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What to expect from a home inspection

Home inspection checklists for buyers and sellers

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by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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Sometimes called a mortgage inspection, a home inspection can make or break the sale of a house. This resource explains what a home inspection is, how much it costs and what inspectors look for. Keep reading for checklists and information about how to read a home inspection report.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection, also called a mortgage inspection, is a part of the mortgage process where a buyer hires an inspector to check the quality of the home. Nearly all lenders require a home to undergo an inspection before they agree to lend money for the purchase. Home inspectors mainly inspect major aspects of a home, including the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, plumbing and electric systems, the roof, the foundation, structural components and floors.

Home inspection costs

A typical home inspection costs between $300 and $500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The size of the house and where it is located are the biggest factors that impact your cost. You may also want to add additional inspection items outside of what your lenders require.

For example, if you have a tree close to your home, you could pay for a specific inspection on the foundation to ensure the roots have not damaged it. Radon testing is another popular add-on that is not required. These additional inspections can cost anywhere between $150 and $1,000 per test. We recommend talking with your general inspector to see if they think it’s necessary before ordering one.

What do home inspectors look for?

In general, a home inspector is looking for anything that might cost the buyer a lot of money down the road — specifically health, safety and mechanical issues.

The main things that inspectors look for are foundation or structural problems, HVAC, electrical system or plumbing issues and other evidence of damage. This includes looking at the roof, crawl space or basement, attic, plumbing, grading, insulation and electrical systems. If the inspection reveals the need for expensive repairs, that will likely factor into the buyer’s final decision.

According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the inspector evaluates “readily accessible, visually observable, installed systems and components.” The inspector is obligated to describe the following in a report:

  • Foundation and framing
  • Floor, wall, ceiling and roof structure
  • Interior water supply, drain, waste and venting materials
  • Water heating equipment, including energy source
  • Location of main water and fuel shut-off valves
  • Roofing material and draining systems
  • Skylights and chimneys
  • Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Heating sources, cooling systems and energy sources

Inspectors are also required to describe the method used to inspect components. For more information, read ASHI’s Standard of Practice for Home Inspections.

Home inspection checklist for buyers

We’ve compiled a list of some of the things you should consider during a home inspection. This list is not exhaustive and should not replace the checklist provided by your inspector.

Exterior grounds
The exterior grounds portion of a home inspection includes driveways, walkways, patios and swimming pools. The inspector looks at the types of materials used and their current condition. Things they look for include:
  • No evidence of termite damage
  • No standing water
  • Driveway, fences and yard in good condition
  • Stairs, decks and other outdoor structures are secure
  • Proper grading and downspout drainage
Foundation and structure
A home inspector evaluates the structural soundness of the home and its weight-bearing components and checks for:
  • Sides not bowed or sagging
  • Doors and window appear square
  • No significant cracks, curling rot or decay
  • Joints around frames are caulked
  • Drop caps over windows
  • Storm windows or thermal glass intact
  • Roof, gutters and chimney in good condition
  • No visible evidence of damage or decay
Interior of home
In this portion of the evaluation, the inspector looks for large and small problems that could cost money to repair related to the inside of the house. They will check:
  • No stains on floors, walls or ceilings
  • Attic has adequate insulation and ventilation
  • No smells that could indicate a mold problem or combustible gas
  • Windows and doors latch properly
  • Light switches work properly
  • Enough three-pronged electrical outlets for each room
  • No cracking or evidence of backdrafting around fireplace
Heating and cooling systems
Home inspectors must check for issues with the furnace, air conditioner, heat pump, ducts and thermostat. The checklist includes:
  • Good airflow throughout house
  • No rust around cooling unit
  • Clean air filters
  • Adequate ductwork
  • No asbestos in heating pipes or air ducts
  • Separate flues for gas and wood or coal
A home inspector examines fixtures, supply lines and drains during the plumbing portion of the inspection. They'll ensure the home has:
  • No damage to visible pipes
  • No leaks in pipes
  • Adequate water flow
  • No rust around pipes
  • Floor under sinks in good condition
  • Toilet operates properly
  • No stains around shower or bath
Electrical systems
Safety is the main concern for home inspectors when they evaluate electrical systems. This inspection checks for:
  • Protected and secure wiring
  • Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) for electrical outlets near sinks
  • Automatic garage door opener works
  • Service panel at adequate capacity
  • No aluminum cables for branch circuits

Home inspection checklist for sellers

As a seller, it’s your job to prepare your home for the inspection. While you don’t have to move everything out of the way, you want to give your inspector as much room as possible to do their job. If they can’t complete the inspection, your sale could fall through. Here are a few things you need to do before your buyer’s inspector comes:

  • Provide access to areas the inspector needs to check
  • Tidy up the perimeter of your home
  • Replace light bulbs that aren’t working
  • Make sure smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors work
  • Check doors, faucets and light switches.
  • Make any simple DIY repairs
  • Clean

How to read a home inspection report

A home inspection report includes a summary of the findings and specific descriptions of issues with images and an outline of the potential impact. While it can seem overwhelming at first, it’s pretty simple to read if you don’t let yourself get bogged down into the details.

First, look at the primary recommendations, or summary, section. This is where you find information about significant problems, such as mold and electrical issues.

Things like broken window screens or other small changes are also noted, but you shouldn’t be too worried about minor problems. Many inspectors will color-code issues to let you know what’s a safety concern, what needs maintenance but not immediately and what works the way it should.

Home inspection FAQ

How does a home inspection work?
A home inspector looks for structural damage, general issues, safety problems and anything that might cost you money in the long run. Main systems like HVAC, plumbing and electric, roof, foundation, structural components and floors are the primary things home inspectors evaluate.

Most inspectors recommend that homebuyers are there in person for the inspection. This is so they can ask questions in real-time and have a better understanding of the home’s condition. Having this information is critical when deciding whether to buy the house.

After the home inspection is complete, the inspector provides a written report of everything they found.

How long does a home inspection take?
A home inspection usually takes between two and three hours. If you have a larger home or want other inspections done, it could take longer, depending on the season. It usually takes a few days to get a full report back.
Who pays for a home inspection?
The buyer usually pays for the home inspection. This is because this process is designed to protect the buyer, not the seller.
What is a home inspection contingency?
A home inspection contingency is when you put an offer on a house with the understanding that you will only purchase it if it passes inspection. With a contingency, if the home's condition isn’t up to the buyer’s standards, they then have the legal right to back out of the sale or negotiate repairs.
What are home inspectors not allowed to do?
Home inspectors aren’t supposed to move furniture or major appliances around to evaluate them. Home inspectors also can’t tell you how much a repair would cost or who to call for help.
What does a home inspection not include?
Inspectors don’t look for pests, although they will note damage that appears to be caused by pests. The same goes for landscaping and appliances. You must hire another professional if you want these looked at more closely.

Bottom line: Why a home inspection matters

A home inspection gives the buyer one last opportunity to back out of a deal before the sale goes through. Home inspections may seem expensive, but they can save you thousands of dollars down the road. Plus, it makes you a more knowledgeable buyer in terms of the condition of the house you’re buying. If you’re going to drop a good chunk of change on a purchase, you should know exactly what you’re buying. That’s why a home inspection matters.

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Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kathryn Parkman believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase, which is why she spends hours researching companies and industries for ConsumerAffairs. She believes conscious consumption is everyone's responsibility and that all content deserves integrity.