Buying or selling a home is a big deal. No matter how dreamy a property appears to the buyer during a walk-through—or how much the seller has enjoyed living there—serious issues may lie beneath the surface. Before closing the sale, it's a good idea to determine the home’s current condition by having a professional home inspector take a look. A home inspection can pinpoint any problems, support the asking price, and protect the buyer against any unpleasant (and expensive) surprises. Use this handy guide and the home inspection checklists below to get the most out of your experience.
What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is an examination of a home's physical structure and systems, from top to bottom, to determine their current condition. The inspector identifies issues ranging from minor cosmetic defects to significant material defects that affect the home’s value—or even make it unsafe to live in. Essentially, a home inspection gives you, the buyer, a heads-up about what may need immediate or eventual repairs.
When a home inspection uncovers a problem, the buyer may consider asking the seller to address it or lower the purchase price. If a significant issue is found, such as extensive termite damage, the buyer may back out of the deal (rescinding the offer) within a certain time frame without paying a penalty.
How much does a home inspection cost?
A general home inspection typically ranges from $300 to $500, but the cost varies depending on the size, age, and location of the home, as well as other factors. The buyer usually pays for it.
What does a home inspection include?
Home inspections vary by inspector. An inspection typically includes an examination of:
- Exterior walls and trim, to check for cracks and other damage.
- The foundation, to identify potential underlying issues. (Note: Because the home sits on its foundation, the inspector looks for indirect clues there may be a problem, such as a sagging front porch.)
- The roof, to spot rotting or damaged shingles, leaks, or damaged gutters.
- Chimneys, to ensure that bricks and mortar are stable and the flashing around the chimney’s base is watertight.
- Fireplaces, to verify that they’re functioning well.
- Plumbing, to confirm proper water pressure and drainage, and to note any leaks.
- Electrical system, to check for safety, test all the outlets, and determine whether the system can support the home’s needs.
- Heating and cooling systems, to verify they can properly heat and cool the home, and to scan the duct system for leaks.
- Fire safety, including a test of smoke detectors.
- Bathrooms, to determine whether toilets are properly secured and ventilation is sufficient, and to detect the presence of mold or mildew.
- Laundry room, to check for proper ventilation and leaks.
- Basements and crawl spaces, to look for signs of mold or mildew and to confirm no flooding hazards exist.
- The garage, to ensure that it is well-ventilated and that the door opens and closes correctly.
How do I prepare for a home inspection?
As with most things in life, a little preparation can go a long way. Use the home inspection checklist below that suits your situation (buyer or seller) for the best results possible.
Home inspection checklist for buyers:
- Put a "due diligence" contingency in your purchase offer (sales contract). This gives you a time frame for getting the home inspected—and an "out" if the inspector finds something's amiss.
- Research the inspector. Choose a home inspector who’s certified by an organization like the American Society of Home Inspectors and attends ongoing education to stay up to date with best practices and local laws and building codes.
- Attend the home inspection. Ask your inspector to explain any findings and show you the problem. Follow up with questions if you have any.
- Schedule additional inspections, if needed. Your general home inspector may not be qualified to conduct certain specialized checks. For example, if your inspector notices signs of mold, hire a mold inspector to conduct a thorough investigation. There are also inspectors with expertise in termites and other pests, asbestos, lead, drainage problems, and more.
- Review the inspection report and decide what steps to take. You may decide to address minor issues yourself. However, if any problems will be costly to fix, consider asking the seller to make the repairs prior to closing the sale; give you a cash credit at closing (to pay for the repairs, which you’ll make); or reduce the home’\'s price. If the home has major defects, you may choose to back out of the sale altogether.
- Check any repairs the seller makes. If the seller agrees to fix problems prior to closing the sale, examine them yourself or ask your home inspector to revisit and review them.
Home inspection checklist for sellers:
- If you’ve been postponing repairs, make them now. Got a leaky pipe or a broken window? Fix it before the inspection.
- Make sure monitoring devices are in working order. Test the carbon monoxide detector and replace the batteries in smoke detectors.
- Remove any drain clogs so that the inspector can easily check drainage.
- Replace any burned-out light bulbs so that the inspector can easily check the electrical system.
- Make your home accessible to the inspector. Tidy the attic, the basement, the crawl spaces, and any other cluttered areas to give the inspector easy access. Remove locks on basements, sheds, and utility closets. Sweep debris off the roof and clean the gutters.
- Make sure pilot lights are lit so that the inspector can check gas appliances.
- Get the utilities turned back on if you've vacated the home and had them turned off.