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What to expect from a home inspection

Home inspections protect the buyer from unseen damage

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Your new home might look perfect in your eyes, but this doesn’t mean you should skip the home inspection, even on newer model homes. Nor should you opt out of the inspection to move the process along faster or because the seller is pressuring you to.

“Waving a home inspection may seem like an unnecessary expense, [but] the benefits of having a thorough inspection far outweigh the costs,” said Adie Kriegstein, a licensed real estate salesperson at Compass in New York. “By taking the time to have the property inspected, buyers can avoid costly surprises down the road and feel confident in their investment.”

Here’s what you should know about home inspections as a buyer, how much an inspection should cost and what your inspector should be looking for.

Key insights

  • Home inspections are designed to protect the buyer, so don’t opt out of one just to save some money.
  • Your home inspector should be a licensed professional, and the inspection will take more than two hours to complete.
  • Home inspectors don’t check for pests, but you can order additional pest inspections.

What is a home inspection?

“A home inspection is a crucial step in the homebuying process, as it can reveal any underlying issues or hidden defects that may not be immediately apparent,” said Kriegstein. “These could include issues with the foundation, electrical system, plumbing or HVAC system. Without a thorough inspection, buyers may not be aware of these problems until it's too late, leading to costly repairs or even safety hazards.”

How does a home inspection work?

Most inspectors recommend that homebuyers are there in person for the inspection. This is so buyers can ask questions in real time and have a better understanding of the home’s condition — but keep the small chat to a minimum so the inspector doesn’t miss anything important.

After the home inspection is complete, the inspector provides a written report of everything they found. If it reveals the need for expensive repairs, this will give you leverage for a price adjustment or for repairs before closing.

Home inspection vs. appraisal

The home inspection and home appraisal are two distinct checks of your home before closing. Both are necessary, though a home inspection can be waived by the buyer.

  • The home inspection is to reveal any hidden defects or damages within the home.
  • The home appraisal is to determine the fair market value of the property.

The home appraisal is beneficial for you and your lender, but the appraisal fees will come out of your pocket.

» MORE: How to negotiate after a home inspection

Home inspection costs

The cost of a home inspection can vary based on several factors, including the size and location of the property, the inspector's experience and qualifications and the scope of the inspection.

For example, moving to a rural area rather than a city might result in higher inspection costs since the inspector can charge more for being more in demand. Additionally, a larger home will result in a higher inspection cost than a smaller home.

A typical home inspection costs between $200 and $500. A recent HomeAdvisor survey found the national average is $341.

Inspection costs for condos are similar to single-family units, but you can expect mobile home inspections to be cheaper — between $200 and $250.

Any additional inspection items outside of what your lender requires will increase costs. 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.

Hiring a home inspector

Your real estate agent should hire a certified home inspector they trust and have worked with in the past. You also have the option to hire your own inspector, especially since you are covering the cost.

A few things you want to consider when choosing an inspector:

  • Full-time inspectors might have more experience.
  • Inspectors need to be bonded and insured.
  • Inspections should take more than two hours to be thorough.
  • Inspectors should be licensed or certified according to your state’s standards.
  • Endorsements from the National Institute of Building Inspectors (NIBI), the American Home Inspectors Training (AHIT), the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) or the Inter­national Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) are all pluses.

» MORE: First-time homebuyer mistakes and how to avoid them

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 issues, electrical or plumbing problems and evidence of damage. This includes looking at the roof, crawl space, basement, attic, pipes, grading, insulation and wiring.

According to ASHI, the inspector evaluates “readily accessible, visually observable, installed systems and components.”

The inspector is obligated to describe the following in their home inspection report:

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

Home inspections and pests

It’s worth noting that inspectors generally 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.

Some FHA and VA loans will require a separate termite inspection to ensure the home is free from termite damage.

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 a thorough report can seem overwhelming at first, it’s pretty simple to read if you don’t let yourself get bogged down in the details.

First, look at the primary recommendations, or summary, section. This is where you find information about significant problems, such as mold, water damage 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 eventual maintenance and what works the way it should.

If there are more problems than you anticipated, ask your real estate agent what your repair request options are. You might want to consider a home warranty, especially if it’s an older house.

» MORE: Home inspection checklist

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    How long does the home inspection take?

    The duration of a home inspection can vary depending on the size, age and condition of the property. On average, a standard home inspection for a typical single-family home can take anywhere from two to four hours. Larger properties or those with additional features may require more time.

    When does the home inspection happen?

    The home inspection usually takes place after the seller has accepted the buyer's offer but before the closing process begins. The inspection typically occurs during the due diligence period, allowing the buyer to negotiate with the seller regarding any issues that may arise from the inspection report.

    What is a home inspection contingency?

    A home inspection contingency is a clause included in the purchase contract that allows the buyer to conduct a professional home inspection within a specified period. This contingency protects the buyer with the option to back out of the deal or request repairs or credits if significant issues are discovered during the inspection.

    Bottom line

    Even if you aren’t required to get a home inspection, you should consider the $200 to $500 a worthy investment. The health of your new home can be hard to judge just by looking at it. A home inspector knows how to inspect your foundation, framework, plumbing, electricity and more, which can save you thousands of dollars down the road.

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. HomeAdvisor, “How Much Does A Home Inspection Cost?” Accessed July 29, 2023.
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