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The Essential Guide to Home Inspections

by Point2 Staff
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7 min. read

The process of buying a new home can be long and challenging and, you’ll find that there are many steps to follow if you want to get it right. The home inspection is a key step, but it’s also one that people are often tempted to skip to save a bit of money.

However, doing so can lead to buying a home that has huge structural problems, and nine times out of ten, you won’t realize it until it’s too late. With that in mind, let’s take a deep dive into home inspections and see just how important they are.

What Is a Home Inspection?

A house inspection is essentially an onsite examination of a property that is carried out by a professional home inspector. It’s their job to go around the entire residence and give their expert opinion regarding its state.

The inspection is a mostly visual assessment, designed to identify defects that make the home unsafe, such as major structural damage and outdated or dangerous components and appliances. The house inspector will record their findings in a written report, which will later be issued to the buyer.

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Do I Need a Home Inspection?

House inspections are normally required by potential buyers after they’ve made an offer on a house. As a buyer, the best practice is to add a home inspection contingency to your offer. This allows you to back out of the sale or renegotiate the price or terms depending on the result of the property inspection.

Since purchasing property isn’t like buying other goods, that can be a handy feature. While you can test drive a car or try on clothes, you can’t give your new residence a trial run before you move in for good. In fact, many buyers only spend a few hours at most in what could be their forever home.

A home inspection takes away some of the uncertainty and enables you to make a more informed decision about whether to go ahead with the sale, renegotiate the price or terms, or walk away and look elsewhere.

Making the Most of a Home Inspection

If time allows, be sure to shadow the inspector as they look around. This enables you to spend a bit more time in the property and gives you a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of the various systems.

What Do Home Inspectors Look For?

home inspection checklist

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Each inspector is different, but for the most part, they will follow a typical home inspection checklist and examine the following major components:

1.     Structural Elements (Walls, Floors, Ceilings, Foundations)

The main purpose of a property inspection is to ensure that the home you’re buying will remain standing strong for many years to come. Inspectors will take time to examine all the structural elements, looking for cracks, stuck doors and uneven floors that can suggest issues with the foundation.

Major structural issues are a big red flag and shouldn’t be ignored. In most cases, it’s better to walk away and look elsewhere, as the repair work is extremely expensive.

2.     Roof

The house inspector will generally be looking for loose or damaged shingles, signs of water damage, leaks, mold, and most importantly, sagging. A sagging roof indicates major structural damage and may well need replacing—a huge additional cost.

If the house has major issues with the roof, you essentially have three options: rescind your offer, ask the seller to drop the price to cover the repair costs, or ask the seller to fix the issues.

3.     HVAC Systems

House inspectors will take a look at how old the HVAC  system is and check for leaks, sediment build-up and issues with the pressure.

Replacing a defunct HVAC system or running an inefficient one can be a huge cost. If your home inspection reveals major problems with the existing HVAC system, it’s well worth negotiating with the seller to replace the system in advance or drop the price.

4.     Electrics

All of the electrical systems will be thoroughly examined to ensure they’re up-to-code and safe to use.

Outdated wiring, like knob and tube wiring, can be fatal and must be replaced. The cost and inconvenience can be high, so it’s essential to either ask the seller to reduce the price or have it fixed before you move in.

5.     Plumbing

A good home inspector will take time to examine the plumbing elements, looking for leaky pipes and faucets, damaged sump pumps, and inefficient septic tanks.

Lots of small leaks and smaller plumbing issues can add up to large costs later on. So for issues big and small, it’s worth insisting that the seller have them repaired.

6.     Attic and Basement

Here the inspector is mostly looking for water damage caused by a leaking roof or damaged foundations, but they’ll also take a look at the insulation.

Insulation issues can be a concern, but more importantly, be wary of excessive dampness and water damage problems in attics and basements. These can hint at larger issues that will cost a lot to fix and may impair the structural integrity of the property.

7.     Dangerous Substances

Until the 1970s, substances like asbestos and lead-based paint were commonplace in house construction. Now known to be dangerous, if discovered by the inspector, they must be removed.

Hiring specialists to remove dangerous substances is very expensive, and the process can be lengthy. If discovered, you can almost certainly renegotiate the price or have the seller take care of it in advance.

8.     Doors and Windows

The inspector will examine all of the doors and windows, checking for cracked panes, inadequate seals, faulty handles and broken mechanisms.

Replacing all of the doors and windows to ensure better insulation can be a huge cost. If they’re not in great shape, be prepared to negotiate with the seller.

9.     Exterior Components

From damaged gutters and downpipes to basic cosmetic issues, the inspector will take a good look at the exterior walls and pipework.

Most exterior issues are easy enough to fix, often simply requiring a fresh paint job, and the gutters to be unblocked. Be sure that all water drains away from the house though.

home inspection

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What a Home Inspector Doesn’t Look For

Home inspectors don’t carry out invasive examinations, or anything that can cause damage. So, don’t expect them to cut into the drywall or unearth under-floor utility systems.

Additionally, they won’t move furniture or look beneath carpets for defects. And since it can be easy for sellers to hide problems by putting a couch or a rug in front of or over them, be on the lookout for unusually placed items that look like they could be concealing a defect.

Additionally, components like pools, TV and internet systems, outbuildings and cosmetic features aren’t generally included in the inspection.

How Long Does a Home Inspection Take?

A good home inspector will usually spend between two and four hours thoroughly examining a property. It really depends on the size of the home in question though, as well as the number of appliances and additional components.

So, while an inspector will generally go through the same house inspection checklist for every property, they’ll complete their examination much faster in a one-bedroom townhouse compared to a five-bedroom single-unit home.

How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?

So, we know it’s important to have a professional examine your potential new house, but how much is a home inspection? In both the U.S. and Canada, you can expect to pay between $300 and $500 on an average home inspection, depending on the size and location of the property.

That’s a small price to pay if you can avoid buying a house with damaged foundations, a sagging roof, or any number of other costly and potentially dangerous issues.

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