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 into repairs. (Read about my renovation story here.)
Home inspectors check and catalog potential home issues and repairs for both the seller and buyer so that 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 they would be purchasing, but what should you be looking for? I know for me 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's Included in a House Inspection?
24-48 hours after your inspection, your inspector will provide a full report of the condition of the following items in your (potential) future home:
It's important to note unless expressly visible, termites, and other “additional” systems such as security, satellite, and smoke may not be tested by home inspectors and may require additional inspections.
Because inspections can vary by the inspector, it's important for potential homeowners to attend the inspection and ask lots of questions along the way.
What should I expect during a home inspection?
- As the buyer, expect to attend the inspection.
- Do 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 it to take between 2-4 hours.
How much does it cost to have a house inspected?
- Home inspection costs vary by how big (or small) the home is, and by location. You shouldn't pay more than $500.
- If you're buying a 2,000 sq/ft single family home, expect to pay $400 or more.
- For those with a small condo or townhome, the price could be between $2-300.
- Homeadvisor breaks down data on the average cost of a home inspection here.
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 are okay with getting dirty, as 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'd like him to really pay attention to.
- Ask him to show you where the water shut off valve is and the breaker box (These are important and something an inspector can show you easily!)
7 Most Important Things to Look For in a Home Inspection
I've ranked these as not only most important for the overall health/stability of the home but also the issues most likely to be budget busters for the first home buyer. 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 Issues
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 that 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 that could escalate to serious problems down the road.
- Don't panic: many older homes can 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 the 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 cycles of a roof vary based on the type of roof and the manufacturer. If well maintained, roofs last 15-20. However, they are 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 on the roof’s remaining life, so you can begin saving for that eventual expense.
- While up 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 like rats or raccoons, and 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 has 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 the previously-mentioned water damage if you do find this issue during the inspection.
Faulty Electrical Work
Depending on the age of the home, electrical outlets may be in short supply, or your 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 is 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 be lengthy and costly repairs, so catching them early will save you a lot of trouble down the road.
It's easy to spot cosmetic upgrades and start daydreaming about those fixes and how you'll make the home your own upon 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 eyes open. Don't ignore the exterior parts of your home either!
- 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: For the purposes of time, many inspectors gloss over the home's exterior. Follow up with your home inspector to ensure they've properly inspected the outside of the home, too.
Additional Expenses that May Come Up During Your Home Inspection
In regions where the climate can be more 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 also, if left untreated, weaken the entire structure.
This is why in many homes, plastic vapor barriers are put down to keep away moisture. In some cases, investing in a dehumidifier is not a bad idea either.
If mold is already growing, then mold remediation can be time-consuming and expensive.
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 summers, thereby helping with the electricity bill. But if the trees are unhealthy or too close, it will take just one major storm for you to incur roof damage.
Pro tip: Many times if a branch or tree interferes with a power line, the power company will come and remove it for no charge — just be sure to ask!
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 1 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 and costs. Depending on how many expenditures you are able to accurately anticipate, it can really rack 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.