Congratulations! You’ve made an offer on your dream home. But there’s still plenty to be done.
And if you’re thinking about the work of hiring movers or attending the closing, you’re right — but that’s not all. The next step in the home-buying process is to order a home inspection before you finalize the sale.
But some buyers choose to forego the home inspection altogether, especially if they’re in a hurry. Is hiring a home inspector really important, you ask?
In a word: Yes. In fact, we’d argue that it’s crucial.
In this post, we’ll go over the basics of a home inspection, why you need one, and how to hire the right home inspector for your needs.
What a home inspector does
Professional home inspectors are responsible for examining a residential property’s structure, systems, and components. They look for anything that might need to be repaired, from a rusted circuit breaker to a collapsing roof — but their top priority is to discover any safety hazards.
They often follow a home inspection checklist to carefully inspect each aspect of the property, including the following:
- Windows and walls
- HVAC system
- Plumbing and sewage
- Electrical work
This visual inspection can take 2-4 hours or longer, depending on the property’s size. Once the inspection is complete, the home inspector will send you a report of his or her findings.
As the buyer, you’ll review this report and come to your own conclusions about the property you’re thinking of buying. The inspector won’t make a “pass” or “fail” decision on the house; every home has potential issues, and even new construction might have issues and imperfections.
It’s up to you to decide whether you’ll:
- Request that the seller fix certain items before you’ll proceed with the sale
- Ask for a discount on the sale price or credit at closing to compensate for the repair costs
- Take the house as-is
- Walk away from the sale altogether
A home inspection report includes facts about the home’s condition at the time of the inspection; once you have the facts, it’s up to you to decide what to do with them.
How hiring a home inspector can save the home buyer money
There’s a reason most buyers choose to include a home inspection contingency (also known as a “due diligence” contingency) in their purchase agreement. A home inspection contingency gives you time to find an inspector, set up an inspection, receive the inspector’s report, and then decide what you want to do based on the information the inspector uncovers.
But what if you’re strapped for cash?
You’ve already committed to spending most of your savings on a downpayment, and you know you’ll need to spend a few thousand more on closing costs. Moving won’t be cheap, either. So should you really spend $300-$600 on a home inspection — especially if it’s a newer home that looks like it’s in great shape?
Let’s compare the costs in two scenarios, one with a home inspection and one without.
Scenario 1: Juan hires a home inspector for $500. He receives a complete report outlining a few defects, but none of them are too major. Juan’s inspector mentions that the roof will probably need to be replaced in the next year or two, so Juan’s real estate agent negotiates a credit on closing costs with the seller to compensate for part of that upcoming cost. Juan’s $500 investment in an inspection saves him $3000 on closing costs now, and he’ll also be able to plan and save for a future roof replacement when the time comes.
Scenario 2: Michael decides to waive the home inspection and move forward with the purchase of his new home. A few months after moving in, heavy rains flood his basement. During the cleanup, Michael realizes there’s significant cracking in the foundation that’s been allowing water damage and mold to seep into the interior of the home’s walls. The contractor quotes Michael $15,000 in repairs to the walls and foundation. It’s safe to say that Michael is feeling some buyer’s remorse now.
Which scenario sounds better to you?
While it may feel like a chore to hire yet another real estate professional between now and closing day, you’ll be glad you did if the inspector discovers a major problem that will cost you thousands in repairs.
How to find a trusted home inspector
Every state has different requirements for home inspector certification, so there is no universal set of standards a home inspector must meet.
Some states don’t have license requirements, while others do; some states require continuing education to maintain a valid license, while others don’t. Check out this map to find out your state’s specific regulations.
While there’s no hard and fast rule for what makes a successful home inspector, there are a few ways you can find those who have set themselves apart.
1. Check that the inspector is certified, licensed, insured, and bonded.
If your state requires certification and licensing, be sure your inspector meets those requirements. And if they don’t carry errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, any issues resulting from mistakes or oversights they make in their inspection report will be your responsibility alone to fix.
2. Look for a home inspector who is a registered member of a professional association.
Professional home inspector organizations like the International Association of Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) require applicants to pass certain tests and complete a set amount of field experience before the applicant can join their ranks. If you go with someone who’s a member of one of these associations, you can be confident you’re getting an inspector who knows their stuff.
3. Look for an inspector who has additional certifications.
Does the home inspector offer specialized services that test for common issues in your area, like a septic system or WDO/termite inspection? If they’ve done the extra work to enable themselves to provide a thorough inspection for their clients, they’re likely to go the extra mile for you.
4. Find a home inspector who uses quality software.
Old-school inspectors might use handwritten reports, but quality home inspection report writing software offers many benefits that are hard to beat nowadays. The headache of trying to interpret messy handwriting or a typed report without pictures aside, HomeGauge software also includes many valuable perks, such as:
- Expandable digital photos and video
- Faster turnaround for reports due to time-saving features and templates
- Professional and easy-to-navigate reports
- The Create Request List™ (CRL™) for buyers and agents, which allows you and your agent to review issues and easily add them to a repair amendment on the sales contract
When choosing your inspector, look for a professional who takes their job seriously. Check out HomeGauge’s Find a Home Inspector tool to discover top-notch home inspectors in your area.
Red flags to watch out for when choosing a home inspector
Once you’ve made your list of potential inspectors in your vicinity, start calling them and inquiring about their services. Be sure to ask more than just their prices; you can often narrow down your list by asking the right questions, such as:
- Can I attend the inspection? It’s common advice for buyers and their agents to be present for the end of the inspection to get a firsthand account of the inspector’s findings. If the inspector prefers to do their job alone, it may be a sign that they’re looking to cut corners.
- How long will the inspection take? If the inspector gives you an estimate of less than two hours, they may not be accustomed to taking the time necessary to be thorough.
- Do you have any references? If they can’t point you to several satisfied customers, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere.
- Can you show me a sample inspection report? A sample report should help you understand their reporting style and whether they tend to thoroughly inspect each aspect of a property.
Signing a contract with a home inspector
Once you’ve chosen an inspector, you’ll sign a pre-inspection agreement, or a contract between the two of you that outlines the scope and expectations for the inspection.
Inspectors’ insurance usually requires that they have a signed agreement before they complete any portion of the inspection. This protects them from lawsuits and helps keep their insurance coverage complete.
The pre-inspection agreement should include the payment arrangement and have a list that includes (but is not limited to) various components of the house that the inspector will examine. Often, the agreement will also include a statute of limitations requiring that the client file any complaints (for example, that there was presence of asbestos that the inspector failed to catch) within a year of the inspection.
Make sure you review the inspector’s contract prior to signing to fully understand not only the price, but also what specific services are included in the inspection.
Hiring a home inspector is an essential step in your home-buying journey
While you might be in a hurry to close on your new home, it’s almost always a bad idea to skip the home inspection.
A home inspector is responsible for examining the physical condition of most visible aspects of the property, and the inspection report will give you a complete picture of your new home’s condition. Without an inspection, you may be walking into a purchase completely unaware of a hidden safety issue or needed repairs.
So unless you’re a true expert in construction, structural engineering, and real estate, you’d be well advised to look for a home inspector with the demonstrated expertise and skills to provide you with a neutral, comprehensive report on the property.
After all, buying a home is one of the most important purchases in your life. The peace of mind a home inspection can give you is well worth the cost and the time it takes.