Home inspection is not a four-letter word but for many, it may as well be. This critical part of the home buying experience can often make or break the deal, and it tends to create anxiety on both sides of the aisle. However, knowing exactly what takes place during an inspection will help relieve some of the worry and put perspective into the process.
Recommended for anyone serious about a home purchase, this two- to four-hour examination of a home reveals the inner workings of the house and may provide additional facts for negotiation on the final price. Based on the findings, the potential buyer can go back to the seller and ask for concessions on the price or ask that certain items be fixed prior to closing.
Both the potential buyer and the seller may be concerned leading up to and during an inspection. Some sellers will actually hire a home inspector prior to listing a house to address existing problems to reduce the likelihood of surprises during the home buyer’s inspection.
Here are a few things to know about an inspection once your offer has been accepted.
What is the primary purpose of a home inspection?
Simply put, the inspection is a visual examination of a home. Unless the home is brand new, there are always going to be areas of the residence that aren’t perfect and shouldn’t cause a point of contention between the parties. However, is there are issues with some of the expensive operating systems of the house (i.e. hot water heater, furnace, roof, etc.), often times the buyer will request the seller fix or at the least, share some of the expense.
What are the major areas/objects/features of the house that are inspected?
Typically, the home inspection covers the following:
- HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems
- Roof, chimneys, attic and visible insulation
- Walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors,
- Foundation, basement, crawl space and structural components
An inspector will check the connections and make sure all major appliances, lights, electrical outlets, etc, are working. A good inspector should note minor imperfections as well as major problems.
What parts of the house tend to be “problem” areas?
Even though Colorado enjoys a semi-arid climate, water and drainage problems can be a real nuisance. A home with a newer roof reduces the likelihood of ceiling leaks and water damage in the house. Properly functioning rain gutters and downspouts (clear of debris) that divert water away from the house are worth their weight in gold. The last thing you want is water collecting in the basement and impacting the foundation. The electrical panel can be another high priced item to replace or upgrade. Depending on the age of the house, how the wiring was set up and how many remodels/additions have occurred, it’s important to know what kind of load the panel can handle. Also, many older homes tend to have an insufficient power supply and not enough outlets. This situation can lead to frequent tripping of breaker switches, especially when many lights are on and major appliances (and vacuums) are running. The HVAC system is also another big one. The lifetime of some of these systems is 15-20 years and if they haven’t been well maintained (or replaced), there can be a lot issues such as improper heating and cooling.
How much is an inspection? Who pays for it? How long does it take and when is the report available?
Cost can range from $250 for some townhomes and condos, and up to $600 or more for single family homes, depending on the square footage of the home. That cost covers the basic home inspection. There are other services that can be added on as well such as radon and mold testing, and sewer scope inspection. Normally, the buyer pays for the inspection. However, as mentioned earlier, some sellers choose to have an pre-inspection prior to listing their home. In this case, the necessary repairs are made before putting the home on the market and the report may be used to accelerate the sale. Depending on the square footage of the home, a thorough examination can take anywhere from two- to four hours, sometimes longer, depending on the circumstances.
Should the buyer/seller being present during the inspection?
This is a great opportunity for the buyer to get a feel for the ‘bones’ of the house. Measurements can be taken, and you can learn the location of the key operating systems (like the water shutoff valve, breaker box, furnace, hot water heater, etc.). At the same time, the buyer should respect that the inspector has a job to do and shouldn’t interfere with his or her ability to complete the work. At the end of the inspection, most inspectors are happy to point out the major deficiencies and how to perform some basic home functions (replacing filters, operating breaker box, etc). Since the home inspection is conducted on behalf of the buyer, the homeowner is typically not present. The homeowner will be advised about the findings and negotiations on repairs may ensue.
What would lead to a “failed” inspection?
The home inspection points out the defects in a home. It’s not really a situation of passing or failing. Most homeowners fix “major” problems ahead of the listing so the home inspection normally lists minor defects that can easily be rectified. But there can be times where a major or unsafe situation is discovered. In that case, the trouble spot will obviously be noted and recommendations will be made on how to address the situation. Ultimately, the prospective home buyer can always walk away from the deal or engage in negotiation to fix the problem.
In a hot market like Denver, sometimes homeowners forego the inspection. Is this a wise decision?
Buying a home is likely to be the biggest investment of your life. As a result, you should know exactly what you are getting for your money. Unless you are willing to potentially sink thousands of dollars into repair costs down the road, you are better off paying for a home inspection up front and knowing the ‘health’ of the property before committing to the purchase.
Why do home inspections often kill the deal?
Some of the priciest repairs involve the roof and foundation. As a result, it’s a good idea for the homeowner to check these areas prior to listing the home. It’s better to know about potential problems ahead of time instead of waiting for the home inspector to deliver the bad news. Another problem area may involve high levels of radon. Installing a radon mitigation system costs between $1,200-$2,500. Finally, if there have been drainage problems around the house, the last thing you want to be hearing about is black mold. No home is perfect and many of the “issues” can be as minor as caulking around the windows, drywall repair or outlets that aren’t working.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of the home inspection?
It’s important to understand that inspectors can only make determinations based on a visual observation. They cannot rip out drywall or examine all the moving pieces of an HVAC system or make repairs. Home inspectors cannot predict when appliances will fail and or how long systems will continue working.
(Editor's note: This article originally ran in July 2017. It has been revised and updated based on current conditions).