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Understanding a Home Inspection

By Eleanor Boschert

A home inspection is one of the most crucial components of the home buying process. Conducted by a qualified home inspector, it gives you a clear picture of how a home's major components and systems function - focusing on the structural, mechanical, electrical condition of the property and any major flaws or red flags you should look out for.

With a the objective report based on a top-to-bottom analysis of your potential home in hand, you will be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with the transaction or what concessions you are willing to make to complete it.

A professional home inspector will thoroughly examine both exterior and interior, including:

  • The physical condition of the structure, construction, and mechanical systems
  • The items that need to be repaired or replaced
  • The remaining useful life of the major systems, equipment, structure, and finishes

You are going to want a reputable home inspector who is thorough and impartial. Not all inspectors are created equal, nor are they all licensed or regulated, so you will need to choose carefully. You're best bet is to check out the American Society of Home Inspectors at ASHI or NACHI

Trained to ferret out a wide range of issues, a home inspector looks for defects or malfunctions in the building's structure, such as the roof, basement, windows, paint, and foundation. The also can assess for pest infestations and water damage. They inspect all major systems including plumbing, electrical and heating, cooling, insulation and ventilation, and drainage. Generally, they won't inspect appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, washer and dryers.

Here's what a home inspection includes:

  • Roof and Gutters: Leaks, Shingles, Drainage
  • Exterior Facade: Paint, Siding, Brick, Wood
  • Foundation
  • Garage
  • Windows and Doors
  • Decks, Porches, Balconies
  • Driveways and Walkways
  • Yard Area: Soil, Site, Drainage
  • Water and Sewer
  • Heating and Cooling
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Walls, Ceilings, Framing
  • Floors: Wood, Tile, Carpet
  • Bathrooms: Fixtures, Tub
  • Kitchen: Fixtures, Cabinets, Counters
  • Skylight
  • Fireplace and Chimney: Ventilation, Structure
  • Basement: Dampness, Foundation
  • Attic and Crawlspace: Ventilation, Dampness
  • Rodent or insect infestation
  • Mold

Take the two-to-four hours it takes to conduct a home inspection and accompany the inspector throughout a home. Ask questions. Expect honest answers. A good home inspector can explain the severity of any problems they find, advise you on what needs to be done, and provide maintenance tips.

What if They Unearth Too Much?

Typically, an inspection contingency is included in your purchase and sale contract as a condition of closing the sale. Depending on the inspection results, you could:

  • Plan to address the issues yourself and go ahead with the closing
  • Ask the seller to rectify the problem before closing
  • Negotiate your offer amount, deducting repair or replacement costs
  • Withdraw from the deal

Make sure you review the terms of your purchase and sale contract as to what is stipulated about inspection results. You may only have a certain time frame to cancel your contract due to a failed inspection before you are legally obligated to go through with the deal anyway.

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