Home Inspection Guide

Keri Shull’s Home Inspection Guide for Buyers

We get it; home inspections can be scary. When you’re in the process of buying a home, the inspection can be the last thing standing between you and your dream home. You’ve probably heard some home inspection horror stories — a cracked foundation, black mold, (gulp) raw sewage — and you’re nervous that the house you fell in love with won’t pass inspection. Worse, what if the home inspector misses something critical?

The good news is that these are normal concerns for a buyer to have before scheduling a home inspection. We’ve been there before with our clients, so we know that a lot of hopes and expectations can be riding on the results. After all, if everything goes well with the home inspection, you’ll be sitting at the closing table getting ready to move into your new home in no time! That’s why it’s so important that you work with an experienced real estate agent or team who can properly prepare you for a home inspection. You’ll also need your agent to advise you on your options once the inspection report is final.

In order to set yourself up for success, you’ll need to understand how a home inspection works. We’ve put together a guide that will help you do just that, plus tips on choosing the right home inspector, what to expect the day of the inspection, and examples of the kind of decisions you’ll have to make when you get the results.

What is a Home Inspection?

It’s always best to start with the basics. Most first time home buyers don’t know much about home inspections, but then most people don’t until they go through the home buying process themselves. It’s not uncommon for buyers to confuse home inspectors with real estate appraisers, but a home inspector determines the condition of the home’s structure whereas an appraiser determines the value for a property.

In simple terms, a home inspection is a visual examination of a house’s overall condition. A home inspection identifies any problems that a home might have from age, weather damage, or shoddy construction. It’s like a thorough check-up of the home, so that the buyer knows what they’re getting into before they seal the deal. When the home inspection is completed, the inspector will produce a home inspection report which documents the home’s physical standing and identifies any areas of the home that require repair or replacement. All major mechanical systems, structural integrity, and cosmetic features are reviewed during a home inspection.

In a typical home inspection, the following are evaluated when creating the report:

  • ● heating and cooling systems
  • ● electrical systems
  • ● interior plumbing
  • ● insulation
  • ● ventilation
  • ● kitchen
  • ● bathrooms
  • ● basement/crawlspace
  • ● garage
  • walls
  • roof
  • attic
  • ceilings
  • floors
  • doors
  • windows
  • chimney
  • insects
  • drainage and gutters
  • foundation and structural components
  • Consider getting the home inspected for termites as well. You don’t know whether the seller regularly used pest control services or not, and termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage in a home, unbeknownst to most homeowners.

    A home inspection should take two to four hours or longer, depending on the size of the house and the complexity of the inspection. On average, home inspections cost between $300-$900. The age of the home and the type of home will also dictate how long it takes to complete a home inspection and how much it will cost. Be prepared to dedicate a full day for the home inspection, just in case.

    Though a home inspection can seem daunting and stressful, look at the bright side: inspection day is usually your first chance to go back inside the house you put an offer on — aka the home you want to buy! You’ll get more acquainted with the home by checking out every nook and cranny with your inspector, and better yet, you’ll get to see what you’re getting into by buying this particular home. This will likely be your last chance to spend time in the home without the seller around before it’s officially yours.

    The best part about a home inspection is that the results will arm you — the buyer — with critical information regarding the state of the home before you sit down at the closing table. It’s like an owner’s manual for the home. The home inspection report will help you decide if this is the right home for you and your financial situation. For example, if you find out from the report that the plumbing will need an overhaul in six months or less, now you won’t be blindsided by overflowing toilets once you’re the owner, and you can calculate it into the cost of the home right away. Remember that no house is perfect — even newly built homes have problems — and that there is always room for negotiation with the seller if the home is in anything less than great condition.

    Most home buyers wait until they are in contract to buy a home to schedule the inspection and are eager to get the process done and over with so they can finalize the deal. Sometimes buyers can be tempted to choose the first home inspector they find to speed up the process, but this is the worst thing a buyer can do. There are a lot of home inspectors out there, but not all of them are experienced, knowledgeable, or professional, and you need an inspector who is all three.

    First and foremost, your agent should be able to provide you with referrals when it’s time to choose a home inspector. For example, the Keri Shull Team has a list of preferred vendors that we recommend to our clients. These vendors are businesses or individuals that we have worked with in the past and trust to do a good job. However, a good agent will still tell you to conduct your own research to be sure you’re comfortable with your home inspector.

    Almost all home inspectors will have some type of online presence such as a website or business profile where you can find contact information, reviews, testimonials, and other information about the inspector. You can find a list of local home inspectors near you by visiting the American Society of Home Inspectors on the web. Some states regulate home inspectors and if this is the case in your state, make sure to verify with your state agency that your home inspector’s license is up-to-date and review their record for any complaints before moving forward with that inspector.

    You’ll want to choose the home inspector who has a broad range of knowledge of a home's overall condition instead of one who specializes in one specific criteria of a home. Take the time to ask an inspector certain questions about their experience. Get their contact information and call or email to ask:

    • ● About their background
    • ● How long they’ve been in the business
    • ● How many inspections they’ve performed
    • ● What type of report they’ll provide
    • ● If they’re credentialed by the ASHI
    • ● How familiar they are with different types of houses
    • ● If they carry Errors & Omissions Insurance

    Speak to several different inspectors until you have confidence in their abilities and experience. Any extra time you put into choosing the right home inspector will be worth it in the end. Just remember that even the very best home inspectors won’t catch everything every time. The condition of the home on the day the inspector visits is simply a snapshot of that day. That’s why some home buyers feel more comfortable hiring two different home inspectors and scheduling two separate home inspections before they close on a house. You can always talk to your agent after the home inspection report is final to decide if you should schedule a second opinion.

    Once you’ve chosen a professional and experienced home inspector, you’ll need to coordinate with the seller to schedule the inspection. Your real estate agent or team should be able to do this for you. In DC, Maryland, and Virginia, sellers are not allowed to be at the home during inspection, so they will need some time to plan. Buyers, on the other hand, should always be there for inspection. We can’t recommend it enough: buyer’s should always be present on the day of home inspection.

    Good home inspectors are expecting the buyer to be there, so they can point out things that may be an issue for a future homeowner. A home inspector is inspecting the home for the buyer’s benefit, not the seller. This is your opportunity to find out exactly what is going on with the house you want to buy in real time. Clear your calendar, so you can be there. Your agent should also be present for the home inspection. Their experience will prove to be invaluable as the inspection is conducted.

    Before inspection day, do your homework to learn as much about the property as possible. We recommend that you review the property disclosures in particular. The property disclosures will list any prior renovations or repairs by the seller, and reveal any existing issues or problem areas in the home. Write down any questions you may have for the inspector after reading these documents and bring them with you on inspection day.

    Throughout the home inspection, there are certain areas of the home that are generally considered to be must-check areas. Prepare some sort of checklist to bring with you on the day of inspection, so you can be sure your inspector isn’t cutting any corners or missing any potential problem areas. If any of these parts of the home aren’t covered by your inspector or included in the report, speak up and ask why not.

    • ● Appliances (if included): How old are the major appliances like the stove and the washing machine? Is the refrigerator or dishwasher in good condition?
    • ● Attic: What is the state of the interior roof structure? Are there are leaks or signs of future leaks?
    • ● Basement: Is there adequate insulation? Are there any damp spots or evidence of mildew?
    • ● Electrical: Do all the light switches work or are there obvious malfunctions with the wiring in the home? Have the outlets been grounded? What is the state of the panel? Will it need a remodel soon or can it handle additional appliances?
    • ● Exterior: Are the gutters firmly attached? Are there loose shingles, tiles or bricks? Does the outside of the house look like it will need repainting or other repairs soon? Have you checked for asbestos? Are there any exposed wires?
    • ● Foundation: Have the ceilings and the base of the walls all been checked for cracks or shifts?
    • ● Heating/Cooling System: Does the heat and air conditioning work? How old is the furnace?
    • ● Plumbing: Has the sewer line been checked for cracks?
    • ● Roof: What is the overall condition and when was it last replaced?

      On the day of the home inspection, we recommend that you meet your agent at the home 10-15 minutes before the inspector is scheduled, so you can both allow him access to the property right away. You don’t want an inspector waiting on you (and feeling rushed) and you also don’t want him or her to get started without you. Once it’s go time, the inspector will start by performing an initial site evaluation. They will move through each area of the home and make both oral and written observations regarding the condition of each particular area.

      Follow along with the inspector as he or she covers the entire home. Whenever possible, go exactly where the inspector goes. If the inspector shimmies into the crawlspace, you should too. If they venture onto the roof, get on the roof. This is your chance to ask questions, take notes, learn more about the home, and get feedback on what the inspector is seeing so far. Some things will be better understood in person than when you read it in a report later. The inspector can also point out important systems and demonstrate how they work while they complete the inspection. Most home inspectors will also take the time to tell you about future maintenance tips and techniques.

      As you tag along with the inspector, your agent should also be close behind. Good agents will have been through dozens if not hundreds of home inspections before and know what to watch out for. Your agent will have a better view of the big picture being able to recognize small fixes from huge, money-sucking problems, and thus be able to advise you on your options as the inspection takes place. Your inspector (and even your agent) may be able to tell you what you can or can’t do to the property in terms of fixes and repairs — maybe even how much it might cost — but you’ll only know for sure when you contact a professional who specializes in the field in question and show them the report.

      When the home inspection is complete, every inch of the home should have been covered and written up in the inspector’s report. Often, inspectors will be able to provide the buyer with the home inspection report immediately following the inspection. If not, ask for it to be sent to you and your agent. Make copies for your own records. This report will detail all of the inspector’s findings, good or bad. If there are any defects or damages, they should be explicitly detailed along with the precise location of the issue. Visual evidence of the home’s problem areas will prove to be invaluable when you start seeking out repair estimates, so be sure that your home inspection report includes photos.

      Ideally, you will gain a lot of insight about the condition of a home from the inspector and the inspection report itself. There will be maintenance tips in the report and recommended schedules to follow to keep everything in its appropriate condition. The report should tell you what needs attention immediately and what will need to be taken care of later on. After the inspection is over and the report is in your hands, you will have some decisions to make regarding your next steps. Schedule a meeting with your real estate agent or team to review all of your options.

    When the home inspection is over, it’s time to make some decisions on how you’ll proceed based on the results of the report. Your agent will be a great help to you in this moment, as their experience and knowledge will supersede your own. If the report came back with flying colors, there won’t be too much left to do except move along with the home buying process. If you and your agent are comfortable with the job done and don’t think a second opinion is necessary, congrats! You’ve made it through the home inspection process without a hitch.

     

    If the home inspection report came back with one or more areas needing further attention or service, you will have to decide what you want to fix — if anything — and how serious each item is in terms of cost and repair. However, who will pay for what is still up for discussion. You as the buyer can have your agent negotiate with the seller to drop the price of the home to account for necessary repairs or install a condition into the contract that the seller will fix certain items from the home inspection report before the home is transferred into your name.

     

    It may make the most sense to split the cost of whatever needs fixing between yourself and the seller. For instance, if the furnace won’t last another winter, the seller never promised it would and you will expect to have to replace it eventually, so both parties can benefit by sharing the costs. This may be a great compromise for the seller and the buyer. These are all options that you should discuss with your agent in your post-inspection meeting.

     

    If you do decide to go ahead with the repairs, either alone or with the seller’s help, make sure you only hire professionals to do the work. It may be tempting to do things yourself or ask a friend for a favor, but it is in your best interest to do things by the book so that you have all the official paperwork. It is important to collect repair estimates and invoices as proof of the work. Often mortgage and title companies will ask for copies at settlement. If for some reason the seller cannot produce these documents, you may need to walk away from the deal for your own best interests.

     

    The seller also has the right to list their house “As Is,” meaning they are unable or unwilling to make the necessary repairs. This usually results in a lower sale price, so you may still save some cash even having to cover repairs yourself. You can get a great deal on a home even if the home inspection report is less than exemplary. Again, talk to your agent to decide what option is best for you.

     

    Just remember that if you are really in love with a home, your agent will help you reach an agreement with the seller, whatever the results of the home inspection may be. Most real estate agents won’t encourage a buyer to purchase a home with a lot of costly problems, especially not if the buyer has a strict budget, but ultimately the buyer is in control. If it’s something you want to take on, go for it. Just be sure you’ve thought it through.

    When you work with the Keri Shull Team, we’ll always have your back. Even if you buy a home, realize you can’t afford the repairs or can’t handle the construction, we offer a VIP Buyer Guarantee. We will buy your home back from you ourselves or sell it for you for free. We promise to help you be a successful buyer in any and all circumstances. Don’t let a home inspection report stand in the way of you and your dream home. Buy a home with the Keri Shull Team for the best results. Contact us today to get started!

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