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Home inspection checklist

What to expect from your inspector

Author picture
Written by Bradley Schnitzer
Edited by Cassidy McCants
homeowner and home inspector looking over paperwork in empty home

Buying a home can take months. By the time you’re ready to close on the property, you might think you know everything about it — but it’s hard to know what to look for when considering potential repairs down the road.

Getting a home inspection can help ensure the home you choose is ideal before moving in, and it can give you an idea of what kind of upkeep to expect.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a detailed examination of the home you plan to purchase (or sell) and its condition. An inspection happens before closing but after the seller has accepted the buyer’s offer.

Home inspectors help uncover flaws in structures or systems so buyers don't unknowingly move into a potentially hazardous home. These inspections can save you money in the long run — if any problems come up, you can either ask the seller to make repairs or negotiate a lower sale price. A buyer might also back out if the inspector comes back with a long list of necessary repairs.

Inspection vs. appraisal

Both inspections and appraisals involve a close-up look at the home, but the inspection is a more in-depth process. A home appraisal helps determine the home’s approximate value. It moves along the mortgage approval process, ensures you don’t overpay for the home and helps you calculate your property taxes.

An appraisal can save you money if the appraiser comes back with a value lower than the listed sale price. In this scenario, ideally the seller drops the price. If not, you may have to put down more money, or the lender won’t provide financing. You might also include a contingency in the offer sheet that lets you back out in this scenario.

Home inspections are more detailed — they help you catch any red flags. Inspectors examine everything from the roof to the plumbing systems to the foundation and more. When they’re finished, they write up a report detailing what they found and any problems that require repairs.

While home inspections often aren’t required by mortgage lenders, in most cases they’re worth paying for.

What home inspectors look for

A home inspector examines a home’s interior, exterior and systems. Here are some areas a home inspector will check and what they look for:

Exterior

  • Walls: Cracks, damaged/missing siding and soil proximity (can invite termites and other pests)
  • Foundation: Indirect evidence of foundation issues (such as settling) and internal cracks
  • Roof (if safe to check): Damage, loose or missing shingles and the condition of the gutters
Some inspections include landscaping and other features, but this will depend on your inspector.

Interior

  • Floors, ceilings and walls: Cracks and other damage
  • Kitchen, bathroom and laundry room: Most major appliances and outlets (varies by inspector), leaks, toilet functionality, ventilation quality and damage to cabinets, drawers and other fixed furniture
  • Garage (if attached): Damage and fire rating
  • Smoke detector: Presence and functionality

Systems

  • HVAC: Age, condition and insulation quality
  • Plumbing: Age, condition and insulation quality (including presence of asbestos)
  • Electrical: Conductors, fixtures, ground fault circuit interrupters, overcurrent protection devices, service drop, service equipment and main disconnect, service ground and switches
  • Water heater: Age (including approximate installation date), condition and proper installation

What home inspectors don’t look for

Home inspections are primarily visual checks, so there may be some problems your inspector doesn’t catch. Some things inspectors may not look for include:

  • Pests
  • Sewer line issues
  • Septic system issues
  • Paint/wallpaper/finish appearance
  • Mold/mildew
  • Ground under the home
  • Electrical work (such as the wiring within the walls)
  • Building code violations
  • Close-up roof details (depending on how high the roof is and how safe it is to access)
  • Chimney/fireplace
  • Swimming pool cracks and dents

Home inspection costs

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, home inspection costs can range from $300 to $500, though your exact costs will vary depending on several factors:

  • Your inspector (and their experience)
  • Property location
  • Home size
  • Home age
  • Current housing market (more demand means higher costs)

FAQ

Can I do my own home inspection?

Yes, you can do your own home inspection. However, real estate inspectors have extensive training and experience — doing the inspection yourself can increase your risk of missing issues in the home.

Is a home inspection required for a mortgage?

In general, you don’t need a home inspection to get a mortgage. Still, it’s a good idea to get an inspection so you know what you’re getting into when buying a particular home.

Who attends a home inspection?

Only the inspector is required to be there for the home inspection, but it’s often a good idea for the potential buyer and their agent to join. This lets the buyer see any problems the inspector finds, and the agent can explain how flaws could help with negotiating a lower price.

What are home inspectors not allowed to do?

Home inspectors are not allowed to do the following:

  • Repair/renovate a home they inspect
  • Offer services beyond inspection
  • Risk your or their safety
  • Touch/operate anything not required to inspect the home
  • Diagnose issues — for example, if they spot mold, they can’t tell you the type of mold or what caused it
  • Estimate repair intervals for components and systems
  • Recommend contractors or engineers

Bottom line

A home inspection adds another cost to the homebuying process, but it’s almost always worth it. It helps catch problems while they’re still the seller’s responsibility, potentially saving you from costly repairs.

An inspection also gives you an idea of what upkeep to expect. Home inspectors can’t catch everything, but this extra step helps ensure you move into a house that won’t cost you greatly in early repairs and maintenance.

Article sources

ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
  1. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “Ten Important Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector.” Accessed Jan. 25, 2022.
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