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Home Inspections for Buyers: Tips & Checklist

Kimberly Rotter
By: Kimberly Rotter

Our Mortgages Expert

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A home inspection is one of the many steps in the home buying process. It helps protect the buyer from purchasing a home with undisclosed problems. Use our home inspection checklist to make sure yours goes without a hitch.

What is a home inspection?

A professional home inspection is where a qualified home inspector looks for any defects and potential problems. Just as an appraisal is designed to protect mortgage lenders, an inspection is for the home buyer's benefit.

A home inspector is trained to assess the condition of the property. It's not required in most cases. But unless you're an experienced contractor who can spot deficiencies yourself, it makes sense.

It's also important to include a home inspection contingency in your home purchase agreement. This gives you the power to negotiate if the inspector uncovers major repairs or maintenance that you'd need to pay for.

The home inspector won't give the home a pass or fail. That's your job as the buyer. You can choose to buy a home that's falling down. Or you can renegotiate with the seller over the smallest deficiency.

When does the home inspection happen?

A home inspection happens after the seller accepts your offer and before you close on the house. Schedule the inspection as soon as possible after your offer is accepted. That will give you and the seller time to renegotiate if necessary.

Home inspection checklist for buyers

Having your own home inspection checklist will help you work with your inspector. You may identify areas of concern that you can pass along.

Outside the house

Roof. All roofs need maintenance, so you'll want to know how soon it could become a major expense. Find out how old it is and ask questions about any damage or discoloration you see. Also, check nearby trees. Leaves and branches cause damage and give rodents easy access.

Water. Water can rot wood, damage your foundation, and cause mold. Look to see if anything would cause rainwater to flow onto or under the house. The rain gutters should be clean and direct water away from the property.

Foundation. Problems with the foundation could prove costly. Watch out for big cracks in the ground, raised foundation, or walls. Also, pay attention to any trees growing close to the house. It's very common for roots to cause damage that you can't easily see.

Inside the house

Water. Water can be so destructive, you'll want to look for it everywhere. Watch out for:

  • Water stains on ceilings, walls, or floors. These could indicate a roof or pipe leak.
  • Leaks or water stains inside sink cabinets. Be sure sinks and tubs drain properly.
  • Evidence of leaks in the attic and basement.
  • Water stains below windows. Bubbling paint on a window frame could be evidence of water intrusion and a poor seal.

Appliances. Turn on appliances, including the heater and air conditioner, to make sure they run. Run the garbage disposal. Confirm the home has hot water and all plumbing fixtures work.

Signs of age. Old houses are wonderful, but if you buy one, you might need to upgrade certain features. If a wood floor has already been refinished, it may be too thin to refinish again. Clay and cast iron pipes wear out. Old windows are not energy efficient. Old wiring could be a fire hazard. Older homes may not have enough electrical outlets to accommodate a digital family.

If you've never bought a home before, check out our list of lenders for first-time homebuyers to help you through the process.

How to hire a home inspector

First, find out whether your state requires home inspectors to be licensed. If so, be sure to verify that your inspector has a valid and current license.

Ask around for referrals. Your real estate agent probably knows more than one home inspector. Also check with friends, family, or coworkers.

Here are a few questions to help you get to know the inspector and compare your options.

  • What does the inspection cover?
  • How many residential inspections have you completed? For newer inspectors, is a more experienced inspector available to double check the work?
  • How long will the inspection take?
  • When will the inspection report be ready?
  • How much does it cost?

Ensure your home inspector is not affiliated with the seller in any way. The inspector is on the buyer's team. You want to feel confident that person will look out for your best interests.

How much does a home inspection cost?

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a typical price range is $300-$500, but you might pay more. The price will vary depending on where you live and the condition and size of the home. The home buyer pays for the home inspection.

Specialty inspections are not usually included in a presale visual inspection. If you need the home inspected for termite activity or mold (beyond what's visible), you may need to pay an additional fee or hire a special inspector.

Read our first-time homebuyers guide to find out more about other costs you're likely to face.

What happens during an official home inspection?

The inspection process is a lengthy visual inspection of the home. It may take a few hours.

In addition to the items above, if the attic, basement, or crawl space are accessible, the inspector will probably enter those areas. Other items that are commonly checked include:

  • Walls, ceilings, floors, and doors
  • Interior plumbing fixtures
  • Structural integrity
  • Proper ventilation
  • Visible termite damage
  • Electrical panel
  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacles, which are outlets that protect you from getting shocked
  • Carbon monoxide detector and smoke detector
  • Garage door operation

Besides checking to make sure things work, the inspector will note any safety hazards.

After the inspection, you'll get a detailed home inspection report. What you do with the report is up to you. In some transactions, the home is sold as-is. No matter what comes up in the inspection, you can either take it or leave it. Other deals allow for an inspection contingency. That means you agree to buy the home provided the inspection is satisfactory. If it isn't, you can renegotiate. The seller might be willing to do a repair or reduce the price of the home if the inspector finds a problem.

Some types of mortgage loans require special inspections. The Federal Housing Administration loan program has its own inspection, for example.

Tips for home inspection day

Here are some tips to get the most out of your home inspection:

  • Be there. You don't have to go to the inspection, but it means you can see any problems for yourself.
  • Be prepared. Bring a blank inspection checklist and jot down questions to ask the inspector.
  • Check for disclosures. Review any seller disclosures you received before inspection day. Be sure to ask your inspector to look at those areas and verify repairs. If you are buying a foreclosed home, there may be no disclosures.
  • Let the inspector work. Avoid unnecessary interruptions.
  • Make sure there's time to ask questions. Set aside some time before the inspector leaves.

Still have questions?

Here are some other questions we've answered:

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  • A professional home inspector makes a thorough visual inspection of every aspect of the home. The inspector will check the condition of the home's exterior, structural components, appliances, foundation, basement, attic, roof, insulation, and interior plumbing and electrical system. The inspector typically provides a copy of the detailed inspection report within a few days of the inspection.

  • Most mortgages don't require a home inspection, so you could do it yourself. However, if you're not experienced with home maintenance, we'd recommend you hire a home inspector. You can still do your own visual inspection. Look for things like water damage, foundation cracks, roof wear, dated wiring, leaky faucets, and drafty windows.

  • A standard home inspection typically doesn't include the pool, spa, health of the trees, sprinkler system, septic tank, well, chimney, presence of pests, or presence of lead paint. Additionally, mold, asbestos, and indoor air quality typically aren't included. If you want to know about any of these, you will need to pay an extra fee or hire a specialty inspector.

  • Your presence at the home inspection is optional, but it is a good idea to show up. If the inspector finds something significant, it can be helpful to see it with your own eyes. Also, you can do your own visual inspection while the inspector is there to answer questions.

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