Home Inspection Checklist: What to Look for When Buying a House
Use this home inspection checklist to understand what inspectors look for.
Use this home inspection checklist to understand what inspectors look for.
Buying a home isn’t just about having a place to live and make memories. It’s also an investment. And with any investment, you want to make sure you’re putting your money into something worthwhile.
That’s where a home inspection comes into play. It may not be the most glamorous part of the homebuying process, but a home inspection gives you the rundown on the property’s condition.
From the roof to radon levels, from framing and foundation to flashing, a professional home inspection can tell you whether the home is safe and well-maintained, or whether potential crises will be awaiting you come move-in day.
Preparing a home inspection checklist before your inspector comes out will help you get answers to your questions so you can confidently move forward with buying the home.
When you go under contract on a home — meaning that the seller has accepted your offer and you’ve both signed the sale contract — your lender will schedule a home appraisal. This is to ensure the home is in good enough condition to lend on. It also determines the fair market value of the property.
The appraisal is mandatory, but a home inspection isn’t. You can skip this step if you want, but it’s not a good idea.
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A home inspection is your opportunity to learn everything you can about the home. You won’t be present for the appraisal, and the appraiser is hired by the lender anyway. They’re focused on answering your lender’s questions and concerns.
The home inspector, on the other hand, is hired by you and you can be there for the inspection. That means you get to ask questions and do a deep dive into the good and bad about the property.
Before you go under contract, your seller is legally required to disclose any known problems or restrictions on the property. But they may not know that there are concerning signs of wear and tear on certain systems, especially if they haven’t stayed ahead of the home’s maintenance needs or they didn’t own it that long themselves.
If you are going to live in this house, you will be responsible for all the problems and hazards associated with it. You have a greater interest than anyone in making sure it’s safe and livable, and that you’re prepared for whatever major costs may lie ahead.
Even if you’re buying a relatively new home, an inspection is still important. A newer home isn’t always free of problems.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, home inspections are down, said Loren Keim, professor of finance and real estate at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. and president of real estate firm Century 21 Keim.
Keim said a number of factors caused homebuyers to forego inspections, including tight housing inventory and multiple offer situations. Buyers who included a home inspection contingency in their offers held less allure for sellers than those who would stop at nothing to win the sale.
“Buyers tried to reduce the possibility of losing out on the property, and one of the first things to go was the inspection,” Keim said.
The thinking was to avoid issues upfront and deal with problems later.
“That’s often a really big mistake,” Keim said.
“Personally, I wouldn’t buy a property without having an inspection done, and I’d hire the best [inspector] I could find,” he added.
Opting against a professional home inspection could seriously cost you in the long run.
Consider this: Structural issues with a property can require serious money to correct, said Shelby Leight, a licensed real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty Group Vickie Landis Rentsel Team in Quakertown, Pa.
“If you have basement flooding, there’s a huge potential for mold and remediation, and that can be costly – let alone what it can do to your health,” Leight said.
Septic system repairs and replacements are also big-ticket items, costing anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 or more, depending upon what’s involved to create a new system, according to Leight.
She agreed that in today’s competitive “seller’s market,” home inspections are being waived “all of the time.”
“If they can get an offer that waives all inspections, they don’t have to worry about future negotiations with the buyer. That’s a win for the seller,” she said.
But as a buyer, you have to be your own advocate. And scheduling a home inspection is a big part of that.
Your home inspector looks for a number of issues related to the property’s foundation, major systems, and other key areas of the home.
But it’s a good idea to keep your own home inspection checklist handy, especially if you’re buying an older house or one that hasn’t been occupied for a while.
Buying a home is a major decision, get thorough answers to your questions before your closing date. Make sure to ask about any concerning cracks in the ceiling, dips in the floor, musty smells, or anything else that seems like it may be a red flag.
On average, Keim said the inspection process takes about three to four hours of “looking behind the curtain” on the home.
Additional inspections that may be needed based on the general inspection:
Your inspector will issue a home inspection report, usually within a few days of seeing the home. Review the report carefully, and follow up with the inspector if something seems unclear.
You can also use the report to negotiate with the seller if the inspection turns up a glaring issue. The seller may offer to fix the problem before closing, or they may reduce the purchase price if you agree to handle it once you take ownership.
Worst case scenario, you cancel the sale. But it’s better to back out now and have to find another house than to get in over your head on a property you know too little about.
Related: 15 Homebuying Myths Your Parents Told You Debunked
A general home inspection will cover all of the points listed above and then some. But the keyword here is general. Some homebuyers need or want additional inspections before they feel comfortable buying a home.
Home inspectors will note signs of rot or damage from pests, such as termites, carpenter bees, and ants, said Tony Domingues, owner and president at Integra Home Inspections in Upper Macungie Township, Pa.
Depending on the extent of the damage or where you live, you may also need a separate pest or rodent inspection to more thoroughly investigate signs of infestation.
You may also need to schedule certain types of inspections based on the type of loan you’re using to buy the home.
VA loans, for instance, require a Wood-Destroying Insect Inspection before the lender will approve the mortgage in many states, Leight said.
“And the veteran is not allowed to pay for the inspection,” she noted, so either the seller picks up the cost, or the home inspection company provides it for free.
If the house is on a septic system, rather than city water and sewage, you may need a special septic inspection. During that inspection, a specialist will pump out the septic tank to ensure it’s working probably.
Keim said some septic problems can cost about $20,000, while Leight put the range for septic repair or replacement between $15,000 and $50,000 or more, depending on the property and what the repairs or replacements would entail.
But septic systems themselves are not a concern if they are in good condition. Septic tank pumping costs a few hundred dollars according to homeadvisor.com.
Domingues said electric wiring, accessible outlets, fixtures and panel boxes as well as any exposed areas are thoroughly checked during electric inspections as electric “is a common area for homeowners to ‘tinker’ with.” However, for a closer look at the wiring of the home, you would need an electrician to come out for a separate inspection.
Properties with on-site wells should be water tested for quality and quantity of production. Wells with low production or those that run dry represent a risk to homebuyers and can lead to high expenses. You should also have the well tested for contamination from harmful bacteria, nitrates, heavy metals, or arsenic.
It’s wise to do a “tank sweep” if there’s any possibility of an oil tank buried on the property. Oil tanks used to be popular home heating fuel sources. Removing fuel tanks or cleaning up environment hazards they caused can be a costly affair. But you can avoid such expenses by getting an oil tank sweep, where a company searches the property for buried tanks.
Radon is a naturally occurring, poisonous gas from the soil that can build up in homes. Make sure the home your are buying does not have elevated levels of radon, or if it does, the cost to add systems to deal with the issue.
In some parts of the country, such as many northeastern states, houses built with stucco can have serious issues if the stucco was installed over wood framing without rain screens or a gap space for moisture to evaporate. Homes built since 2000 with improperly completed stucco exteriors have no way for moisture to completely dry.
“They’re rotting from the inside out,” Keim said.
Ask your real estate agent what they recommend in terms of inspections. An experienced agent who has seen clients buy a range of houses will be able to suggest specialty inspections based on the kind of home you’re buying and the location.
Your general inspector will also advise more in-depth inspections if they see something concerning or there is a part of the house they cannot access.
Gary Volpe, roofing contractor and founder of Volpe Enterprises in North Wales, Pa., said the lion’s share of failed home inspections – more than 50% – are tied to problems with roofing, siding, and windows. These items should be high on your home inspection checklist.
If the home you want to buy has substantial problems, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. Some homebuyers are prepared to invest in renovations and repairs, but it’s essential that you have an idea of the costs going in. You can’t budget appropriately if you don’t know what the home needs.
Home inspection costs range from $300 to $1,000, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).
While the average inspection costs around $500, additional inspections on “fixer-uppers” or older homes can vary significantly based on the system being inspected, how easily accessible it is, and how long the inspection will take.
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Request quotes from several inspection companies in your area, and ask what’s included. Some may do pest inspections as part of their general inspection, while others may charge for those separately.
You want to work with a professional home inspector, even if you have a family friend or relative who is a contractor and is familiar with houses.
But the best referral may come from your Realtor, who has worked with many inspectors in your area and knows who is the best.
A licensed, trained, and certified home inspector will have completed an apprenticeship or other professional program and are in the best position to do the inspection properly.
Keim recommended looking for professional inspector members of the American Society of Home Inspectors
Not only will a professional home inspection provide peace of mind, it will give you back up for any financial recourse you might need in the near future after purchase, in case something with the home’s systems goes badly wrong.
Keim recommends looking for professional inspector members of the American Society of Home Inspectors, who have undergone an apprenticeship program and are certified.
A standard home inspection checklist includes the home’s structure, foundation, roof, windows, and plumbing and electrical systems. A home inspector will also note signs of rot, mold, water damage, and other potential hazards.
A home inspector will flag things like structural cracks or instability, damage to the frame or foundation, serious mold or water damage, areas of the house that are out of code and could cause fires or other hazards, or high levels of radon and other environmental contaminants.
An old roof that’s well past its replacement date, mold and water damage, electrical problems, structural cracks and instability — all of these can represent health and safety (not to mention financial) hazards. Extensive termite damage or rot caused by moisture can also pose serious risks to the longevity of the home.
Having a home inspection should be on every prospective buyer’s to-do list.
Although sellers are required to disclose known issues with the property, they’re not home inspectors and they don’t know what they don’t know. Only a licensed and trained professional can answer questions about the home’s condition, safety, and livability.
And while no home purchase is without risks, getting an inspection can reveal problems that will make you glad to walk away — or it can confirm your instinct that this is the right home for you.
Some references sourced within this article have not been prepared by Fairway and are distributed for educational purposes only. The information is not guaranteed to be accurate and may not entirely represent the opinions of Fairway.