Residential Home Inspection: Everything You Need to Know

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There's a lot involved in purchasing a new home, and the mortgage process can certainly keep you busy gathering and sending off paperwork every day. At some point in the process, you are also required to have a residential home inspection performed. While you can certainly opt out of doing so in some cases, it is definitely in your best interests to have a home inspection performed by a reliable, licensed, and knowledgeable home inspector.

Failing to have a professional residential home inspection done prior to purchasing the home can lead to a great deal of headache down the road. Getting a residential home inspection performed before purchasing the house gives you the opportunity to ask the homeowner to fix any issues the inspector finds, and may save you from purchasing a home that has poor structural integrity.

What Does a Residential Home Inspection Entail?

A home is comprised of many different components, any number of which might need minor or major repairs. From the foundation to the roof, and everything in between, including electrical wiring, plumbing, HVAC equipment, and more, a home inspector thoroughly examines all aspects of a home and provides a detailed report of the findings.

Consider the following areas that a home inspector will examine throughout the inspection:

1. Structure – The inspector will examine the foundation of the home and the overall construction—this includes checking to see if any paint is peeling, if the siding appears loose or damaged, if the windows and doors are all intact, if screens are present and in good condition, if any thresholds are loose, and if there is any rot.

2. Exterior – An exterior inspection covers the roof, the gutter system, crawlspaces, and the surrounding landscape, including walkways, driveways, steps, and decks, fencing and patios. This covers the roof, often a potential problem area, the surrounding landscape, and any walkways and steps. You can follow these steps to identify problems with leaky roofs either yourself or with the help of a professional. The inspector will also examine whether the landscape allows for proper drainage.

3. Interior – Everything from the chimney to skylights to the attic, basement, and walls, floors, and ceilings will be inspected. Any number of potential problems could be discovered, including water damage, mold, loose plaster, damaged fixtures, cracks, and more.

It is also important to note that if the home is currently occupied and/or furnished, the inspector will not be moving furniture or other items to get to inaccessible areas. A residential home inspection is a visual, non-invasive inspection.

4. Electrical – In addition to checking that all light fixtures and outlets work properly, the inspector will also check that the HVAC unit functions properly, and that all major appliances are in good working order.

5. Plumbing – All bathroom fixtures and other areas of plumbing will be inspected.

With so much to check, it is extremely rare that any house, even a newly built one, is 100% issue-free. That's why it is vital that you find a competent and reliable home inspector to perform a thorough evaluation of any home you want to purchase.

How to Find a Good Home Inspector

A quick Internet search will turn up dozens of results for residential home inspection services in your area. Before settling on one, take the time to conduct some research. There are a number of questions you must ask any prospective home inspector to help you make an informed decision. Getting the right home inspector can mean the difference between discovering material potential problems in the home before the purchase or having to deal with costly repairs of undetected items at a later date.

Recommendations and Reviews

Ask for recommendations from friends and family, and read reviews online. Your real estate agent may also suggest home inspectors. Also, do your own due diligence to ensure that your home inspector has the appropriate certifications and/or licenses. A home is too big of a personal investment, and a home inspection could help identify areas that you may want to address in your discussions with the seller.

Ask to See a Sample Report

Many reputable home inspectors have sample reports available for viewing on their website, or will provide you with one upon request. The report can give you a good idea of how thorough the inspector is. The report should identify and detail any problems or defects, along with suggestions on how best to fix it. The report should also include plenty of photos, and should be well organized and easy to follow.

Avoid inspectors who only offer a checklist—this is not a complete report. A good report will give you an excellent idea of the home's condition, both positive and negative, and recommend which items must be fixed right away, and which ones are purely cosmetic. Any unsafe conditions should be noted as well.

Lastly, ask how long after the inspection you will receive the report since timing is also crucial during the mortgage process.

What is and isn't Included in the Residential Home Inspection

You want to know what will and won't be covered so that you can plan for it. For example, thorough pool inspections usually require an additional inspection by someone experienced or certified in inspecting pools. Likewise, additional inspections and tests pertaining to radon, mold, and termite may be available for an extra cost because of the additional time and effort involved in conducting those tests.

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) provides a good outline of what you should expect to be covered in your home inspection report.

Ask About Credentials

A reputable inspector must be licensed and have insurance. Membership in ASHI, InterNACHI or another professional inspectors group by a home inspector typically shows a good deal of training and professionalism.

How Much Does a Residential Home Inspection Cost?

The usual cost range for a basic residential home inspection is typically $350-$600. The cost of a home inspection will vary based on the home inspector's experience, as well as the size, age, and condition of the house. Geographic location also plays a part in determining the cost of a home inspection. Extra inspections, such as pool, mold, air quality, septic system inspection or radon testing also add to the final cost.

An inspector will give you a close estimate, but don't let the price scare you away—it is more important to pay more for an excellent inspection service than to have a lower-cost inspector miss something that winds up costing you more later. Ignore cost, and instead focus on experience, reviews, qualifications, and compliance with your state's regulations.

Does a Home Ever Fail a Residential Home Inspection?

Homes do not receive passing or failing grades as a result of a residential home inspection. The report only details the condition of the house and any current or potential problems. It is up to you to decide whether or not those problems warrant walking away from the house or not.

Sellers can take simple steps prior to an impending home inspection to ensure that the issues that may surface during a home inspection are minimized by following the tips to prepare for a home inspection.

What Happens When Problems Are Found During the Inspection?

After you receive the report, your agent will also review the report and make suggestions based on the findings. If there is an inspection clause in the purchase agreement (there most definitely should be!) then you will have the option to terminate the agreement if the report reveals large, costly issues with the home that you and the seller are unable to address to mutual satisfaction. But check the agreement for deadlines for various events including a potential termination.

The buyer's agent will also discuss options with the seller's agent to have the seller address the identified issues and make necessary repairs as needed. The seller is not obligated to make any corrections, but most will likely compromise in an effort to keep the deal going.

Note: While the report will thoroughly detail any problems, it will not provide cost estimates of fixing the problems.

How Long Does a Home Inspection Take?

The duration of a residential home inspection will vary based on the size of the house, but expect about 2-3 hours or longer. We advise that you be present for the home inspection, so be sure to allocate time in your schedule accordingly.

You can follow the home inspector during the inspection (except when and if he or she goes on the roof or in crawlspaces) and ask questions. The inspector may let you know their findings as they perform the inspection, but don't worry if you can't retain all the information just then—it will be in the inspector's report.

During the home inspection and depending on the scope of the inspection and the conditions inside the home, the inspector may utilize various pieces of equipment, such as electrical testers, carbon monoxide detectors, moisture meters, and ladders. A camera, of course, will be used often for pictures of the home and any issues that are discovered during the home inspection.

When Should the Home Inspection Be Performed?

Plan on scheduling an inspector right after the purchase agreement has been signed. Having the home inspection done sooner gives you time to work out of the issues (assuming the contract has an inspection clause), as well as have the homeowner make any necessary repairs agreed to based on the inspection report findings.

Will a Home Inspector Make Repairs?

A reputable home inspector will not offer to make any repairs, as this is a conflict of interest. The home inspector may suggest the best course of action to fix various problems.

For more information or for help with a residential home inspection, please call (800) 309-6753 or email us at inquiry@wini.com and one of our experts will contact you promptly. To find a WIN Home Inspection expert near you, please click here.