of mold. However, if there are signs of water damage, visible mold and moldy odors, it may be worth considering mold testing. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) is the association for induction hygienists and suggests homeowners who know they have mold spend their money on safely removing it rather than testing for it. Testing and removal should be done by a qualified mold professional.
Wood-Destroying Organism (WDO) or Pest Inspection
Average Cost: $100
It's the stuff of nightmares, but wood-destroying organisms (WDO) are fairly common in the U.S. Termites cause an average of $5 billion in damage each year, according to the national pest control company Terminix. Along with termites, these organisms include carpenter bees, carpenter ants and some beetles. Without treatment, they eat their way through the wood that supports your home. Most states and some mortgage providers require a pest inspection. All VA loans and FHA loans require a pest inspection.
Average Cost: $450
Radon is present everywhere in the United States and is the number one cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a radon test is highly suggested and is required in 29 states. Testing requires a specific device per the Environmental Protection Agency. A certified radon professional will be able to test and install mitigation measures.
Average Cost: $400–$700
While a home inspector will check all your interior plumbing, sewer lines run outside of the home and underground. An inspection of your sewer line requires special equipment like a lateral camera. Qualified plumbers can do the inspection and provide video and photos of any issues. While most modern homes do not need a regular sewer inspection, it’s a good idea if your home is older or if your yard contains mature trees. Tree roots are a common problem, as they grow into the pipes, causing sewer leaks and backups into your home. The cost can vary significantly by the length of your sewer line and where you live.
Average Cost: $250–$600
In the past fifty years, we've learned a lot about toxic materials like asbestos and lead. Both were common construction materials until the mid-1970s. If your home was built before the 1980s, a lead and asbestos test is suggested. Asbestos is not a health risk unless it is disturbed, so you may skip this test if you do not plan to make any updates to the home. Lead is similar, where it can be safe if untouched. The largest risk of lead is to children, who may play near cracked paint and accidentally ingest it. Testing for both asbestos and lead requires a professional to take samples and send them to an EPA approved laboratory.
Home Inspection Checklist for Buyers
While it's essential to hire a professional home inspector, there are elements you can check while previewing a home. If you notice any of the red flags on this checklist, buyer beware. You'll want to speak with your home inspector and ask them for specific feedback on your concerns.
- Flickering lights
- Discoloration around wall outlets
- Missing electrical covers
- Burning smell from appliances
- Old panel with different types of wiring or blown fuses
- Musty or damp odors
- Ammonia smell
- Sewage smell from drains
- Burning smell
- Missing shingles
- Shingles that curl at the bottom
- Water stains on the ceiling
- Sags or dips in the roofline
- Large build-up of moss or algae
- Stained carpet or flooring
- Standing water
- Cracks in the walls
- Dips in the ceiling above
- Missing or covered soffit vents
- Low levels of insulation
- Pipes that suddenly end
- Signs of water or mold
- Disorganized, spliced electrical wires
- Discoloration or staining
- Holes or patches in the drywall
- Windows and doors won’t open and close
- Chipping paint
- Sloping, sagging or uneven surfaces
- Unusually staining
- Cracked tiles, hardwood
- Noticeably cold
- Standing water
- Overhead trees or branches leaning on the roof
- Cracks in the concrete
- Missing gutters
- Rotting or deteriorating wood
Kitchen and Bathroom
- Missing or malfunctioning exhaust fans
- Water stains on the floor or in sink cabinets
- Low water flow from faucets
- Slow draining in sinks
- Unstable toilet, stains around the base
- Sewage or musty smells
Other Considerations and Tips for Homebuyers
It’s easy to get caught up in everything you love about your new home and miss something. A home inspection is one step that helps homebuyers make more rational, rather than emotional, decisions. You can take additional measures in the home inspection process to ensure confidence in your home purchase.
Take photos and notes
Most home inspectors take and share photos during their inspection. You can do the same, either when you are previewing homes or during the inspection itself. Without pictures and notes, you may forget key details.
Add a contingency
When you submit an offer to the seller, you'll likely include a few contingencies. A contingency lays out certain conditions that must be met before you finalize the sale. The most common is the home inspection contingency. This is important to include in the offer, or you may not be allowed into the home for an inspection. Other common contingencies include an appraisal, financing and title search.
Discuss seller disclosures
After an offer is accepted, most states require a seller to provide disclosures on the home. This form lists any known issues or repairs made during their ownership of the house. The legal requirements for seller disclosures vary by state, but buyers usually receive them within a few days of an agreement and before an inspection. If there are concerns on the disclosure, you can share those issues with a home inspector.
Throughout the entire home buying process, find reliable professionals to answer your questions. Your home inspector is no exception. Before, during and after the inspection, you should address your concerns and ask questions to understand your new home's mechanics better.
Finding an Inspector
It can feel overwhelming to begin searching for a home inspector, but there are resources to help you find someone you can trust. It’s essential to find someone with experience, training and certification. There is limited action you can take later if your home inspector misses something critical.
How to Read and Respond to an Inspection Report
When you get your home inspection report, it likely includes more than a dozen pages of information on your potential new home. It's easy to be overwhelmed, but breaking it down piece by piece will help you understand what it means and what your options are next.
Check the Big-Ticket Items
While the inspection report will mention dozens of likely suggested repairs and maintenance items, there are big-ticket items you want to look for first. These are expensive issues that may impact your home buying decision.
- Foundation: If the inspector mentions structural issues, discuss the extent of the damage and safety concerns. Foundation repairs can quickly add up to thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.
- Signs of mold or water: Water stains or damage are a red flag for a home's condition. It likely means something is leaking, and it invites the possibility of mold. Mold is a health hazard, and depending on the extent of spread, it can be costly to remediate.
- Sewer or septic issues: The home inspection report will explain what plumbing system your house uses. If your home inspector notices issues with either system, you may need to get a specialty inspection to understand better the extent of the damage and an estimate of repairs.
- Termites and pests: The discovery of termites can prevent your mortgage provider from approving your loan because they can be so destructive to the property. It’s best to push for the removal of all insects and pests before you finalize the sale.
Review the Report With the Inspector
Every good home inspector will set up a call or meeting to discuss their report. They should point out the significant issues and then review suggested repairs or maintenance issues. This is the time to ask any questions you may have. Most inspectors will help you understand what matters and should be addressed immediately and what other items to put on your home maintenance checklist for the future. It's always a good idea to review the actual cost of home improvement.
Return to the Seller
If the report found concerns with the property, you have a few options. First, you can withdraw your offer and begin looking for another house. Secondly, you can bargain with the seller to make concessions on some repairs. These negotiations typically reduce the selling price by the cost of making repairs. For example, if the report found a problem with the furnace, the seller might agree to lower the price by $250 for repairs, but not $2,500 for a new furnace.
Work with your real estate agent for negotiation steps after the home inspection. Depending on the market where you are, you may or may not be able to ask for more concessions from the seller. Also, remember, the seller has no obligation to fix the issues or lower the price.
Home Inspections if You Are the Seller
Home inspections for sellers can be frustrating. You love your home, and then someone comes in and starts picking it apart. However, the last thing you want is for the sale to fall apart because of an issue. It's best to approach the inspection as a buyer, thinking about issues you would like to be addressed if you were moving into the house.
You won't see the full inspection report in many cases, but you will be notified of issues the seller would like addressed. The conditions of repairs are negotiable, and you are not required to complete any repairs. However, the buyer does have the option to walk away from the sale. If this happens, you are required to disclose the inspection concerns on the seller's disclosure with future offers.
Home Inspection FAQ
If you have questions about the home inspection process, you’re not alone. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to get you started.
Word of Advice on Home Inspections
There are multiple viewpoints on the home inspection process from real estate agents, trade associations and inspectors themselves. MoneyGeek spoke with experts from within the industry to provide insight on home inspections.
- What is the most misunderstood aspect of the inspection process?
- What is the most overlooked item homeowners miss, but an inspection can reveal?
- Do you advise homeowners attend the home inspection?
- Are there scenarios where a home inspection can be skipped?
- Are there parts of a home inspection that can be excluded to save money?
Founder of InterNACHI and Certified Master Inspector®
Vice President of National Association of Realtors, CRS GRI 2020 Region 3
Home Inspector and California State Board Vice Chairman for California Real Estate Inspection Association
Home Inspection Resources
As you consider buying or selling a home, it's essential to do your research. There are multiple resources available to assist you in the home inspection process and find a qualified professional to complete your home inspection report.
- National Association of REALTORS: Qualified real estate agents know the ins and outs of every real estate transaction. The national association has resources for homebuyers and sellers and search tools to find a realtor near you.
- International Association of Certified Home Inspectors: The InterNACHI offers a search tool to find a certified home inspector in your neighborhood.
- American Society of Home Inspectors: Along with search tools to find a qualified home inspector, the ASHI website includes guides for homebuyers and sellers.
- National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers: This trade organization offers a list of engineers for homebuyers as well as articles about the latest news in the industry.
- Better Business Bureau: Before you pick a home inspector, check their status and rating with the BBB. It is a reliable source for finding trustworthy businesses.
- Home Inspection Exam: Want to know if your state has specific regulations for home inspectors? Check this website for details on rules in your home state.