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What to expect from your home inspection

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How to hire a good home inspector and what to expect from the process

A tight shot of a wooden staircase, white and dark wood. Heidi’s Bridge

Before purchasing your dream home, here are a few things to know about home inspections—and why they’re so important.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a visual, non-invasive inspection of a property. There are seven systems observed during the inspection, explains Scott Brown, owner of Brightside Home Inspections: the roof and attic, the basement and foundation, plumbing, HVAC, the interior living space, a home’s exterior, and the electrical system.

Throughout this process, the inspector assesses the home’s safety, operation, and the condition of its various systems, without dismantling or tearing apart the property. For example, when inspecting a furnace, the inspector makes sure it’s not leaking carbon monoxide, confirms that it operates when turned on and off, and checks for signs of rust or corrosion.

How much does an inspection cost?

Chris Chirafisi, a licensed product manager for American Home Inspectors Training, says that the cost for an inspection varies depending on the region. On average, a home buyer can expect to pay between $350 and $385, he says. However, in urban areas or larger cities—even areas that have licensing requirements or regulation demands—the price is even higher. In New York or Los Angeles, for example, an inspection can cost upwards of $500. Easterling says that her clients pay about $600 because she advises them to have termite and radon testing done, as well. (Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that causes lung cancer—and testing is the only way to be sure about exposure levels.)

Brown believes that homebuyers make a mistake when they focus on the cost of the inspection. Instead, they should evaluate experience and qualification and not who’s cheapest. “You’re talking about the purchase of something that’s $100,000, $500,000 or more. A few hundred dollars shouldn’t be the defining choice for your decision,” he says.

Ask these questions before you hire an inspector

Some states don’t have licensing requirements, which means anyone can put up a website, slap a sign on their truck, and open for business. Chirafisi says buyers should ask inspectors if they received professional training from a recognized home inspection school.

According to Chirafisi, there are roughly thirty states that have some licensing or regulation requirements. However, in states where licensing isn’t a requirement, make sure your prospective home inspector is a member of an accredited organization like American Society of Home Inspectors or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

You also want to ensure that the inspector has experience; ask how many homes they’ve inspected. According to Brown, the home inspection company owner a full-time home inspector should, on average, be examining at least 250 homes a year. Brown adds that a lot of inspectors have backgrounds in engineering and often make excellent home inspectors.

If you’re in a state with no licensing requirements, hiring someone with an engineering background may put your mind at ease. Also, find out if the inspector is insured. Most states require inspectors carry insurance, but in states that don’t, you could run into an issue with your insurance company if a major defect becomes apparent later.

Don’t skip the inspection on a new house

Even with a new property, you could run into unexpected issues. And, just because the property is brand-new doesn’t mean corners weren’t cut. “It’s a good idea, [whether or not] the house is recently built or if it’s 100 years old... to have that unbiased, third-party home inspection performed to see if there are any problems missed,” says Chirafisi. According to Brown, “every home has some level of defect. Understanding what [those defects] are helps the buyer make an informed purchasing decision.”

Attend your inspection

Don’t skip this part of the process: You’ll learn a lot about your future home if you are there while the inspector is looking at the house. Expect it to take several hours for a thorough inspection. We’ve got a full checklist of what you and your inspector should be looking for during the home inspection. Plus, if you have any specific concerns, you can ask your pro.

You found problems—now what?

When the home inspection reveals a defect or a deficiency, it gives you an opportunity to go back to your real estate agent and decide if you want to renegotiate the price—or even walk away from the deal.

What happens if the inspector misses something?

Sometimes someone discovers a defect a few months after a purchase. If this happens, you should reach out to your inspector and give them an opportunity to determine if the problem is something covered.

In many instances, it’s hard to see defects when a home is occupied. Chirafisi says that in some states, like Wisconsin, an inspector cannot limit liability. However, in Iowa, the inspection agreement could dictate that the inspector is liable only up to the price of the home inspection. In some agreements, the homebuyer has two years to report any defects. If an inspector follows good standards of practice, they are unlikely to miss a significant issue, says Chirafisi.