For just about anyone, a home is the single most expensive and single most complex thing that you'll ever own. So when making that purchase, you certainly want to do everything possible to be an informed buyer, and to protect yourself and your investment.
One of the ways to do that is to have a home inspection prior to closing the deal on the purchase. A home inspection will give you a lot of information about the physical condition of the home you're considering buying, and should alert you to any potentially serious problems that you need to be aware of.
But as a potential homebuyer, it's important that you understand what a home inspection is, and what it isn't. There are certain things that you can legitimately expect your inspection to provide for you, and certain things that it won't. And you also need to understand that the more you participate in the inspection process, the more you'll get out of it in return.
Finally, understand that just like there are good and bad contractors and real estate agents, there are also good and bad home inspectors. Expect to have to do a little homework to find one of the good ones.
What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is a visual inspection of the home you're thinking of purchasing, performed by an objective third-party inspector. The inspector will examine the physical structure of the home from top to bottom, as well as the home's operating systems. Typically, a home inspector will look at the following things:Outside: the exterior home site; general condition of the foundation and basement walls; condition of the exterior walls, including the siding, exterior trim, windows, exterior doors and exterior paint; type and condition of the roofing; condition of gutters, downspouts, flashings and vents. Inside: the condition of the attic, roof support structure, attic insulation and attic moisture issues; condition of the basement and crawl space, including insulation and moisture issues; garage and carport; electrical system; visible plumbing system; heating, cooling and ventilation system; general interior condition of the home.
A short time after the end of the inspection you'll receive a written report detailing the inspector's findings. Any defects the inspector identified will be noted. Inspectors should never attempt to sell you anything, such as their services to come in and fix anything that was identified in the report. To do so would be a clear conflict of interest.
It's important to understand that inspectors do not do what is known as "destructive testing." In other words: they don't cut holes in walls or otherwise open up inaccessible areas in order to look inside. Everything is based on their visual inspection of whatever they have access to. They're also not there to comment on anything that's readily apparent from a cosmetic standpoint, such as a sloppy paint job.
What types of things does the inspection not cover?
It's equally important to understand what a home inspection doesn't cover, because this is where you need to be sure that you continue with your due diligence when you're buying your home. For example, your home inspector will point out any obvious signs of visible mold or mildew in the home. However, he will not be performing any type of actual mold inspection. If you suspect a mold infestation in the home, you need to have testing done by a trained hygienist.
Home inspectors will point out structural problems that have been caused by insect damage. But they're not there to perform a complete termite inspection. They also don't do inspections for the condition of the well, septic tank, or any type of soil contaminants.
You also need to be very aware of the fact that a home inspection has nothing to do with code violations or zoning issues. You need to check those things out for yourself with the local building and planning offices. It's up to you to assure yourself that any prior work on the house was done with the necessary building permits.
It's also up to you to check that there are not any issues when it comes to how the house is currently zoned, or how the current zoning might affect your use of the property in the future.
What do you need to do?
You have a couple of other responsibilities in this process as well. First of all, know who your inspector is, and what's required of him. Different states have different regulations pertaining to how home inspectors are regulated, so find out what's required.
Interview the inspector before you hire him. Be sure he complies with all those requirements, including whatever license, insurance and bond is needed. Ask for and verify references. Ask for and read a sample report. Be sure it gives you the type of information you need, in a format you can understand. Find out if the inspector belongs to any professional trade organizations, and what their standards and codes of ethics are.
The other important thing is that you need to attend the inspection. Follow the inspector around, even up into the attic and into the crawlspace if you're physically able to do so. See what he's looking at. Understand the potential problems. Ask questions and take notes. When you get your report, read it over from cover to cover at least twice, and be sure you understand it.
You paid for it, and it's one of the most important documents you'll ever have. So if you don't understand any of it, be sure someone explains it to you.