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Home Inspections Before You Buy

 building inspector, has just begun his examination of a building/home's exterior wall, window, and foundation.

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

You've found the new home you want at the right price, and it looks like it's in great condition. But keep in mind that the home was probably staged to show the best features and minimize any potential flaws. Before you close on the purchase of a home -- or sometimes even before you make an offer -- you should insist on an independent home inspection by a professional inspector.

Many sellers have inspectors and appraisers look at the home for purposes of the sale and are aware that buyers will likely ask for another independent inspection. In this article, we include helpful information about:

Why Home Inspections are Important

If you arrange for an inspection by a professional before the sale is final, any problems uncovered are still the seller's. If you choose not to have it done before the sale is final, the defect, unfortunately, becomes your problem.

According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) more than 90 percent of home sales involve a house inspection. While this number doesn't differentiate between a seller-based inspection and buyer-based inspection, it certainly indicates the significance of home inspections in the buying process.

According to home inspectors, homes may not be particularly well cared for by homeowners, who may be slow to fix leaky faucets, replace heating or A/C filters, or who ignore clunky furnaces.

If homes with homeowners living in the property can be neglected, imagine what conditions a foreclosed home can hide. For example, mold may grow if the water hasn't been turned off and the environment becomes moist. If the home is boarded up and there is no ventilation for weeks or months, mold can grow fairly quickly.

Because of the impact it may have on the actual value of the house, you should make the purchase of the home contingent on a home inspector's report. When making a written offer for the home, simply make it a condition of the purchase. If your home inspection comes back clean, you can continue with the sale with confidence. And if the report is negative, you can reduce your offer, make the seller pay for any repairs, or even back out of the purchase agreement altogether.

What a Home Inspection Entails

It is important for buyers to know what they should expect from the inspection process, and what you generally get for your money. Because there is no uniform certification or licensing process for inspectors, home inspections vary according to the person or company that does them. Generally, a home inspection report will include a report on the condition of the following issues:

  • Heating and cooling system
  • Electrical system
  • Plumbing
  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Flooring
  • Foundation
  • Roof
  • Drainage 
  • Basement

Because home inspectors are not licensed in most states, inspections will not usually include analysis for problems in which licensed professionals generally give advice. These issues involve:

  • Termites
  • Chemicals and gasses (such as asbestos or methane gas)
  • Lead
  • Rodents

You should look into whether these additional problems exist. Some are more common in certain areas. Inspectors may be more willing to share such information "off the record" because of their lack of certification in a particular area. You can follow up by calling a professional in that field to give a written analysis.

For example, you might ask an inspector if there is a termite problem and they may tell you that there's a good chance of it but not put it in the report. You should then get a pest professional to complete a separate inspection based on their expertise.

What is Covered in an Inspection?

Note that an inspection generally covers only moderate to serious issues and does not detail each and every scratch and dent in the home. If you want a more detailed report, you should discuss this with your inspector. If you go this route, expect a potentially higher fee.

In any case, it is a good idea to walk through the home with them during the inspection if possible. Not only will you learn more about the process and what to look for, but they may give you information on small flaws that they may not include in a report and that you want to be aware of for the future.

house inspection will run about $300 to $500 depending on the person doing the inspection and factors such as the size of the home, age, and type of home.

What to Look for in a Home Inspector

Most states do not have a certification or licensing process for home inspectors. If your state does not have licensing criteria, there are other organizations similar to ASHI which are nationally recognized as maintaining and requiring a certain level of expertise and competency from their members. Make sure that your inspector is a member of such an organization or is a licensed expert in home construction, like a general contractor for example.

Because you want the home inspection to be independent of the seller, you should not take the seller's inspection report at face value. You may not even want to hire an inspector your own realtor hires because the realtor has an interest in the sale of the house.

Many homeowners do take a referral from their realtor. Ideally, you want someone licensed or part of a professional organization, who is completely independent of the parties involved in the sale of the home.

Other Inspections

General inspectors are not licensed to inspect for particularized issues. It would probably be in your best interest to at least get a pest inspection done, particularly if you're in a high-risk area. If there are potential problems like floods or earthquakes, a specialized inspection to gauge the home's potential exposure to those risks would be wise as well.

Questions About Home Inspections? Talk to a Lawyer

If you're in the market to buy a house, it's a good idea to get an independent inspection of the house you're interested in buying. If you have questions about home inspections or other questions regarding real estate laws, you may want to speak with an experienced real estate attorney near you today.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help guide you through the home buying process.

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