Buying a home is one of the biggest purchases you can make, so a home inspection checklist for buyers is essential as you’re evaluating your new property. While taking photos and walking through can give you a pretty good idea of its condition, some issues aren’t always obvious.
A professional home inspector can help uncover a variety of problems that might not be visible or would be tricky to see with an untrained eye. Here’s a look at what to expect from a home inspection and how it can help protect you when buying a home.
What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is a thorough, professional process by which a trained and experienced home inspector visually evaluates your property, then writes a report on their findings. The purpose of a home inspection is to evaluate all aspects of your home, inside and out, to allow you to make the most informed decision about your purchase. It is usually conducted after a home is placed under purchase contract, but before closing.
While a home inspection isn’t generally required to buy a home, most housing professionals recommend one so you protect your investment during a home purchase. An inspection can help you understand a home’s condition so there aren’t unpleasant surprises after closing.
Home inspection vs. home appraisal
A home inspection report is different from a home appraisal, which may also be conducted before closing on a home. An appraisal involves an inspection of the property, but for purposes of valuing it, while a home inspector’s job is to find hidden concerns and potential problems. However, both reports serve to give buyers as much information as possible about their new purchase before the transaction is complete.
Home inspection contingency
Some purchase contracts include a failsafe, called a home inspection contingency. This provision allows the buyer to back out of the sale within a specific period of time — without losing their earnest money deposit — based on what issues are revealed in a home inspection. For example, if the home inspection finds serious issues with the plumbing or foundation, the buyer can usually back out of the offer without penalty if this contingency is in their purchase offer.
A home inspection contingency is always a good idea, as it ensures that you aren’t stuck buying a home that’s found to have hidden damage or flaws. However, waiving this contingency can also be a negotiation tactic and might make your offer more enticing to a seller in a competitive market.
How does a home inspection work?
So, how does a home inspection work, exactly?
Before the inspection
As a seller, preparing for a home inspection might mean making large and/or small repairs beforehand or attending to general upkeep tasks around the property. As a buyer, there isn’t much preparation needed aside from booking the inspection and (if desired) being present for the appointment.
A home inspection will occur after the home is under purchase contract but before closing. If your contract includes a home inspection contingency clause, you should schedule the home inspection as early as possible to ensure that you have the results back before the option period ends.
During the inspection
Upon arrival, the home inspector will look at the exterior of the property and often take photos of different areas and systems of the home. The inspector will look for signs of water intrusion, water accumulation, mold, cracking, settling, and other potential trouble spots before moving on to the interior of the home.
Inside the home, the inspector will look at the condition of the property as well as the integrity of each major system within the home. They will photograph rooms, inspect windows and ceilings, check floors and walls, look under sinks, climb into the attic, and check all major systems, to ensure a thorough visual inspection.
After the inspection
Once finished, the inspector will write up a thorough report for the client (usually the buyer). This report can take hours or days to receive, depending on the inspector’s findings and workload. In this report, the inspector will note his or her findings, including the general condition of the property, any concerns or defects found, and their recommendations for repairs.
Depending on how extensive any damage or problems may be, the buyer might want to renegotiate with the seller. While general wear and tear or cosmetic issues might not be worth bringing back to the table, a foundation problem or leaking roof might. Consider how costly repairs would be based on the inspector’s findings, then determine what you’re willing to take on or what you’d like the seller to help cover.
Home inspector checklist: What does an inspector look for?
A home inspector will visually check both interior and exterior components of the home. While home inspections are noninvasive and may not catch every problem, they are usually quite thorough.
Here is a buyer home inspection checklist, outlining the most common items typically checked during an inspection.
Home Inspection Checklist
|Foundation||✅||This involves a visual inspection of the foundation from the exterior, looking for any damage, signs of water intrusion, cracking, etc.|
|Roof/chimney||✅||If access is not too dangerous, the inspector may climb onto the roof to look; otherwise, this is a visual inspection from the ground.|
|Basement||✅||When accessible, this involves looking at insulation, electrical/plumbing lines, and checking for signs of damage or moisture.|
|Attic||✅||When accessible, this involves looking at insulation, electrical/plumbing lines, roof leaks, and checking for signs of damage or moisture.|
|Heating and cooling systems||✅||This involves checking whether the systems work properly, noting their age and any damage, checking filters, etc.|
|Water heater||✅||The inspector will note the heater’s age, condition, functionality, visual appearance, and other key features.|
|Electrical||✅||This involves testing light switches and sockets, checking visible wires in the attic, inspecting the breaker box, etc.|
|Plumbing||✅||The inspector will look for leaks, test water pressure, and check all nozzles.|
|Kitchens||✅||This involves a visual inspection of all systems and major appliances within the kitchen, as well as checking for adequate venting and safety features (such as GFCI-protected outlets).|
|Bathrooms||✅||This includes checking the tub, shower, sinks, toilet, etc., for leaks or damage, checking the water pressure, looking for electrical issues, and ensuring required safety features are in place.|
Whether you’re purchasing a new home or buying an existing property, home inspection checklists like these can give you peace of mind that your property has been thoroughly inspected. They can help you identify certain red flags that may exist within the property or let you move forward with the purchase comfortably.
How to find a home inspector
A buyer is usually responsible for ordering — and is typically the person who pays for — the home inspection. This inspection is, after all, for the buyer’s benefit.
Try to find a home inspector with strong ratings or trusted reviews. Ask your realtor if there’s anyone they recommend (or would avoid). You can also ask friends or family who have recently purchased a home if they have any trusted referrals. They might have some great tips for your home inspection process, too!
If you aren’t able to get any personal leads, you can also search for a home inspector through trusted organizations, such as NACHI (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) or ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors). These platforms often let you filter searches based on specialties and inspector certifications.
Questions to ask a home inspector
Once you’ve narrowed down your potential list, there are a few questions to ask a home inspector before hiring him or her.
Some important questions to ask include:
- How much does the inspection report cost?
- Are there any limits to what’s included in the inspection? If you are interested in radon tests, sewer inspections, or even an inspection of a pool or spa on the property, these may cost extra.
- What is included in the final report?
- How long will it take to schedule the inspection?
- How long will it take to receive the report after the inspection is complete?
Home inspection FAQs
Who pays for the home inspection?
The buyer typically orders and pays for a home inspection. This ensures that the inspector works for you and has your best interests in mind, rather than another client (such as the seller).
How much does a home inspection cost?
The cost of a home inspection depends on your location as well as the size, layout, and complexity of the property. In general, though, you can expect a home inspection to cost an average of about $400 to $600 for a simple home, or up to $1,000 or more for larger or more complex homes.
Can a buyer do their own home inspection?
While a home inspection isn’t always mandatory, certain lenders or loans (such as those issued by HUD) will require that one be conducted. Even if your lender doesn’t require a home inspection, it’s still a wise idea. These trained and experienced inspectors know how to spot defects and problem areas that the buyer may not see on their own.
Do sellers have to fix all issues on a home inspection report?
No property is perfect, and you can expect that your home inspection will find something to report. While you can bring your concerns and any necessary repair costs to your seller, they are not required to fix them or offer a discount on the purchase price.
What happens if a home inspector misses something?
Good home inspectors will do their best to identify any existing issues in the home, within the limitations of their inspection. However, this isn’t guaranteed. Additionally, inspectors often include clauses in their contracts that if a defect is missed, their liability is limited to a return of the fee you paid for the inspection.
If you have questions about the home inspection or other steps in the homebuying process, talk to a local Finance of America Mortgage Advisor today to learn more.