“What’s Included in a Home Inspection?” + 7 Things to Look For


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Many wonder “what does a home inspection cover?” I dug around to find out and also came up with the 7 most important items to look out for. Doing a home inspection is a very important part of the home buying process. While looking at a property online or even during a walk-through might seem extensive enough, you don't want to buy a property only to discover you'll have to sink thousands more dollars into repairs. (Read my renovation story here)

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A home inspector checks and catalogs potential home issues and repairs for both the seller and the buyer so the two can make further decisions about the home purchase, such as whether to lower the price or complete repairs.

It is recommended that the buyer attend the inspection to get a better idea of what he or she would be purchasing. But what should you be looking for? I know when I bought my first home, it was really hard to be fully present during the inspection because I didn't know what I was looking at or what to ask.

What Does a Home Inspection Cover?

Twenty-four to forty-eight hours after your inspection, your inspector will provide a full home inspection report on the condition of many items in your (potential) future home. What does a home inspection cover? Here's a home inspection checklist:

  • Plumbing
  • Electrical system
  • Roof
  • Exterior
  • Structure
  • HVAC system
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Walls
  • Fireplaces
  • Ventilation

It's important to note that unless expressly visible, termite damage and other pest issues, as well as “additional” systems such as security, satellite, and smoke detectors, may not be tested by home inspectors and may require additional inspections.

What should I expect during a home inspection?

  • As the buyer, expect to attend the inspection.
  • Communicate with the home seller (via your agents) about what time you'll be at the home, so they can make the home available for inspection.
  • Expect the inspection to take two to four hours.

How much does it cost to have a house inspected?

How do I prepare for a home inspection?

  • Come with any questions you have about the home written down on a piece of paper.
  • Wear clothes you're OK with getting dirty because the inspector may want to show you something that will require you to get on the ground or into a dusty attic.
  • Before the inspection starts, take a moment to speak with the inspector about any concerns or areas you would like him to really pay attention to.
  • Ask the inspector to show you where the water shut-off valve and the breaker box are. (From my days flipping houses, I can say these are very important to find and something an inspector can show you easily!)

Who pays for a home inspection?

The buyer pays for a home inspection. Technically, you could have the sellers pay for the home inspection, but then you would have to take their word for the state of the house.

Health-related repairs are the seller's responsibility. After that, the seller is not obligated to make any repairs. However, many sales are negotiated – either the seller makes repairs or drops the price to make up for the buyer needing to make those repairs. It depends on the laws of the state and each deal between a seller and a buyer.

What happens during a house inspection?

Outside of knowing what does a home inspection cover, you probably also want to know what to expect. During a house inspection, a licensed inspector will review the house to see if there are any electrical, mechanical or structural flaws. While an inspection isn't required by law, it helps protect the buyer from having to deal with problems he or she wouldn't have been able to notice otherwise.

The inspector will generally create a report that details any discrepancies he might find. You can use this to negotiate with the seller on your deal.

What happens after a house inspection?

After a home inspection, the buyer and seller often negotiate what repairs will be done and who will pay for them.

This often turns into negotiating a new deal, which can entail changing the price or requiring the seller to make repairs.

Can you negotiate the home price after the house inspection?

If the inspector finds issues in the home and puts them in the report, the buyer has the right to negotiate the home price afterward.

Buyers can also request that the seller make repairs on the home before they go through with the sale.

Can a buyer back out after a house inspection?

Yes, buyers can back out of a deal after a house inspection. There are two reasons. The first is a home inspection that shows issues the buyer isn't willing to risk. The other is if the buyer failed to qualify for a mortgage loan.

Can a seller back out after a house inspection?

A seller can also back out of a deal after a house inspection. Most often, this happens if a buyer requests repairs the seller doesn't want to make.

But most of the time, it isn't in the seller's best interest to back out of a house sale.

7 Most Important Things to Look For in a Home Inspection

I've ranked these issues as not only most important for the overall health/stability of the home but also most likely to be budget busters for the first-time home buyer. When it comes to answering what does a home inspection cover, these items are a must. Seriously, print out this post and take it with you to your inspection, or use it to compare notes when the inspector's report comes through.

Defects in the Structure/Foundation

Just as the term suggests, a home's foundation is what it is built on. As the general contractor on “This Old House,” Tom Silva, says: “Without a good one, you're sunk.”

  • When buying a home that you're hoping to live in for an extended amount of time, you want to make sure the structure is sound.
  • Keep an eye out for any damage to the foundation or flooring, as well as making sure that there is no water damage to ceilings or walls, which could escalate to serious problems later.
  • Don't panic: Many older homes have foundation issues, ranging from settling (which is fairly common) to larger cracks (which you should address immediately).

The TL;DR: If your home inspector suggests bringing out a structural engineer to examine the foundation, it may be worth it for your peace of mind.

Potential Roof Issues

  • Ideally, a roof should not leak, have loose tiles or shingles, or be touching any trees or branches. (I mean, it's not like you can live in a house comfortably without a functional roof over your head.)
  • Trees and other debris can allow rodents and other infestations access to your home, in addition to the danger they pose in storms.
  • The life cycle of a roof varies based on the type of roof and the manufacturer. If well-maintained, roofs last 15 to 20 years. However, they're expensive to replace, often costing $10,000 or more.

The TL;DR: Roof repairs become costly quick. When purchasing a home, it's important to have an estimate of the roof's remaining life, so you can begin saving for that eventual expense.

Improper Insulation

  • While in the attic or crawlspace, take note of the condition of the insulation.
  • Improper or missing insulation means you'll be paying big time on your energy bills in the winter.
  • Additionally, insulation is often a cozy place for unwanted roommates, such as rats or raccoons. Once they make a home, you'll need a full or partial replacement of soiled insulation.

Broken Window or Door Seals

If a door or window does not lay flush with the surrounding structure, you could be letting money slip through the cracks. There's a reason your dad probably said “Close the door. I'm not trying to air-condition the whole neighborhood!” at some point.

Broken seals on doors and windows can also lead to water damage.

The TL;DR: This is typically a simple repair, but be sure to also check for mold or water damage if you find this issue during the inspection.

Faulty Electrical Work

Depending on the age of the home, electrical outlets may be in short supply, or the wiring may not even be up to code. This may not seem like an issue initially, but if there are exposed wires or extension cords running throughout the house, you should take a closer look at potential electrical issues.

Exposed wires can lead to electrical fires, and do-it-yourself wiring should be corrected by a licensed electrician.

Condition of the Plumbing

  • It's important to check the condition of all pipes for leakage and proper fit. Leaks in the plumbing inside the home can contribute to mold and other rot in floors and ceilings.
  • Also find out if the home connects to a septic tank or public sewage.
  • Have your inspector show you where the water shutoff valve to your new home is. (You will need to know this later!)

The TL;DR: Problems with sewage pipes or septic tanks can require lengthy and costly repairs, so catching them early will save you a lot of trouble down the road.

Exterior Issues

It's easy to spot the need for cosmetic upgrades and start daydreaming about how you'll make the home your own once you move in. Still, I urge you to pay attention to those less-sexy, less-glamorous parts of a home. These are the big money pits (and they're not very fun to fix either), so go into your inspection with your eyes open. Don't ignore the exterior parts of your home!

  • Are there dimples or gaps in the siding?
  • What about gutters that don't drain correctly?
  • Are there any retaining walls? Are they in good condition?

The TL;DR: To save time, many inspectors gloss over the home's exterior. But when asking, what does a home inspection cover, the exterior should for sure be included in detail. Follow up with your home inspector to ensure he has properly inspected the outside of the home, too.

Additional Expenses That May Come Up During Your Home Inspection

Mold problems

In regions where the climate can be humid (hello Atlanta), mold can become a serious issue. If the area is not properly sealed for moisture, mold can grow in the crawl space and floor joists. This not only affects the air circulating within the home, but it also weakens the entire structure, if left untreated.

This is why in many homes, plastic vapor barriers are put down to keep away moisture. In some cases, investing in a dehumidifier is a good idea, too.

If mold is already growing, then mold remediation can be time-consuming and expensive.

Tree Removal

You've found the perfect house…perhaps you even wanted a wooded lot! Trees close to the home can be helpful in keeping the home cool in the summer, thereby helping with the electricity bill. But if the trees are unhealthy or too close to the house, it will take just one major storm for the roof to incur damage.

Pro tip: Many times if a branch or tree interferes with a power line, the power company will come and remove it at no charge – just be sure to ask!

Appliances

You may have negotiated the appliances into your purchase. Even then, replacing them can be costly when the time comes. If the appliances are nearing the end of their life, it might be prudent to invest in a home warranty, which covers repair/replacement of the appliances for up to one year.

The Final TL;DR

Buying a home can be one of the most exciting times of your life. It signifies a big move into the world of adulthood. However, “moving up” can often come with an abundant amount of additional home expenses. The expenditures can really add up.

This is why it's important, especially when buying a new home and undergoing the home inspection process, to have an emergency stash of cash you can use for any of those unexpected new-home expenses. And by knowing the answer to “what does a home inspection cover?” you can plan ahead.

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