What to Inspect When You're Inspecting: Home Inspection FAQ

Buying a new house is always exciting, whether you are doing it the traditional way or through a rent-to-own agreement. However, it is almost certainly the biggest investment you will ever make, so you should take your time with the documentation and payment process, no matter how excited you are. After all, it's your own hard-earned money you'll be handing over. It's tempting to settle everything as quickly as possible, but don't be too hasty. The enormity of your purchase alone should make you want to ensure everything is as close to perfect as you can manage. You don't want to get carried away by the enthusiasm and do something you'll regret later.

That's why an inspection is a must. It may seem like it's an unnecessary expense when you've already spent a small fortune on your purchase, but it could, and probably will end up saving you money in the long-run.

What It Is
A home inspection is a service carried out by professionals, designed to check the condition of a structure and its major systems. It consists of two components. First, there is an objective visual examination that identifies any parts of the house that is significantly deficient, unsafe or near the end of their lives. Then the inspector submits a written report documenting his or her professional opinion.

What It Is Not
An inspection is not an insurance policy, guarantee, or warranty on the home. It is also not designed to predict the house's future performance or life expectancy. Likewise, it's not an energy audit or an environmental review of green credentials. Finally, the process is not intended to reveal concealed defects or comment on the design.

What Should It Cover?
Every inspection is different, varying with your location and inspector. Nevertheless, you can expect any reputable professional to include a standard checklist of items. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) has a Code of Ethics that requires its members to report their findings in a fair, impartial, and professional manner, avoiding conflicts of interest.

ASHI's Standards of Practice contain a comprehensive list of the items its members should check.

Here are some of the main areas:

Structural Components - The inspector should check entrance ways, foundations, sidings, and porches. They will be looking for any indications of danger or deterioration, such as sagging roof lines, porches pulling away from the main house, and signs of rot. They will also note any damage caused by an insect infestation, but this should not supersede a proper pest inspection.

Exterior - The inspector will focus on exterior doors, wall coverings, flashing, trim, decks, balconies, eaves, soffits, and fascias. They will also check the grading of the land and surface drainage of the property, as well as any retaining walls that could affect the house.

Roofing - Your inspector might get up on your roof to carry out the roofing portion of the inspection. Others will use binoculars or access parts of the roof from upper windows. They will be inspecting the roofing materials, drainage systems, flushing, skylights, and chimneys to ensure they are not damaged and are serving their primary intended purposes.

Plumbing - Most inspectors will run faucets to check the house's water pressure and flush toilets to see if there are any leaks. They will also check that drains do drain effectively and vent systems do vent effectively.

Electrical - Your inspector will check if there is aluminum wiring on your prospective purchase. It is a fire hazard and, as a result, is banned in many states. They will also check switches, lights, and convenience outlets. Their report should also include information about the presence or absence of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Heating And Air Conditioning Systems - Your inspector will carry out a check of the heating and air conditioning systems, depending on your state and its climate. They will ensure that each is functioning properly and may even conduct an efficiency test for you (although they may charge a bit extra for this service). In the case of houses that use oil-based systems, they will also inspect the condition of the oil tank and any visible lines running from it to the furnace.

What Will I Pay?
Like the cost of housing, inspection fees vary geographically. What's more, even within a specific area, the cost will ultimately depend on several factors, such as the size of the building, its age, and the inspector's experience.

While you might be tempted to cut corners here, a low-cost procedure isn't necessarily the best option. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, and home inspections are certainly no exception. Do you want to entrust your future to a budget inspection?

Can I Do It Myself?
Nothing is stopping you from going over a prospective property with a fine-tooth comb and carrying out basic checks yourself. However, you simply won't have the kind of knowledge that professional inspectors gain from experience. Seasoned professionals have inevitably conducted many inspections before, know what to look for, and have trained in the field. They are familiar with construction, home safety, maintenance, and proper installation. They will know how all of the different systems are supposed to function with each other and understand why they sometimes fail. There is no substitute for practice-based knowledge of this depth.

The hardest part of doing it yourself is overcoming the emotional tie you may have to the house, especially if it looks like it could be your dream home. It's almost impossible to remain completely objective and unemotional in these situations. As a result, you may be willing to forgive defects, even if they represent financial liabilities in the long term. While your judgment may be compromised by pre-existing attachments, a professional will tell it to you straight and give you all the facts. It's like getting a second opinion before a major medical decision. There's a cost, but that cost can save you money and headaches down the line.

It's also important to remember that a house cannot fail an inspection. It's not a pass or fail assessment. The inspector will provide you with an expert opinion on the property, highlighting any components and systems that may need replacing or major repairs carrying out in the future. However, the choice to buy or move on is ultimately yours.

How Can I Find A Reputable Inspector?
Recommendations from friends and family members are a great way to find an inspector, especially if someone you know and trust had a good experience with a particular individual or company. Your real estate agent or broker may also be able to make a recommendation.

Another useful tool is the Find a Home Inspector page on the American Society of Home Inspectors website. It allows you to search for professionals in your area who are members of the non-profit organization.

Whatever you choose, be a smart consumer. That applies to both the inspector you're hiring and the house you may end up buying!