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What Homebuyers Should Know About Inspections

For many first-time buyers, buying a home can be a scary experience. They know they’ll be maintaining or improving a home with little to no maintenance experience, so they believe that the solution is to buy a home in perfect condition. The problem is – no perfect home exists. Air conditioners break, plumbing pipes leak, and roof tiles blow off in the storm. 

That’s why buyers hire home inspectors – to give them information about the home they want to buy that they wouldn’t know otherwise. It’s also why purchase contracts nearly always have an inspection contingency that allows the contract to either be renegotiated or broken. 

Most sellers expect to make reasonable repairs and replacements if the inspection reveals an issue that wasn’t obvious when you first agreed to terms. If communication remains open and civil, the seller should have as much desire to make the sales contract work as you do.

According to Freddie Mac, a home inspector’s job is to protect your investment – before you buy the home. Their job is to inform you about any underlying problems that may not be obvious at first, but that could cost you big money later on. 

A home inspection is basically an examination of the integrity and condition of the home you’re buying, including all systems and fixtures. The inspection should take several hours and be thorough enough to review all built-in appliances, all mechanical, electrical, gas and plumbing systems, ventilation and air quality, fireplaces and chimneys, the roof, foundation, gutters, interior and exterior skins (drywall, plaster, siding, brick, wood trims,) windows and doors. 

The home inspector doesn’t give estimates for repairs or replacements, but they can point out that an air conditioner, for example, is near the end of its useful life. Then it’s up to you to find out what the replacement cost of an AC would be and whether you feel it’s up to you or the seller to replace it. Home inspectors also don’t test for pests or sample the septic tank. For those, you need to hire industry-specific inspectors. 

Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed. The responsibilities of home inspectors vary according to state law and their areas of expertise.  Ask what the inspection will cover. Some inspection companies have extensive divisions that can provide environmental inspections for radon and lead paint. Be prepared to hire and schedule several inspectors according to your lender’s requirements and to pay several hundred dollars for each type of inspection. 

Be aware that home inspection reports only cover the main house, not other buildings on the property. For specialty inspections such as termites, make sure the inspection covers all buildings on the property including guest houses, detached garages, storage buildings, etc. 

You should attend the inspection and follow along with the inspectors. Seeing problems for yourself will help you understand what’s serious, what needs replacement now or later, and what’s not important. The inspector will also tell you what needs to be a concern, if any. You’ll also learn if your future home is up to current building codes and what needs to be done to bring it up to code. 

Once the inspections are complete, you must decide if any problems found are worth renegotiating with the seller. This is where you want to carefully pick your battles. Renegotiate only for repair or replacement of items that are unsafe or expensive to replace. In most cases, the seller will comply.