It's a critical point in the due diligence phase of purchasing a home...the inspection. This is really where the "rubber meets the road" in the home buying process. At the inspection, a buyer gets to discover the condition of the home and its various components, in order to make an educated decision about going forward with the purchase. It's often a nerve-wracking process for a seller, who may be worried that something they weren't aware of will become a sticking point in closing the sale...and for buyers, it can be a crushing disappointment to discover a critical problem that becomes a deal-breaker. There's a lot to consider during the process, so let's talk about what you can expect!
First, a buyer is entitled to employ the services of any home inspector they like...however, a good Realtor is going to have at least one or two that they work with frequently and feel will do a good job. My go-to inspector does a very thorough job and will find almost everything, from minor issues to major ones. He'll look at the air conditioning/heating system, plumbing and electrical, the attic (if there is one), windows, floors, basement/foundation, and structural elements...with decades spent looking over houses and assessing their condition, his trained eye sees all. The inspection can take from 2-4 hours, depending on the size of the home. I always encourage my buyers to attend the inspection, so that he can point things out directly and educate them on the overall condition of the house. Prior to the inspection, I forewarn all of them that my inspector will find everything; a certain amount of wear and tear in a home is normal and to be expected, but we'll be concerned with critical problems that need to be addressed, before they follow through with the purchase. I have never and will never recommend that a buyer waive their right to an inspection, as a way of trying to make an offer more competitive. Every buyer deserves to know what they're buying, whether it's being sold "as-is" by the homeowners, or we've agreed to only request health and safety-related fixes.
Because an inspection report is so thorough, listing every single issue the inspector found, it's helpful when they do a "summary" of the most crucial issues. The full report is very handy to a buyer, though, because it points out the niggling little issues that they'll want to be aware of and possibly address, once they've taken possession of the home. Buyers should never, ever go into an inspection expecting everything to be perfect...not even on a new home build. For sellers, it can sometimes be helpful to have an inspector come in prior to listing the home...when a seller can identify many of the smaller, less expensive issues that need to be addressed (such as ensuring enough GFCI power outlets in the kitchen, etc...) it can make the buyer's inspection report seem less "intimidating" and help avoid an excessive number of objections. If a seller is motivated, addressing the more expensive items can make the inspection/objection phase a breeze...because the buyer has nothing to object to! Given that this is the most common time for a home to fall out of contract, it's worth considering if the home is older and hasn't been looked over by a professional since it was bought or built.
What are the essential elements in the inspection?
Here is the basic rundown of the major items an inspector will be looking at:
- Heating system
- Central air/whole-house fan
- Interior plumbing and electrical
- Attic, including insulation
- Windows and doors
- All appliances included in the sale or attached to the property
- All structural components (decks, patios, sheds, etc...)
While the home inspection itself will not be invasive (meaning he won't be tearing out drywall to look at pipes and electrical in the walls, etc...) the more the inspector is able to see, the more complete the report will be...so sellers should be prepared to help facilitate the inspection process in the following ways:
- If you lock anything (such as the breaker box outside the house), make sure that keys are available to the inspector and clearly labeled.
- For any natural gas appliances, ensure that the pilot lights have been lit, even during the summer months. The inspector needs to be able to see how well they function.
- Clean up the basement! This can be the location with the most amount of clutter and the inspector needs easy access to everything that's down there, which usually includes the furnace, HVAC systems, water heater and the like. Do this for the attic, as well...as this is often where an evaporative cooling system can be found.
- Clean up and groom the yard, so that accessing the crawl space, drainage and septic system (if there is one) is not difficult.
- If the home has been sitting vacant and water/power are disconnected, they will need to be turned on prior to inspection.
It may not buy you leniency with the inspector as a seller, but it will go a long way toward establishing goodwill with your buyers and demonstrating a willingness to be cooperative and open about the condition of the house. This can make the difference between negotiating a resolution and a buyer walking away from the table.
What about rural properties, what can we expect there?
In rural and mountain properties, a separate inspection (with qualified technicians for each) will need to be done for both the water well (if one exists) that will test its production capacity and the mechanical components (I would also encourage an independent water quality test, especially in mining zones)...and another inspection for the septic system and tank. If there are any problems with the septic system or septic tank/leach field, they will need to be remedied before the home sale can close; that, or the repair must be scheduled, with funds put in escrow by the seller to pay the costs, prior to closing. Otherwise, the county will not issue a use permit to the new owner...obviously, a major problem to have!
How do I get a better report, as a seller?
Very good question. Inspectors, especially the veterans, have a nose for problems...however they also appreciate a nice-looking, well-maintained home. This can impact the mindset of anyone, even an inspector. If you, as the seller, are still living in the home...making sure that it is clean, tidy and fresh-smelling will go a long way. This isn't usually a problem, since the home has been made ready for showings and is usually putting its best foot forward...but short of having your own inspector go through the place, be sure to look for any obvious problems that you can address, prior to inspection. Cracked windows? Loose tiles? A hole in the kids' bedroom door? A garbage disposal that isn't working? Fixing these kinds of issues prior to the buyer's inspection can take some of the leverage away from a buyer when negotiating a resolution to their inspection objections...and you may even take away any reasons they had to object, in the first place!
Who pays for the inspection and how much is it?
During the due diligence phase when you're under contract on a home, it is typically the buyer's responsibility to pay for the inspection...however, it can be written into the offer contract that the seller will pay. It's a negotiable item...however most typically in a real estate transaction, the side who benefits from something is the side that pays for it. In a seller's market, it's very rare to see a buyer attempt to get the seller to foot the inspection bill. Sellers who have already paid to have an inspection done prior to listing their home should not expect a buyer to be satisfied with the resulting report and assurances that issues have been repaired...buyers should always, always, always have their own independent inspection done, before moving forward with the purchase.
The price of the inspection generally depends upon the inspector and the size of the home. HomeAdvisor estimates that in 2018, the prices ranged from $275-$390, although it will vary by market. My inspectors typically fall right around the middle of that range. As you might expect, cheaper is not usually better, when it comes to inspectors...you want to make sure that the person you're hiring is experienced and has good reviews. These days, it's pretty easy to look someone up online and see what other past clients have had to say about the job they've done. I would recommend choosing one with the CMI (Certified Master Inspector) designation.
What other costs may I incur as a result of the inspection?
Most inspectors will offer a radon gas test, as an optional add-on to the inspection. They'll set up detection devices in the home and it will need to be remain undisturbed, with the doors and windows closed, for a couple of days. If the radon gas exceeds the maximum levels for health and safety, a mitigation system will need to be installed. If asbestos is present in the home (not typical unless the home was built prior to the 1970s), that will have to be encapsulated at a minimum...and ideally, completely removed. Lead pipes or paint are also an issue that requires mitigation in these older homes. Mold is a common issue that is present in many homes in wetter climates, that requires mitigation or serious respiratory problems can present themselves, over time. Optionally, if the home inspector encourages it for any reason, there may also be a need to have a sewer scope done...this involves a qualified technician fishing a small camera through the sewer lines to ensure that they are not leaking and are in good condition. Any of these issues are objections that a buyer will most definitely raise, so a seller may want to ensure that they're handled, before listing the home.
My report contains a ton of defects, what do I do now?
First, breathe! Every inspection report is going to contain a bunch of items that the inspector is pointing out. The toilet handle is loose. A deadbolt doesn't line up perfectly with the door jam. The carpet is discolored in one corner of the kids' room. These small issues are all easily and cheaply remedied...so sellers may want to do so, before listing their homes. Buyers should not be concerned with minor wear and tear issues, because it's to be expected in a home that has been lived in. What we're primarily interested in is items that make the home unsafe or potentially cause health issues, or items that should be working, but currently aren't. Don't let small items - which can be fixed with a quick trip to Home Depot and some elbow grease - become a barrier to closing on an otherwise ideal home for your family!