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What to Expect During a Home Inspection

Whether your home was the perfect spot to watch your dreams grow or just a place to keep the rain off your head, the decision to sell your property is always a major one. But before you can drop your house on the market and start entertaining serious offers, there are a few things you'll need to do. And one possible step along the path to selling your home is getting a home inspection.
Here, we take a closer look at what to expect when you're inspected. But first, the basics:

What Is a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is an examination performed by an objective and experienced third party assessing the physical structure of the property and the condition of its built-in systems and major appliances. A professional home inspector or general contractor will perform a visual inspection of the entire property, from roof to foundation, and make detailed notes about their findings.

The purpose of these inspections is to identify any areas, systems, or components that may need to be repaired or replaced, or that might represent possible safety hazards. The home inspector may also identify potentially problematic areas to keep an eye on or tag for further evaluation. They will then share their findings in a comprehensive written report.

It's also worth recognizing what a home inspection is not. A home inspection is not an appraisal, and will not determine the property's market value. It's also not something that checks behind drywall, digs behind electrical panels, or looks at the insides of pipes; it's a primarily visual inspection that can give you an idea of whether there might be issues with the home. For anything more invasive, you may need to hire a specialist.

What Does a Home Inspector Look For?

When inspecting a property, a home inspector will look at essentially every structural and mechanical system in the home. More specifically, the home inspector will probably follow something similar to this home inspection checklist:

  • Roof and Rain Gutters. The inspector will look at the overall quality of the roof and rain gutters, make note of any missing or damaged shingles, and determine whether the gutters drain properly away from the house.
  • Chimney. The condition of the chimney will be visually inspected for any damage. The inspector will also note whether the chimney stands straight.
  • Siding and Bricks. The siding will be evaluated for cracks or other damage. Brickwork will likewise need to be inspected, and any cracks or spaces within the joints will be noted.
  • Exterior Walls. The inspector will take a close look at external walls as well as window and door frames to determine whether they appear to be sagging. They will also make note of any stained or flaking paint on the exterior of the house.
  • Septic Tanks. If the home has a septic tank, the inspector will evaluate it for any possible leaks.
  • Foundation. The home inspector will look closely at the foundation and make note of its overall condition and call attention to any significant cracks or other concerns.
  • Sheds, Fences, and Decks. Additional home structures will be evaluated for overall condition and the condition of the materials. The inspector will identify any rotted-out wood, evidence of termites, or possible safety hazards.
  • Attic. The attic will be reviewed to determine its condition, including whether there is sufficient insulation and ventilation, whether electrical splices are properly contained, and if there is any other notable damage or decay.
  • Basement. The inspector will evaluate the basement for moisture or evidence of water damage.
  • Kitchen. The home inspector will inspect the kitchen for any visible issues with the under-sink plumbing, and will also check to see that exhaust fans operate as expected, garbage disposals and major appliances are fully functional, and sinks drain properly.
  • Bathrooms. The bathroom will be inspected for any signs of leaking or water damage around the tub or shower. The condition of any visible or under-sink plumbing will be evaluated and all fixtures will be inspected to ensure adequate water pressure and access to hot and cold water. The toilets will be tested to see if they are secure and if they flush and fill properly.
  • Other Interior Rooms. Home inspectors will evaluate interior rooms for their overall condition. This includes checking whether floors, walls, or ceilings are sagging or feature visible stains or cracking. The inspector will also see if doors open and close properly, check to make sure that there are enough electrical outlets and vents, test the light switches, and make note of the location and condition of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Plumbing and Water Heater. The inspector will look at the water heater for any leaks, signs of rust, or other indicators that it may require maintenance or repair. Other visible pipes will also be inspected for leaks or damage, and the water temperature and water pressure will be tested to see if they fall without acceptable ranges.
  • Electrical Systems. The home electrical systems will be evaluated for damage or exposed electrical splices. The overall condition of the visible electrical wiring and the service panel will also be reviewed.
  • Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling (HVAC) Systems. The inspector will test the HVAC systems to see whether they operate as expected and determine whether they show any signs of damage. They will also make note of the condition of the fireplace and chimney flues.

What Does the Home Inspection Report Include?

Most home inspection reports include checklists of every system or part of the property that was inspected, along with detailed notes regarding any structural, mechanical, or safety issues that may have been uncovered. The point of the report is to clearly express the inspector's findings; expect a highly detailed evaluation along with recommendations for any repairs or replacements.

After the Inspection

Once the inspection is complete and you have the home inspection report in your hands, what you choose to do next is up to you. You are under no obligation to address any of the issues discovered during the inspection.

However, with a clear idea of the current condition of your property, you can use the report to get ahead of any repairs that might eventually delay (or even derail) the home selling process. And, by providing a potential buyer with a 'clean bill of health' in the form of an inspection report from a trusted inspector, you may also speed up the closing process. Finally, a good report can help you get a better idea of the actual value of your home, meaning that you will be able to confidently list your property for a larger amount.

On the other hand, once you know about any major defects or safety hazards, you will most likely be legally required to disclose those issues to potential buyers. The good news is that these same issues would probably be discovered during a post-offer inspection anyway.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?

The cost of a home inspection will vary depending on the location, the size of the property, the age of the home, and many other factors. That said, when compared to the overall value of most homes and the amount of money involved in selling a property, the house inspection cost is likely to be relatively minor. Most home inspectors charge anywhere from $200 - $500 to perform an inspection.

How Long Does a Home Inspection Take?

You should be prepared to have the inspector in and around your home for between two and four hours, though some circumstances may demand a longer inspection. Larger properties will also require more time to evaluate.

Can You Fail a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is not a pass/fail test. It is simply a way to get an expert's opinion about the condition of your property and its systems. You are not obligated to act on any of the findings presented in the home inspection report — though you probably will want to take action if those findings represent issues that might hinder your ability to sell your home.

How Should I Prepare for a Home Inspection?

When you schedule a home inspection, there are some things you will need to do to get ready. Most importantly, you will need to make sure that the inspector has access to all of the areas and systems they will need to evaluate. This means unlocking doors, moving items or furniture that might be blocking electrical panels, and possibly engaging in some heavy decluttering. You may also wish to give your home a good cleaning and address any known repairs or other issues before you bring in the inspector.