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If you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t assume a house is in good shape just from eyeballing the drywall and flooring. Looks can be deceiving, and large issues can be lurking underneath the surface.

Once you’ve found your perfect house and are ready to put in an offer, you’ll need to decide if you want to make your offer contingent on a satisfactory home inspection report.

Although not always required as a part of getting a loan on a house, buyers often choose to include a home inspection as a contingency in the purchase agreement. If you want to protect yourself as a homeowner and an investor, getting a home inspection should be a priority.

(Remember, an appraisal isn’t a substitute for a home inspection. An appraisal evaluates a home’s value for the lender, while an inspection will tell you about the state of the home and any repairs that need to be done.)

Finding a Home Inspector

Once you’ve had your offer accepted – complete with an inspection contingency – and signed the purchase agreement, it’s your job to find a suitable inspector. Your real estate agent will likely be able to give you some recommendations for home inspectors in your area. You can also ask around for recommendations from friends and family, or check out review sites like AngiesList.com, where you can compare customer ratings for inspectors near you.

Home inspector licensing requirements vary from state to state, so look into what your state’s regulations are. Some states require inspectors to be licensed and have a certain amount of training, while others don’t regulate the practice at all.

If you’re in a state that doesn’t regulate home inspections or require inspectors to be licensed, you want to search for inspectors who have some sort of certification that shows they’ve completed proper training. Just make sure the program they received their certification from is reputable.

One reliable source of certification is the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). You can use its online search tool at HomeInspector.org to find a certified inspector in your area.

ASHI requires ASHI Certified Inspectors to meet certain requirements, including passing a comprehensive exam and performing a minimum of 250 professional home inspections conducted in accordance with ASHI standards, according to its website. Certified Inspectors also have to keep up with mandatory continuing education to stay current with the profession.

Interview multiple inspectors before deciding on one. Ask about their experience level and make sure they’re properly insured. Ask if they can provide you with references. Find out what is included in the inspection, how detailed their report will be and how long it will take to receive the report.

What a Home Inspection Costs

A typical home inspection may cost somewhere between $200 $400. The exact cost will depend on many different factors, including the size of the house to be inspected and its geographic location.

Additionally, the inspector might charge extra for components it doesn’t consider to be part of the main home inspection, such as a detached garage or a swimming pool in the backyard.

If you’re getting any additional services done that aren’t typically checked during a standard inspection, you’ll also have to pay extra for that. For example, if you want the septic system checked out but the standard inspection doesn’t cover that, you’ll have to ask your inspector if they can perform that type of inspection, which may come at additional cost.

If there’s anything you want inspected that goes beyond your inspector’s level of expertise, you’ll have to hire additional, qualified professionals for those jobs.

How Long a Home Inspection Takes

A home inspection will generally last a couple hours or more, depending on the home’s size, age (older houses may take longer), number of issues and how thorough the inspector is.

What the Home Inspector Should Look At

A home inspector will look at all of the home’s main components and determine whether they’re in good, working order, or if there are any repairs that need to be done. This includes looking at the home’s structural components, like the walls and flooring, as well as some of its main systems, such as the electrical work and HVAC system.

Here’s a list of what components a standard home inspection will typically include based off ASHI’s Standard of Practice for Home Inspections:

  • Structural components, including the foundation, crawlspaces and attics, floors, walls, ceilings and the roof
  • The home’s exterior, including wall coverings, decks, patios, porches and driveways
  • Plumbing, not including well systems or septic tanks
  • Electrical systems and components
  • Heating and air conditioning systems
  • Interior components such as countertops and cabinets, doors and windows, and certain installed appliances
  • Insulation and ventilation
  • Fireplaces and other fuel-burning appliances, including chimneys and vent systems that are readily accessible

Talk with your inspector beforehand about what is and isn’t included in their standard inspection, as it may differ from this list. Keep in mind that for a basic inspection, inspectors will only be able to look at components that are readily accessible.

What a Home Inspection Won’t Tell You

There are some things a basic home inspection won’t be able to tell you, either because they simply aren’t included in a standard inspection or because certain aspects require evaluation by an experienced professional who has specialized knowledge.

Because of this, you may need to get some additional, more specific inspections done on top of the overall inspection.

If you’re purchasing an older home, you may want to get the home checked out for asbestos and lead, as these aren’t typically included in a standard inspection. Homes built before 1989 may have been built using asbestos, while those built before 1978 may have lead paint on the walls or lead pipes as part of the plumbing system.

If you find the home does have asbestos or lead, you don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money to remove it. As long as the asbestos is undamaged, it won’t release harmful fibers into the air. Likewise, lead paint that is in good condition can usually be painted over with a special encapsulant. Lead pipes can also be dealt with by installing a water filter.

However, if the home has asbestos that has been damaged or lead paint that is cracked and chipping, you’ll need to have it taken care of by a professional. This can be costly.

Home inspectors also generally don’t look for pest, mold or radon problems.

If there are components to the home you would like checked that your inspector doesn’t include in their standard inspection, such as a well or septic tank, ask if they’re able to inspect these items in addition to the standard inspection, or if they can recommend a professional who can inspect them for you.

Where You Should Be During Your Home Inspection

It’s important that you are present for the home inspection. If an inspector won’t allow you to attend the inspection, that’s a red flag, and you should consider working with someone else.

During the inspection, follow the inspector and ask questions, but be careful not to get in their way while they work.

Here are some examples of questions you may want to ask during the inspection:

  • What safety hazards does this pose?
  • What repairs should I prioritize?
  • Is this a major or minor issue?
  • What could happen if this isn’t repaired?

The Home Inspection Report Card

After all is said and done, your inspector will provide you with a report of their findings. Generally, this will outline what was inspected and what the inspector found that’s in need of repairs.

Don’t be alarmed by the size of the report or the number of repairs listed. These reports are intended to be thorough, and every home is bound to have some issues.

The report will detail which systems and components are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe or near the end of their service lives. It will also include recommendations for these components, including whether it needs to be corrected or if you simply need to keep an eye on it. It will also state whether an item needs to be further examined.

If any components come back needing major repairs, or you’re unsure of the inspector’s opinion on something, you may want to get a second opinion. While a quality home inspector will be able to tell you the general state of a home’s components, and what’s in need of repairs, a specialist will have expertise in a specific area. So if your inspector mentions issues with the electrical work, it can make sense to have a licensed electrician take a closer look.

Once you’ve received the report, it’s up to you to decide what to do about it. Depending on the cost and extent of the repairs needed, you can try to negotiate with the seller to either have them complete the repairs themselves, or to make concessions that help you, the buyer, afford repairs by lowering the purchase price or offering seller credits.

If the issues are significant enough, or the seller refuses to negotiate, you may decide to back out of the deal.

Even if the report comes back mostly positive and you don’t need to negotiate any repairs, you’ll be able to buy with the peace of mind that there isn’t some big, expensive issue waiting to plunge you into financial strain.

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