Q. WHAT IS A “HOME INSPECTION”?
A. A home inspection is an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a home, from the roof to the foundation. Having a home inspected is like giving it a physical check-up. If problems or symptoms are found, the inspector may recommend further evaluation.
Q. WHAT DOES IT INCLUDE?
A. The standard home inspector’s report will review the condition of the home’s heating system, central air conditioning system (temperature permitting), interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic, and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; the foundation, basement, and visible structure.
Q. WHY DO I NEED A HOME INSPECTION?
A. The purchase of a home is probably the largest single investment you will ever make. You should learn as much as you can about the condition of the property and the need for any major repairs before you buy so that you can minimize unpleasant surprises and difficulties afterward.
Of course, a home inspection also points out the positive aspects of a home, as well as the maintenance that will be necessary to keep it in good shape. After the inspection, you will have a much clearer understanding of the property you are about to purchase.
If you are already a homeowner, a home inspection may be used to identify problems in the making and to learn preventive measures which might avoid costly future repairs. If you are planning to sell your home, you may wish to have an inspection prior to placing your home on the market. This will give you a better understanding of conditions which may be discovered by the buyer’s inspector, and an opportunity to make repairs that will put the house in better selling condition.
Q. WHAT WILL IT COST?
A. The inspection fee for a typical one-family house varies geographically, as does the cost of housing. Similarly, within a given area, the inspection fee may vary depending upon the size of the house, particular features of the house, its age, and possible additional services, such as septic, well, or radon testing. It is a good idea to check local prices on your own.
However, do not let cost be a factor in deciding whether or not to have a home inspection, or in the selection of your home inspector. The knowledge gained from an inspection is well worth the cost, and the lowest-priced inspector is not necessarily a bargain. The inspector’s qualifications, including his experience, training, and professional affiliations, should be the most important consideration.
Q. CAN’T I DO IT MYSELF?
A. Even the most experienced homeowner lacks the knowledge and expertise of a professional home inspector who has inspected hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homes in his or her career. An inspector is familiar with the many elements of home construction, their proper installation, and maintenance. He or she understands how the home’s systems and components are intended to function together, as well as how and why they fail.
Above all, most buyers find it very difficult to remain completely objective and unemotional about the house they really want, and this may affect their judgment. For the most accurate information, it is best to obtain an impartial third-party opinion by an expert in the field of home inspection.
Q. CAN A HOUSE FAIL INSPECTION?
A. No. A professional home inspection is an examination of the current condition of your prospective home. It is not an appraisal, which determines market value, or a municipal inspection, which verifies local code compliance. A home inspector, therefore, will not pass or fail a house, but rather describe its physical condition and indicate what may need repair or replacement.
Q. HOW DO I FIND A HOME INSPECTOR?
A. The best source is a friend, or perhaps a business acquaintance, who has been satisfied with and can recommend a home inspector they have used. In addition, the names of local inspectors can be found by searching our online database, or in the Yellow Pages where many advertise under “Building Inspection Service” or “Home Inspection Service”. Real estate agents are also generally familiar with the service and should be able to provide you with a list of names from which to choose.
Whatever your referral source, you will want to make sure that the home inspector is a Member of the American Society of Home Inspectors® (ASHI®) in order to be certain of his or her professional qualifications, experience, and business ethics. A list of ASHI® Members in your area is available upon request from the Association’s headquarters.
Q. WHAT IS THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF HOME INSPECTORS®?
A. The American Society of Home Inspectors® (ASHI®) is the oldest and leading non-profit professional association for independent home inspectors. Since its formation in 1976, ASHI’s “Standards of Practice” have served as the home inspector’s performance guideline, universally recognized and accepted by professional and government authorities alike. Copies of the Standards are available free from ASHI.
ASHI’s professional Code of Ethics prohibits Members from engaging in a conflict of interest activities which might compromise their objectivity. This is the consumer’s assurance that the inspector will not, for example, use the inspection to solicit or refer repair work.
In order to assist home inspectors in furthering their education, ASHI sponsors a number of technical seminars and workshops throughout the year, often in cooperation with one of its nearly 50 Chapters. ASHI also serves as a public interest group by providing accurate and helpful consumer information to home buyers on home purchasing and home maintenance.
Q. WHO BELONGS TO ASHI®?
A. Members of ASHI® are independent professional home inspectors who have met the most rigorous technical and experience requirements in effect today. To become an ASHI Member, an inspector must pass two written technical exams, have performed a minimum of 250 professional fee-paid home inspections, and maintained his or her candidate status for no less than six months. ASHI Members are required to follow the Society’s Code of Ethics, and to obtain continuing education credits in order to keep current with the latest in building technology, materials, and professional skills.
Q. WHEN DO I CALL IN THE HOME INSPECTOR?
A. A home inspector is typically contacted right after the contract or purchase agreement has been signed and is often available within a few days. However, before you sign, be sure that there is an inspection clause in the contract, making your purchase obligation contingent upon the findings of a professional home inspection. This clause should specify the terms to which both the buyer and seller are obligated.
Q. DO I HAVE TO BE THERE?
A. It is not necessary for you to be present for the inspection, but it is recommended. You will be able to observe the inspector and ask questions directly, as you learn about the condition of the home, how its systems work, and how to maintain it. You will also find the written report easier to understand if you’ve seen the property first-hand through the inspector’s eyes.
Q. WHAT IF THE REPORT REVEALS PROBLEMS?
A. No house is perfect. If the inspector identifies problems, it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy the house, only that you will know in advance what to expect. A seller may adjust the purchase price or contract terms if major problems are found. If your budget is tight, or if you don’t wish to become involved in future repair work, this information will be extremely important to you.
Q. IF THE HOUSE PROVES TO BE IN GOOD CONDITION, DID I REALLY NEED AN INSPECTION?
A. Definitely. Now you can complete your home purchase with your eyes open as to the condition of the property and all its equipment and systems. You will also have learned many things about your new home from the inspector’s written report and will want to keep that information for future reference.
Everyone knows that home ownership is the American Dream. That dream can quickly become a nightmare, however, for uninformed buyers. Even newly constructed homes can harbor costly mistakes—mistakes that may not be visible to the untrained eye.
Many homebuyers assume that they do not need a home inspection. They simply rely on their eye and their intuition to check a property’s quality and safety. That can be a costly, and dangerous, mistake. An inspection by a qualified home inspector can save potential homebuyers time, money, and heartache. Inspections generally cost a few hundred dollars—a relatively small price to pay to protect such a large investment.
Before You Begin
When you put in an offer on a house, make sure to leave room for a home inspection. In some areas, this will be called an “option period.” Others will simply call it a contingency. Whatever name is used, there needs to be a clause in the real estate contract allowing the potential homebuyers to either back out or renegotiate in the case of uncovered problems.
What Does an Inspection Cover?
A home inspector provides a visual, non-invasive inspection of various structures of a property. They do not drill into walls, move structures, or in any way damage the property to perform tests. The purpose of the inspection is to determine if the components are in working order at the time of the inspection. A typical home inspection includes a visual inspection and operational check of the following:
- Structural Systems—foundations, floors, walls, etc.
- Electrical Systems—wiring, main service panels, conductors, switches, receptacles, etc.
- Air Conditioning Systems—cooling and air handling equipment, controls, and ducting.
- Heating Systems—equipment, safety controls, distribution systems, chimneys, etc.
- Plumbing Systems—piping, fixtures, faucets, water heating, fuel storage system, etc.
- Ventilation and Insulation—attics, basements, walls, floors, foundations, kitchen, bathrooms, etc.
- Roofing—coverings, flashings, chimneys, etc.
- Exterior—siding, windows, decks, garage doors, drainage, retaining walls, etc.
- Interior—partitions, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, built-in appliances, etc.
These optional structures are also checked, though sometimes at an additional charge:
- Hot Tubs
- Lawn Sprinklers
- Outdoor Cooking Equipment
- Security Systems
- Swimming Pools
After the inspection, the inspector will provide a comprehensive report explaining his findings. Sometimes he will suggest further evaluation by a specialist, such as a mold inspector or structural engineer.
Value – A home inspector is not a home appraiser, and he can not appraise the value of the property.
Guarantees for the future – An inspector checks the function of the home at the time of the inspection only. Though he may try to report any potential problem areas, there are no guarantees either expressed or implied for future performance. A separate home warranty can be purchased to protect against some future malfunctions, but be sure to read the fine print. Consult with the real estate agent or broker for more information about home warranties.
I Have My Inspection Report—Now What?
The inspection report should be carefully analyzed. The information it contains is an important tool for the homebuyer, as it can be used in a variety of ways:
Renegotiate – If the inspection uncovers needed repairs, the potential homebuyers can use it to renegotiate the contract terms. They can either ask the sellers to make the needed repairs or they can ask for money back at closing. Sometimes sellers will simply reduce the selling price to accommodate needed repairs.
Retract – In the case of major problems, such as mold or structural damage, a buyer may choose to terminate the contract. Under these circumstances, the homebuyer has avoided a potentially costly and dangerous situation.
Planning – Sometimes an inspection report will uncover minor issues that could eventually become major problems. This enables a buyer to make informed decisions about the long-term investment.
Further Evaluation – At times, an inspector will find an issue beyond the scope of his expertise and will recommend further evaluations. For example, if he sees signs of mold he might suggest that a qualified mold inspector is called upon to assess the damage (Some home inspectors do conduct additional inspections, such as mold, radon, etc. This will need to be checked on an individual basis).
The Inspector Found a Problem – Is it a Deal-Breaker?
At first glance, many inspection reports can be a bit overwhelming. Some are so detailed that it may appear the property will soon be falling down! Fortunately, though, in most cases the issues uncovered by the inspector are minor. On the other hand, major problems are sometimes discovered.
Minor problems include:
Cosmetic Issues – Chipped or peeling vinyl flooring, chipped paint, paint splatters, small holes in sheetrock, etc. are cosmetic and are usually inexpensive to repair.
Foundation “settling” – Hairline cracks in the ceiling or concrete are usually a sign of normal settling or shrinkage and not a sign of structural damage. In desired, this can usually be fixed with putty or paint.