When it’s time to buy a new home, there’s a litany of tasks you need to get done before, during, and after closing. Preparing for a home inspection sits near the top of the checklist. Many banks require a home inspection before closing, but with some, it’s entirely up to you. Whether optional or not, it’s a good idea to get your potential purchase looked at by a professional before closing the deal.
Several home inspection mistakes are easy to make and avoid when it comes time to review your new property professionally. This article will present you with the top five mistakes that home buyers make and how to ensure you don’t make them when it’s time to inspect your prospective home.
What is a home inspection?
When you get your home inspected, a professional thoroughly examines the home’s structural components and internal systems. However, the inspector has no concern for the property’s value — this would be the purview of an appraiser, which is entirely different.
The inspection is an essential task in the purchase of your home. You’re entering into an enormous commitment and investing considerable money. A home inspection gives you peace of mind about your purchase when everything is ship shape. Knowing something’s wrong allows you to contact the seller and negotiate repairs before closing the purchase.
These are the elements property inspectors typically examine:
- Structural elements – including foundation, roof, floors, and walls
- Internal systems – such as heating and air conditioning systems
- Electrical – the wiring and having a circuit breaker in good working order
- Plumbing – checking for leakage, proper routing, and up-to-code hardware
- Property grounds – driveway, drainage, septic system, and sidewalk
- Safety measures – adequate smoke detectors, fire escape routes, and other safety concerns
- Fixed appliances – such as dishwashers or garbage disposals
Make sure your inspector has access to all areas of the house. The inspector may ask to reschedule if access to any area is blocked.
Follow along as we explain the types of mistakes to avoid.
1. Not doing a home inspection before buying a house
Eagerness to get into your new home as soon as possible may tempt you into skipping an inspection. Time constraints might hold you back because you need to move out of your old house soon. Or, perhaps you’re just resolved to take care of any repairs in the home yourself.
It’s recommended to get the home inspection anyway. Knowing what needs fixing gives you a head start on which improvements to make after you move in and helps you prioritize what to tackle first.
The seller or agent might pressure you to skip the home inspection — this can be a red flag. If either party is discouraging an inspection, chances are you should schedule one right away.
If the inspector finds any critical issues with the property, this empowers you to negotiate with the seller regarding repairs. Usually, you’ll be able to get them to cover some or all of the improvement costs before closing, or they may drop their sell price to make up the difference.
Whatever the reason for wanting to skip, don’t forego the inspection. Once you’ve closed on that property, it’s all yours — and so is the responsibility of fixing any existing problems. Inspecting your home gets you ahead of that situation, minimizing unwanted surprises later.
2. Not researching your inspector
Take care when preparing for a home inspection. Many homebuyers contact the first home inspector in their online search results or use the cheapest service they talk to. An experienced, reputable inspector will save you a lot of money long-term, even if they charge more than their competitors.
Do a little bit of online research. Make sure that the inspector has good reviews. Before hiring them, ask some questions. Get the following information:
- How much experience do they have?
- What technology do they use to assist with inspections?
- What are their certification and training?
- How do they communicate their report results?
- Did they work any other jobs in construction before becoming an inspector?
Experience, certification, and training are fundamental to a good home inspector. Many move into the field after working in construction, which translates to a better intuitive understanding of structure and design. Many locations require continued education and training to keep up with updates in building practices and codes and gain hands-on experience with new technology.
Some home inspectors use state-of-the-art detection devices — like x-ray or thermal imaging systems — to help them locate issues that aren’t easily spotted with the naked eye. Find out if you can include these high-tech options in the initial inspection or if you have to schedule a separate appointment. Either way, these types of inspections usually cost extra.
3. Not attending the inspection
When you schedule your inspection, plan to be there when the inspector arrives. A reputable inspector will let you follow them around. Your inspector will expect this, if not encourage it.
When you don’t attend the inspection and just wait for the report to come, you miss out on a lot of additional information you can get face to face through conversation, such as suggestions on how to address problems they come across. They can also recommend contractors with experience fixing such issues — information you’d have to call around for later once you get the report.
Additionally, being present during the inspection allows you to ask questions. They can often point to where certain items are, such as the breaker box or the interior water main. An experienced inspector can also usually give you a ball-park figure of how much you’ll need to spend on repairs.
4. Not reading the inspection report
When you get your inspection report, don’t just skim it. Take the time to sit down and thoroughly read through it. A good inspector will write out a concise, easy-to-read report. If not, take notes on items you don’t understand or are vaguely worded.
The home inspection report should contain the following information:
- Written description of issues that were found
- Written explanation of the impact of discovered issues
- Photos of items in need of improvement
- A report summary, with an emphasis on problems that need the most immediate attention
Any major issues should include annotations and clear descriptions. Many reports also include recommended steps and rate the severity of the problem. If there’s any part of the report you don’t understand once it’s released, reach out to your inspector for clarification.
Most inspectors send their reports within 24 hours. However, every contractor has their own timetable, so it may take longer. If you haven’t received your inspection report within a business week, contact your inspector to ensure it hasn’t been lost or forgotten.
In these modern times, you’ll often receive your report in a PDF format or as an internet link rather than waiting for it to come in the mail.
5. Not asking your home inspector questions
When you’re getting your home inspected, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask questions as you go. If you feel like you’re imposing, you’re free to take notes as you go and save your questions until the end. Whatever you decide, definitely ask away when the time comes because if you don’t ask questions during the inspection, you’ll likely have many questions when you get the report.
When you’re following the inspector around, they’ll often point things out as they go. With each item they bring to your attention, be sure to get the following information from them:
Is this something you would fix in your own home?
It’s usually clear-cut whether they’re necessary to address or not. A leaky foundation, a hole in the roof, or decaying water pipes are apparent situations that need immediate attention. When it’s unclear whether an issue is worth concerning yourself over, find out if the inspector would fix it right away or leave it in favor of more pressing concerns. If you’re working on a budget (and most people are), you need to know what’s worth throwing your money at immediately.
What kind of professional would be best to call?
When it’s not apparent who to call to fix a problem the inspector has uncovered, it’s okay to ask. Inspectors can tell you what kind of service you’ll need and can often put you in touch with a reputable professional specializing in that situation. For example, a leaky foundation might take more than a run-of-the-mill concrete outfit. The inspector can recommend someone who knows that situation specifically and knows how to fix it quickly.
Do you often see this issue in homes of this age?
The answer to this question won’t likely affect how urgently a problem needs fixing. It can, however, clue you in as to whether or not to expect similar situations in the future. For example, in a 100-year-old home, it’s not uncommon for one or two doors to be out of square and not latching correctly. Knowing that this is a common occurrence in buildings that have been settling for a century prepares you for it happening with other doors in the house.
How urgent is it to address the issue?
Some issues — such as a loose bathroom wall tile or a missing cupboard door — are simply nuisances but not critical. Whether you address those issues or not, your home will still stand in ten years. Other issues — such as the previously-mentioned foundation leak — obviously need immediate care. A home inspector is likely going to bring up items that aren’t so clear-cut. When the inspector points out something you’re unsure of needing immediate attention, ask how critical it is on a scale of 1-10 that the issue gets addressed — with 10 being the most severe.
The bottom line is that knowledge is power. If you take the time to go through the inspection process with the inspector methodically, you will arm yourself with actionable information. This knowledge gives you many advantages you wouldn’t have had if you’d skipped the inspection in the first place.
You should always have your home inspected before closing the deal. Get all the information that you can ahead of the inspector’s report. In the end, you’ll be better prepared to bring up issues with the seller once the report comes in, and you’ll move into your new place with complete peace of mind.