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The Homebuyer’s Guide to Home Inspections

Magnifying glass and house.
If you’ve done any research on the home-buying process, you’ve probably heard about the importance of ordering a home inspection. On the surface, it’s a fairly straightforward process: You hire a qualified expert to inspect the home you intend to purchase, to make sure everything’s in order before you close the transaction.

But if you’re a first-time homebuyer, you may not be totally clear about why home inspections are worthwhile, how to get one, and what you ought to look for during the process.

Why Home Inspections are Valuable

Start with the basics: Why is a home inspection important in the first place?

  • Condition knowledge. First, you gather detailed insight into the true condition of the structure. Just because it looks pretty doesn’t mean everything is in good shape. A home inspection is a substantive glimpse into the true condition of the foundation, interior, plumbing, electrical wiring, and other essential structural features.
  • Negotiating power. If anything’s not right about the home, your inspector should find it. The knowledge could give you further negotiating power — even if your initial offer has already been accepted. You may be able to adjust the price downward, or demand that the seller make proper repairs to prevent your offer from getting rescinded.
  • Proactive repair. You want the house you move into to be comfortable and free of damage. A home inspection gives you the opportunity to identify and repair any damage or weaknesses that could come back to cost you plenty in the future.

When to Get a Home Inspection

Though the timing can vary, most people request a home inspection only after they’ve enrolled in a contract to buy the property. Otherwise, you’d be inspecting every property you come across, and that can runs into money.

Most purchase contracts make the offer contingent upon the results of a home inspection, which gives you wiggle room to renegotiate or withdraw your offer after the inspection has been performed and you learn there may be significant issues that have not been addressed.

Whom to Choose

So whom should you choose to do your home inspection? You can find home inspectors almost everywhere, but these are some tips to consider during your search:

  • Get recommendations. If you’re working with a home-buying agent, he or she will likely have a recommendation. You may trust the referrals and advice of people who have been involved in more home inspections than you have; it’s the best way to find a qualified, experienced inspector.
  • Consider price. You may also weigh the cost of your home inspector. Most inspections cost somewhere around $300 to $500, but you may locate people who charge considerably more or less. Beware of anyone who offers to perform an inspection for less than a few hundred dollars, though; this is an in-depth service, and you tend to get what you pay for.
  • Make yourself a part of the process. Make sure to hire someone who’s willing to do the inspection while you’re onsite. Walk around with them, and make sure they’re open to answering your questions. The more you learn during this process, and the more you’re an active part of it, the better.

What to Expect

So what should you expect from the actual inspection. What should you look for? To start with, a home inspection should be top to bottom … literally. Your inspector should look at every part of the residence, from the roof down to the foundation.

The inspection should last at least two to three hours. Any shorter than that, and you’re probably going to overlook something. The inspector should also take lots of notes and photos throughout the process.

During the inspection, you’ll want to pay special attention to:

  • The roof and chimney. The roof is a particularly hard-working feature of any home. It’s prone to significant damage over time, and leaks that can cause even more damage if not addressed proactively.
  • Mold and moisture. Moisture is usually a bad sign. It means something is leaking or isn’t properly built. It’s also a precursor to mold, which can present a major headache to the homeowner.
  • Plumbing issues. All it takes is one flaw in your plumbing system to lead to much bigger, more complicated problems.
  • Electrical issues. Bad wiring, or electrical systems that aren’t up to code, could pose a risk of fire.
  • HVAC systems. Heating and cooling units don’t last forever, so your inspector should check on their current condition.
  • The structure and foundation. It’s nearly impossible to ascertain the structural integrity of a residence with an amateur’s visual inspection, but a reputable inspector should be qualified to make a solid determination.
  • Certain appliances left behind by the previous owner should also be inspected for performance and safety, such as the smoke detectors.

What Happens Next?

Let’s say you’ve obtained a home inspection and everything looks great. This is rare, to be honest, but if it should happen to you, give yourself a pat on the back. The rest of the purchase process should flow smoothly, and you can rest assured you’re getting a great home.

If something’s not right about the home, however, the next step can vary a bit. Make sure any problems are well documented by your inspector, and include photos if possible.

Next, raise the issues with your buying agent and/or with the current homeowner. You may request that the current owner pay for the repairs before purchase is finalized, or suggest that the purchase price be lowered as compensation for your shouldering the future responsibility.

If the homeowner refuses to accommodate your requests, you may choose to accept the situation and eat the cost, or walk away from the deal. You’re in control of the situation, and your buying agent will likely have useful advice for you in this event.

Before you seek a home inspection, you need to have a house you wish to purchase. If you’re just starting to look for your home, you’ll want a wide range of options to look at so you get a feel for what you ultimately want and need.

If you use Green Residential’s search tool, you can call up a list of options in the region of your choice, so you can get a head start in finding your dream home.

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