Why and How to Choose a Home Inspector

What can you expect during and after the inspection

Home inspection

There are so many things to think about when buying or selling a home, it can be incredibly overwhelming. One issue that often confuses both parties is the home inspection. Both buyer and seller should be aware of exactly what goes into this process: buyers because they need to know about any problems with the house, and sellers to avoid later hassle by ensuring everything is up to code.

Why do a home inspection?

Most commonly a home inspection is conducted as a condition of sale and is required by the mortgage lender. No bank wants to sign off on a loan for a piece of property that is worth less than the loan. Typically, the prospective buyer arranges for the inspection, accompanies the inspector (because who wants a house that's going to collapse around your ears?), and pays the bill.

Equally useful, but less commonly done, is a prelisting home inspection paid for by the seller. Codes change, improvements are made, and issues that seem small or inconsequential can result in nasty surprises when it comes time to close on a sale. For a smooth sale, a seller can hire a reputable home inspection service to provide a punch list of potential show-stoppers, make the corrections before the house even goes on the market, and use the report as a useful tool to convince buyers that the property has been carefully maintained. While the buyer may wish to hire their own inspection service—or be required by the lender to do so—the chances are very good that there will be no big surprises. In some cases, the bank may take the seller's inspection report with appropriate corrections made and verified.

A third reason for hiring a home inspection service is to get a professional assessment of maintenance or repairs needed around your house. Home problems are always less expensive to fix before they get big enough to cause problems. Leaks are a good example. You might have a "small" leak and notice a tiny stain on a ceiling, but have no idea the amount of damage that is occurring behind the wallboard. A good home inspector may be able to zero in on some of these little problems before they result in major repair bills. Think of it as a tune up for your house.

An experienced home inspector describes any issues discovered, the probable source of the problem, and provides guidance on making repairs such as which trade can correct the issue or whether a permit is necessary. However, a good home inspector should not give recommendations for contractors, estimate repair costs, advise on whether or not you should purchase the home, make comments on the home's market value, or benefit monetarily in any way from the sale or repairs done to the home.

Where can I find a good home inspector?

A good piece of advice is to never take recommendations for a home inspector from your realtor. No matter how easy this is (and we all know how simple it is to take the easy way out), more likely than not a real estate agent has connections with home inspection agencies, and sometimes get a kickback or percentage of each home inspection done. Not that this is always the case, but be wary. Another no-no is going for the rock-bottom lowest price and soonest availability when choosing a home inspector. A person who charges way below the going rate for your area probably doesn't have the time or resources to do a proper, thorough inspection.

When possible, the best way to find a home inspector is by asking people you know who they'd recommend. Think back over the past few years: has a close neighbor recently sold their house? Has a friend bought a house? Getting a recommendation from a friend or neighbor you trust is really the best way to go when choosing a home inspector.

What does a home inspection usually cost?

A home inspection for a normal, single-family house (1500-2500 sq ft) typically runs $250-$500. Location, housing prices, and the size of your house are all factors in determining the cost of a home inspection. The home inspector provides a complete written report to the client. When the buyer pays for the report, a copy is also provided to the mortgage lender.

How long will it take, and do I have to be present for it?

A thorough home inspection takes at least two hours. Two to four hours is about the norm for most home inspections. While it's not absolutely mandatory that you accompany the inspector, it really is necessary because you need to see what needs to be taken care of before you buy or sell. If a home inspector discourages you from accompanying him during his tour of the house, this should definitely be taken as a warning sign that the quality of the inspection could be sub par.

What should the home inspection cover?

Here is a list of the things for which your home inspector should provide a detailed description of condition:

If your home has other amenities, such as a pool or spa, the home inspector may cover those as well, but it could add to the overall fee. If needed, select an home inspection service that is qualified to perform the environmental testing for formaldehyde, asbestos, carbon monoxide, water, lead, and radon. Find qualified inspectors for sub-specialties like septic tanks or fields.

What about a do-it-yourself home inspection?

While a consumer home inspection doesn't take the place of an inspection by a certified home inspector, it's a good idea if you're the buyer to do both. The seller might want to do a walk-through just to make sure the area is well-lit, clear of clutter, and easily accessible. If you're the prospective home buyer and would like to do your own inspection before the "real deal," the American Home Inspector Directory's website is a great resource for learning the ins and outs of doing your own inspection with sections on typical problems as well as a do-it-yourself checklist.

Whether you're a buyer, seller, or just a home owner wanting to get an idea about the condition of your house, a home inspection is a great way to learn more about the structure. It's also a wonderful way to bite those potential problems in the rear before they turn into something big. Do your research, find a home inspector you trust, and you'll have a great experience, whatever your final goal is.

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