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What to expect from a home inspection

Home inspection checklists for buyers and sellers

Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team
yellow two story house

A home inspection gives the buyer one last opportunity to back out of a deal before the sale goes through. Sometimes called a mortgage inspection, it 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 some buyer’s checklists and a seller’s to-do list.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is the part of the homebuying process where a buyer hires an objective third party to evaluate the quality of a house, condo or mobile home. A home inspector looks for structural damage, general issues, safety problems and anything that might cost you money in the long run. Major components, like the home’s HVAC, plumbing, electric, roof, foundation, structure and floors, are the primary things home inspectors evaluate.

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.

After the home inspection is complete, the inspector provides a written report of everything they found. If it reveals the need for expensive repairs, that will likely factor into the buyer’s final decision.

Home inspection costs

A typical home inspection costs between $200 and $500. A recent HomeAdvisor survey found the national average is $339.

The size of the home and type of property are the biggest factors that impact your cost. Inspections for smaller houses (between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet) cost around $315. For homes larger than 2,000 square feet, the cost is closer to $400 (or more).

Inspection costs for condos and mobile homes are usually cheaper — between $200 and $250. New construction home inspections are around $400.

Additional inspection items outside of what your lenders require 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.

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 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 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

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.

Home inspection checklist for buyers

We’ve compiled a list of some of the things buyers should consider during a home inspection. Bear in mind that 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 should include driveways, walkways, patios and swimming pools. Good inspectors look at the types of materials used and their current condition.
  • 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 should evaluate the structural soundness of the home and its weight-bearing components.
  • Sides not bowed or sagging
  • Doors and windows 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, inspectors should look for large and small problems that could cost money to repair inside of the house.
  • 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 also check for issues with the furnace, air conditioner, heat pump, ducts and thermostat.
  • Good airflow throughout home
  • 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
Plumbing
A home inspector should examine fixtures, supply lines and drains during the plumbing portion of the inspection.
  • 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.
  • Secure, protected 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 inspection. While you don’t have to move everything out of the way, you want to give the 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.

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

Hiring a home inspector

As a buyer, you have some choice in who your inspector is. We suggest looking for full-time inspectors.

As you compare companies, make sure they’re bonded and insured and ask how long the inspection should take — if it’s less than two hours, they might not be as thorough as they should be.

Here are some more tips for finding the right home inspector:

  • Ask your real estate agent for a referral.
  • Read local company reviews.
  • Verify licenses and certificates (if required in your state).
  • Look for 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).

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 maintenance but not immediately, 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.

Home inspection FAQ

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 the full home inspection report back.
Who pays for a home inspection?
The buyer usually pays for the home inspection. This is because this entire home inspection 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.
Who should attend a home inspection?
Buyers aren’t required to be at the home inspection, but they should attend if possible. This allows the buyer to see the inspector perform the inspection, ask them questions and make sure nothing is missed.
Are home inspections required?
Lenders don’t always require a full home inspection. Usually, a home appraisal — not an inspection — is required before a mortgage company or other lending institution will agree to approve a loan. However, certain types of government home loans do require it.
What is a four-point home inspection?
Home insurance companies often utilize a “four-point” inspection to determine risk. Home insurance inspections focus on:
  • Electrical systems
  • Plumbing systems
  • Roofs and structures
  • HVAC systems

A “full” home inspection goes a bit deeper than the typical four-point inspection used by insurance underwriters.

When does a home inspection happen?
Home inspections usually occur after the seller accepts the buyer’s offer but before the two parties have closed on the house. In general, the buyer should schedule the inspection as soon as they’re under contract to buy the home.

Bottom line: Why a home inspection matters

Even though lenders don’t always require an inspection, many buyers think it’s worth it. Home inspections may seem expensive, but they can save you thousands of dollars down the road.

One of the major advantages is that you can get a home inspection contingency, which gives you a chance to learn about existing and potential issues before you close on the sale of a property.

Plus, an inspection makes you more informed about 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 — this is 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.