The question of the need for home inspection when buying a home can come as a surprise for first time buyers. Getting caught up in the excitement of shopping for and purchasing a home, buyers may not have given much thought to having the home they’d like to buy inspected. Maybe they’ve made up their minds ahead of time that they’re going to pass on the extra cost. Maybe they have a relative who knows a lot about houses they can have tour the house.
So, is arranging for a home inspection a good idea?
The answer in almost all cases is yes. Home inspectors perform an important role on behalf of the buyer in the home purchasing process. They are trained and experienced in what to look for in a home that might be a problem for the purchasers after the closing. Issues that they find can sometimes be used to negotiate a concession from the seller to fix defects, or might even reveal a problem that will enable a buyer to walk away from a home with a significant deficiency.
Many states require home inspectors to be certified or licensed, while others do not. Most states requiring a license have specific requirements in their regulations spelling out what needs to be included in a home inspection and report. If a state does not have a licensing requirement, home buyers can look for inspectors that are certified through the main certification organizations, such as InterNACHI (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) and ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors). The home pages for both group have inspector locating tools.
Home inspectors look for all possible functional and safety problems in a home but are especially interested in defects considered to be “major.” Major defects are those whose repair or replacement cost exceeds a threshold. In New York, this threshold is $1500. There are some exceptions to the threshold test, such as a defective breaker box. While the cost of a replacement box may not exceed $1500, the home may not be insurable, making the sale of the home impossible until the problem is corrected.
A good home inspection will evaluate the house inside and out. An outside inspection will look for good drainage, siding, and gutter condition, and problems with weatherproofing, decking, and handrails, outside steps and walkways, roofing, chimneys, and other roof vents. The electric service entrance will also be observed to see if there are any signs of possible problems.
Inside the house, all aspects of the home are inspected. This will include living spaces, kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms. Faucets are run, drains are checked to make sure they are clear, and appliances are turned to check their functioning. The condition of floors walls and ceilings are noted, windows are checked for operation and leakage, and electrical receptacles are tested.
It should be noted that home inspector usually will not move furniture or area rugs, or plug or unplug devices. This prevents the potential for damaging flooring and complicating the home buying process.
Home inspections will include an inspection of attics, checking for the level of insulation, ventilation, the potential for roof framing problems, and signs of leakage under the roof decking.
The electrical system is an important portion of the home inspection. An inspection of the type and general condition of the wiring can help to point out potential fire hazards, including the presence of aluminum wire. The service entrance (i.e., breaker or fuse box) is a focus of this portion of the inspection. A surprising number of boxes have rust or corrosion present that is sufficient to pose a safety issue. Much of this is the result of water that leaks in through the main supply cable from the outside of the house.
An inspection of the basement or crawlspace can provide an idea of the potential for problems with framing and support, plumbing, insulation, wet basements, and wiring. Basements are the usual place where the furnace or boiler, water heater, sump pump, well equipment, and laundry areas are inspected. For a basement, the potential for a foundation issue can be evaluated by looking for signs of settling, sinking and cracks. Many foundations have cracks, but home inspectors can judge whether a crack is a threat to the home or if a professional engineer needs to evaluate the problem.
Many home inspections will include a radon test if required or requested by the buyer or bank. Many home inspectors are also able to do an infrared inspection of the house that can point out air or water leakage.
A thorough home inspection can take up to three hours. This provides a lot of data that should be placed in a report that includes photos. Reports usually summarize significant or “major” issues as well as others. This information is provided to the buyer for their information or use.
The scope of a home inspection is likely beyond what most people can attempt to do themselves or to ask of a contractor friend or handyman. Additionally, the opinion of an uncertified or unlicensed inspector will probably not be useful in negotiating concessions or walking away from a contract. While a typical home inspection may cost $300 to $500, potential savings from avoiding an expensive surprise after closing are significant.