You’ve made an offer, haggled over the contract and struck a deal. Now it’s time to hire a home inspector to give you an objective analysis of the condition of the the home you want to buy. Your purchase contingency should permit you to withdraw your offer in case you aren’t satisfied with the inspector’s findings. If the report reveals that serious structural defects exist, you may want to kill the deal entirely. More typically, the inspection will uncover common flaws and problems. Prior to going through the inspection process, it’s important to understand what to expect.
Finding a Good Inspector
Start by asking your attorney, friends, and lenders for recommendations. You need someone with a good reputation and recognized professional credentials. Look for these qualifications:
Experience–A home inspector’s experience in the building field usually comes from a background in contracting, architecture or engineering. The professional you want is one who knows homes inside and out, who makes a living poking into cellars, attics, and crawl spaces looking for design, structural, or equipment flaws, and who then gives you a detailed written report that takes some of the risk out of home buying.
Impartiality -The inspector you hire should be independent, not beholden to the seller’s real estate agent and not interested in promoting a repair or remodeling business.
Certification and/or professional affiliation-Look for inspectors who are members of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), which sets the standards for inspections nationally. Members must pass a specific set of examinations, do at least 250 paid inspections that meet their standards of practice, and take 60 hours of courses every three years. Members are bound by a code of ethics. The National Institute of Building Inspectors trains its inspectors following standards set by ASHI and requires inspectors to hold liability insurance and meet certain continuing education requirements.
Fees for inspecting homes generally vary according to contract price and location, and often vary according to age, size, and construction of the house. Assuming the home you’re interested in is a fairly typical residential property, you should expect to pay, on average, between $200 and $400, depending in part on the home’s square footage, sales price, age and number of rooms. Inspections in large metropolitan areas where homes are more expensive—for example, New York City and San Francisco—may cost more. Inspectors may do specialized tests—such as those for radon or lead—for an additional fee. Inspections on Sundays, holidays and after hours, and those that require any long distance travel, also are likely to command premiums.
A proper home inspection usually takes two to three hours. Most inspectors encourage buyers to walk through the home with them. You will gain a better understanding of any issues uncovered if you accompany the inspector. You can also ask questions and get a sense of how serious the problem may be—and how expensive it will be to fix. This can be a messy process. Be prepared to get into crawl spaces, attics, and other potentially dirty areas of the home.
Your home inspector may use checklist-style worksheets, adding notes as needed, or the inspector may present a narrative of the overall condition of the property, along with suggested repairs and improvements. The inspection report should indicate possible as well as existing problems the inspector has observed.
In a seller’s market, one of the most common mistakes buyers can make is to purchase a home without an inspection. Even if you think you’ve found the home of your dreams, it’s never a good idea to buy a home without an inspection.