The home inspection process

The best investment in the homebuying process may very well be the home inspection: It's just too important for you as a buyer to skip, and I recommend you don't. Here's why.

An inspector helps you make sure a house isn't hiding anything before you commit to the biggest purchase of your life. Think about it this way: Would you even get coffee with a stranger without checking out their history?

A home inspector identifies any reasonably discoverable problems with the house (a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, etc.). Hiring an inspector is you doing your due diligence. To find a good one, it helps to know a little about what the typical home inspection entails.

Before an inspection, the home inspector will review the seller's property disclosure statement. The statement lists any flaws the seller is aware of that could negatively affect the home's value.

During the inspection, an inspector is tasked to identify problems with the house that he or she can see, suggest fixes, and prepare a written report, usually with photos, noting observed defects.  This report is critical to you and your agent — it's what you'll use to request repairs from the seller. (We'll get into how you'll do that in a minute, too.)

Generally, inspectors only examine houses for problems that can be seen with the naked eye. They won't be tearing down walls or using magical X-ray vision, to find hidden faults.

Inspectors also won't put themselves in danger. If a roof is too high or steep, for example, they won't climb up to check for missing or damaged shingles. They'll use binoculars to examine it instead.

They can't predict the future, either. While an inspector can give you a rough idea of how many more years that roof will hold up, he or she can't tell you exactly when it will need to be replaced. Also, a basic inspection doesn't routinely include a thorough evaluation of swimming pools, wells, septic systems, structural engineering work, the ground beneath a home, fireplaces and chimneys.

Your real estate agent has your back. He or she can recommend reputable home inspectors to you, or you can find one at easternctrealtors.com. Once you've scheduled the inspection, show up and bring your agent.

Even though you'll receive a report summarizing the findings later on, being there gives you a chance to ask questions, and to learn the inner workings of the home.

Block out two to three hours for the inspection. The inspector will survey the property from top to bottom. This includes checking water pressure; leaks in the attic, plumbing, etc.; if door and window frames are straight (if not, it could be a sign of a structural issue); if electrical wiring is up to code; if smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working; if appliances work properly. Outside, he or she will look at things like siding, fencing, and water drainage. The inspector might also be able to check for termites, asbestos, lead paint, or radon. Because these tests involve more legwork and can require special certification, they come at an additional charge.

Once you receive the inspector's report, review it with your agent. Most sales contracts require the seller to fix structural defects, building code violations, and safety issues. Most home repairs, however, are negotiable. Be prepared to pick your battles; minor issues, like a cracked switchplate or loose kitchen faucet, are easy and cheap to fix on your own. You don't want to start nickel-and-diming the seller.

If there are major issues with the house, your agent can submit a formal request for repairs that includes a copy of the inspection report. Repair requests should be as specific as possible.  Have the seller provide you with invoices from a licensed contractor stating that the repairs were made, and possibly do another inspection before you close.

You need to be realistic about how much repair work you'd be taking on. At this point in the sale, there's a lot of pressure from all parties to move into the close. But if you don't feel comfortable, speak up. The most important things to remember during the home inspection is to trust your inspector and lean on your agent — they likely have a lot of experience to support your decision-making.

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