Having a home inspection done before closing the deal on a new home is critical. Even though it may not be required by your lender, getting a thorough evaluation by a reputable inspector will be money well spent. I believe it’s the very best money you can spend!
It’s important to begin by explaining who a home inspector is and is not. A home inspector is not a licensed plumber or electrician, roofing contractor or HVAC technician. While an individual inspector may have a high degree of proficiency with or prior experience in one or more specialized areas of construction, they are typically more of a “generalist.” They are professionals with a thorough understanding of the home-building process, are familiar with construction materials, and have a working knowledge of local building codes. In my experience, the best home inspectors have spent a number of years working as a contractor or tradesman before becoming a home inspector.
Home inspectors are trained to find problems that may not be apparent to most people. You should expect to receive a written report with the inspector’s findings. If a deficiency or problem is discovered or suspected, they will almost always refer the buyer to a specialized contractor, i.e. plumber, electrician, etc., for further evaluation.
During the course of the actual inspection, they’ll check for possible structural defects by taking a careful look at the outside of the house. They’ll examine siding, doors, windows, decks, the roof, and even driveways and walkways. Proper grading is also something they’ll check, as improper drainage can damage a home’s foundation.
Inside, the inspector will check ceilings, doors, and walls for defects and signs of structural damage or water leakage. The attic will also be inspected for similar problems, as well as adequate ventilation and insulation. Basements and crawl spaces are other important areas that are checked to ensure there are no critical weaknesses or signs of water intrusion or other defects.
The inspector will evaluate the home’s electrical system to look for wiring problems, proper capacity and size of the electrical panel, and to make sure that unsafe wiring materials aren’t present. They’ll also check the plumbing system to determine the types of pipes are used, ensure that they are functioning correctly, and check for adequate water pressure and flow. They will inspect all fixtures, toilets, and drains for damage and proper function.
Heating and air conditioning systems will be examined for functionality and safety. They will check for the presence of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and possibly advise you if there are any ways that energy efficiency can be improved.
Most home inspectors are generally not trained to conduct termite, radon, fireplace or septic inspections themselves, although these are also important inspections that you should consider having done. Mortgage lenders often require buyers to have some of these inspections conducted. Your Realtor or the home inspector you are working with can recommend a list of providers for these more specialized inspections.
Lastly, it is important to understand that the inspector is making an assessment of the condition of the home on that one specific day. They can’t forecast when the water heater will stop working, when a shingle might blow off the roof, or when the A/C will need to be replaced. The home inspector is taking a snapshot of the home in time.
My best advice is to buyers when they receive their home inspection report is to focus on negotiating with the seller to resolve immediate safety issues, repair or replace big-ticket items, and not to sweat the small stuff. Many problems may not even be known to the home’s current owner. And remember, no home is free from repair needs so you’ll just need to determine which items you’ll ask the seller to address, and which issues you are willing to take responsibility for after closing.