Home Inspection Tips for Buyers
Buying a home is a long process. From finding a real estate agent and going to open houses to securing funding and making an offer, the entire process requires a ton of patience and a laser-focused attention to detail. But there’s an important part of the journey that isn’t talked about enough: the home inspection.
The home inspection is your chance to learn all about a home’s little secrets without the biases of the seller or your realtor. Home inspectors are trained and licensed experts, adept at spotting the smallest details and problems that homebuyers often overlook. In this post, we’ll help you get the most out of your inspection with our top home inspection tips.
Get a Home Inspection Contingency Clause
Since you aren’t likely to get a home inspection done until you’ve already put an offer in on a home, including a home inspection contingency clause should be the first thing on your list. The clause will give you a certain timeframe to have an inspection performed and will protect you from financial liability if the inspection finds a certain level of defect in the home. Most importantly, it will prompt the seller to address any major issues that are found during the inspection.
Hire a Certified Home Inspector
Just as you would take the time to vet a plumber, doctor, carpenter or lawyer, be prepared to do some homework on who you hire for your inspection. While your real estate agent will most likely offer you some recommendations, finding an inspector on your own will help you avoid any potential bias.
Use homeinspector.org’s searchable database to find a certified inspector in your area. You’ll be given a list of inspectors within a certain radius along with their credentials. Inspectors that are ASHI Certified are your best bet. It means they’ve passed the National Home Inspector Evaluation and have completed at least 250 verified home inspections.
Learn About the Inspection Process
You’ll be better prepared for the inspection if you have a solid idea of what’s included in the inspection process. In addition to minor things like cosmetic defects (which will inevitably show up in almost every home on the market), these are the major areas the inspector will check out:
- Heating/Air Conditioning System
- Plumbing Network
- Electrical System
- Roof & Attic
- Windows & Doors
Along the way, your inspector will take photos of each area and highlight any problems or defects in their written report. They may also bring in tools to detect for lead paint and moisture behind drywall.
Be Present at the Inspection
Reading the written report after the inspection might not give you the complete picture. Some defects that appear on the report can be minor in the grand scheme of things, and other small details could actually point to larger problems. That’s why it pays off to show up and take an active role in the inspection.
Walk through the home with your inspector and pay close attention to what they see. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. A certified inspector will have inspected hundreds of homes and they’ll be able to tell you which problems are easy, common fixes, and which are huge red flags.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
The chances of receiving a perfect inspection report are next to zero. There will almost always be some minor issues in every home. Most of these issues will be small cosmetic fixes or other repairs that won’t set you back by much. What you need to do as the buyer is determine what is appropriate to bring up to the seller.
If you bring up every small defect in the report and demand the seller addresses everything, they could end up pulling out of the deal on their end. As a homebuyer, you should expect to do some of the finishing touches yourself after you move in.
Know When to Walk Away
It’s pretty much guaranteed that no home is going to be perfect. An experienced home inspector is always going to find something to put in their report. A lot of the time, these are minor issues like peeling paint, a squeaky door frame or some loose shingles.
But sometimes inspectors find glaring problems that point to huge repairs. In that case, you could renegotiate with the seller to lower the price, issue you credit for the repairs, or perform the fixes themselves. Or you might decide the best course of action is to walk away from the deal completely if you have a contingency clause in place.
Here are a few red flags to watch out for that could end up being more trouble than they’re worth to fix:
- Foundation issues. A home’s foundation is the basis of its entire structural integrity. Over time, the soil and ground below a foundation can shrink, expand, or shift — affecting the entire structure above. Foundation repairs can be incredibly expensive. Unless you’re prepared to shell out thousands of dollars, you might want to move on.
- Major roofing issues. Every roof is subject to wear and tear over time. But if the seller spent a lot of time in the home and didn’t keep up with roof repairs, there could be loads of structural damage in the roof or attic from built up moisture over the years. Depending on the scope of the roofing issues, the costs of repair might not be worth it for you.
- Old wiring materials. Home building standards change over the years as we learn more and more about the safety (or lack thereof) of certain materials. In older homes, your inspection might reveal an electrical system made up of aluminum wiring. This older material presents a high risk for short circuits, blown fuses and electrical fires. Replacing all the wiring in a home is another repair job in the thousands of dollars range.
- Old plumbing network. Plumbing materials have changed over the years, and just as aluminum wiring can lead to serious problems, old pipe materials can put your home at risk for water damage. In the housing booms of the past, developers often looked to cut material costs any way they could. As a result, many homes built between 1978 and 1995 have polybutylene pipes, which degrade quickly and lead to water leaks. This eventually resulted in a billion dollar class action lawsuit. If the word “polybutylene” pops up in your report, consider jumping ship.
Getting a home inspection from a certified inspection should be on your must do checklist prior to finalizing a home purchase. Do some research up front, find a reputable inspector, and ask as many questions as you need to. With the information in your report, you’ll be able to make the best decision on one of life’s biggest purchases.