Oh the home inspection. You just were so excited because you found the perfect place, you made an offer, negotiated just like they do on the TV shows (HA) and ratified on the house (aka everyone agreed to price/terms). Now your friendly agent strikes fear in your heart immediately by reminding you its time to schedule the daunting home inspection…
Oh the horror….
Just like when having any doctors visit, we might not like smell of the hospital, needles and surgery, but when the process is explained, we start to understand, and likely the fear dissipates a bit.
The same goes for home inspections. Here are 8 questions you’re bound to have going in (and should) help explain the why, how and what of one of the most important steps to getting from contract to close…
1. What is an inspection?
Think of an inspection as a physical check-up for a home. The inspector will use an array of tools to help assess, detect and diagnose the home’s condition. They’ll likely point out important items (like where the electrical panel and water shut off valve is) and/or suggest repairs or evaluations be done by contractors.
Unlike an exam in school, an inspector does not issue a “pass” or “fail” for the inspection, but rather an objective report outlining their findings of each area in the home. After the inspection you’ll have better idea of condition of big ticket items like the roof, HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems. You’ll also be made aware of any possible leaks (active or inactive), deferred maintenance or systems that could impact your insurance.
2. How does it work?
The home inspector will evaluate the home on the inside as well as the outside.
This will include:
Checking the roof (they will a do visual observation and climb onto it to evaluate the roof’s condition)
Examining the exterior of the home, the attic, any decks, balconies or fences, the electrical and plumbing systems
Checking/testing all faucets, plumbing fixtures, toilets, showers and tubs
Checking the home ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system
Checking the state of the water heater, fireplace(s), appliances and windows
Examination of the crawl spaces, garage floors, patios, lentils, decks and pools, if applicable
Depending on what the home has, there could be more than one inspector needed. It depends on the different areas of expertise needed.
A separate pest inspection (called the CL-100 Report) is common in the low country and typically done after the initial inspection. This will look for any wood destroying organisms like termites, fungi or powder post beetles.
3. What happens?
No matter how well-kept or maintained in appearance a home may be, it is completely normal to expect the inspector to find items that will need repair, replacement or attention of some kind. They will also likely recommend areas for improvement, such as adding gutters, etc.
In other words, there is no home that is in “perfect” condition. Keep in mind that just because an inspector finds items needing to be fixed or recommends some enhancements does not mean that the home is a bad house or that the seller can or will fix or upgrade things.
The report can be used as a tool to assist in repair requests to be made by the seller, or in renegotiating a price adjustment, or concession toward closing costs in lieu of repairs or some combination thereof.
4. What’s the difference between major and minor problems?
It is important to understand what items may be found that are major versus minor, as well as potential costs to repair and/or replace.
A roof nearing the end of its life is a major concern (mainly due to cost). Typically, replacement is an expensive proposition. It all depends on size of the home, number of stories and the pitch and slope to the roof.
The age and condition of the HVAC system is also something to be aware of, as the cost to replace that can be substantial. A water heater is much less expensive to replace versus a roof or HVAC system, but the cost involved also depends on whether it is electric or gas, the size and the number of them.
Foundation issues are typically costly to fix and involve major work. In order to qualify for homeowner’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance policies increasingly require what is known as a “four-point inspection” on homes that are more than a quarter of a century old. This typically includes inspections of the aforementioned HVAC, electricity systems, the plumbing and fixtures, and the roof. It depends on the company and the state you’re in.
Minor items may be window springs that need to be repaired, a broken sprinkler head that needs replacement or sprinkler heads that need adjustment. There may be wood rot on a door jamb, windows or mold on the tile. Cracks or gaps may need caulking. Torn screens may need mending.
5. How long does it take?
An inspection is a significant undertaking, and is a time-consuming process. Expect it to take a few hours or more, depending on the size of the home and the extent of components that need to be inspected.
The entire process may take a few days. It depends on how many inspections need to take place. Coordinating with all involved is often a delicate dance of fancy footwork.
6. How much will it cost to fix problems?
This is always the million-dollar question when inspectors point out flaws. The best way of figuring this out is to consult contractors. They’ll be able to provide an idea of cost and options for repair and/or replacement. This will give the buyer an idea of what items to approach the seller about and what items they may prefer to handle on their own after closing.
7. How much does an inspection cost?
This is also another common question. It often depends on the size, age and scope of the property. A condominium for example, where a buyer’s ownership rights remain inside the property, is likely to cost less than a single-family home with several bathrooms and a pool.
Nevertheless, do not choose an inspector by price alone. Cheapest is not always best. In fact, it could cost you more money in the long run if the inspector cut corners or minimized some findings that should have been more thoroughly evaluated. For a typical home it will be a few hundred dollars.
Ultimately it’s important to remember that while this step is an essential hurdle (and usually the first step in closing process after you have ratified a contract), if you are buying a pre-owned home there are bound to be items that appear. No home is perfect and if you have done your job in finding a quality agent and inspector, they will help explain, guide and inform on how to handle.