A home inspection is an important—though usually optional—part of the home-buying process. Image source: American Society of Home Inspectors
A home inspection from a certified professional is a crucial part of buying your dream home, though it’s often not an actual requirement. In fact, many homebuyers waive their right to a home inspection, but this is almost always a huge mistake. The home inspection contingency on your purchase contract is there to protect you and your money, so you should absolutely use it.
Hiring a home inspector to conduct a thorough inspection can cost hundreds of dollars. But, it’s the only way to know whether or not someone is selling you a home riddled with potential problems. Additionally, you can use the report to negotiate with the homeowner for a lower price if any significant issues come to light, so spending a few hundred dollars on a good inspector can actually save you thousands.
Keep reading to learn how to hire a home inspector, what you should expect, and how to negotiate after the inspection.
On this page
- How home inspections differ from home appraisals
- Why you should get a home inspection before buying a home
- How much does a home inspection cost?
- How to choose a home inspector
- What do home inspectors look for?
- What to do after getting the home inspection report
- How to ensure a home you’re selling will pass a home inspection
How home inspections differ from home appraisals
Before we explain why you should get a home inspection, it’s first important to make a distinction between home inspections and home appraisals.
With a home inspection, an inspector assesses the safety of a home and the condition of its various systems. With a home appraisal, an appraiser assesses the market value of a home.
Appraisers focus more on the location, cosmetic appeal, and size of a home while an inspector will actually dig deep to find underlying safety issues, unreliable appliances, and structural problems.
There’s a slight overlap in purview between inspections and appraisals, but there are some key differences. Here’s a quick breakdown of the similarities and distinctions between the two:
Home inspections vs. home appraisals
All told, paying for an appraisal as well as an inspection can cost you up to $1,000.
Here’s the bad news: depending on what the appraisal finds, your lender might not give you the money to buy the home. And, depending on what your inspector finds, you may not want to buy it for the original price anyway. If the seller is unwilling to negotiate a lower sale price in either instance, you might have to walk away.
This means you might spend all that money to assess a home you may not actually buy.
Why do some buyers waive their right to an inspection?
Due to the high cost of home inspections, many people skip them to save money. Some homebuyers justify this decision with the fact that appraisals catch a few of the same things inspections do. For example, if a house has a gaping hole in its roof or a collapsed exterior wall, both an appraiser and an inspector would take note since these factors would affect the safety and the value of the home.
This makes many homebuyers—especially first-time homebuyers—believe that an appraisal is good enough and an inspection would be overkill. Additionally, opting to waive your right to an inspection might mean a seller accepts your offer instead of that of someone who wants to get an inspection.
All things considered, it’s understandable that some homebuyers don’t bother with home inspections. Despite all of this, though, it’s still a big mistake to buy a home without first getting it inspected.
Why you should get a home inspection before buying a home
A home’s value and its condition can be two very different things. In a seller’s market, an older home with asbestos, bad plumbing, and a dying air conditioning unit might still go for a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean you should live in it as is. These are issues an appraiser probably won’t look for or take into account, but they wouldn’t get past an inspector.
Your inspector will run diagnostic tests on every aspect of your home from the roof to the foundation. They’ll check outlets, they’ll run the HVAC system, they’ll look for issues with the sewer lines, they’ll check for evidence of toxic chemicals, and more. If the house has significant problems that would make it unlivable or require significant repairs in the near future, they’ll turn up on the inspector’s written report.
So while you can save a few hundred bucks by skipping your home inspection, it means you’re committing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a house you know very little about. While it might turn out that the home has no red flags, you really can’t know that without a professional inspection.
How much does a home inspection cost?
On average, it costs somewhere between $300 and $500 to get a full home inspection. These inspections cover every aspect of a house including the HVAC, the electrical system, the roof, the basement, the plumbing, the windows, the insulation, and more. If you really want to know the gritty details about a house, this is the type of home inspection you should get.
If you want a stripped-down assessment that costs less, get a four-point inspection instead. These inspections are less thorough and only cover a home’s HVAC, electrical system, plumbing system, and roofing. On the plus side, they take less time than full inspections and typically cost $50–$175.
You can also add specialty services like radon testing and thermal imaging to your home inspection, but these will usually cost extra. Some specialty services might also require the inspector to call out a specialist to conduct the necessary testing.
The cost of a home inspection can vary depending on a few different factors. The state where you live, the size of the home, and the difficulty of the inspection can all impact your price.
How to choose a home inspector
Not all home inspectors are equally qualified. In fact, some states don’t even require a home inspector to get a license to operate. And, unfortunately, the information you get about a home is only as good as the inspector who gathered it for you. This makes it essential to check the credentials of any inspector you might hire.
The best way to start finding home inspectors is to ask your realtor for a few recommendations. They’ll be able to point you to some good options.
The next step is to weed out the bad home inspectors from the good ones. The easiest way to do this is to find inspectors that are certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). These are prestigious organizations, so any home inspector who’s certified with either one will broadcast that proudly. Both ASHI and InterNACHI impose strict experience, training, and education requirements on their members, so you can rest assured that any inspector certified with either organization is up to snuff.
Once you’ve narrowed your options down to inspectors with these certifications, simply pick the one with the most positive reviews among them. They might cost more than the competition, but they’ll give you the best information about the home you might buy.
What do home inspectors look for?
During a full home inspection walkthrough, the inspector will thoroughly look over the physical structure and internal mechanisms of the home to make sure it meets all current building codes. Here’s a list of what home inspectors typically look for and what you can pay them extra to test:
What the inspector will check during a full home inspection
- HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning)
- Electrical system (electrical panels, outlets, and wiring)
- Roofing (shingles, gutters, and stability)
- Plumbing system (pipes, toilets, showers, and water heater)
- Chimney and fireplace
- Additional services you can pay an inspection company for (H3)
- Lead paint inspection
- Thermal imaging
- Radon testing
- Infestation inspection (termites, cockroaches, etc.)
- Asbestos inspection
- Mold inspection
- Soil analysis
- Carbon monoxide testing
- Gas leak testing
- Sprinkler testing
- Meth screening
What to do after getting the home inspection report
After they’ve conducted their assessment, your inspector will give you a written report of everything they found. This report will detail every bit of damage, every leaky window, and every faulty appliance in the house.
Once you know what work the house needs, you can go back to the seller and negotiate with them. This might mean asking them to fix any problems before you move in, but you can also ask them to lower their price so you can pay for the repairs or replacements yourself. In some instances, this can knock tens of thousands of dollars off the sale price.
You should keep your expectations modest and prepare to play hardball, though. Some sellers are unwilling to budge an inch on their prices, even when you’ve got paperwork detailing all the problems with their house.
Keep in mind that the home inspection contingency on most purchase agreements only provides a week or two to cancel a home purchase, so you’ll likely have a limited time frame for negotiations. If the inspection reveals any deal breakers about the house, you should be prepared to just walk away in case the pricing negotiations come to a standstill.
Some real estate contracts only give you the ability to cancel a home purchase if the cost for any needful repairs would exceed a certain dollar amount. This means if you discover something you don’t like about a home but it wouldn’t cost more than the specified amount to replace, you can’t back out of the purchase.
How to ensure a home you’re selling will pass a home inspection
If you want to sell your home quickly and make it more attractive to potential buyers, you should take care of as many of the home’s problems as you can before you list it. If the home has any water damage, faulty wiring, or a furnace at the end of its life, taking care of these issues ahead of time will help your house close quicker.
One of the best ways to get your home ready for a buyer’s inspection is to hire an inspector of your own. This will give you a full picture of the condition of the home, and it can point you directly to things you should fix or replace before listing.
Getting your own home inspection can also provide you with details about the home to add to the listing. If, after their home inspection, your buyer asks you to lower your price because of an issue their inspector found, their case will be weaker if you already mentioned that same issue on the home’s listing.
And while getting an inspection and fixing problems ahead of time will likely cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars, you can actually raise your asking price based on how much work you put into the home. Think of the money you spend on repairs upfront as an investment. Just make sure you hold onto all the receipts you get from the technicians who fix up your house. That way, you can prove to the buyer that the repairs are recent.
Home inspection: the bottom line
Home inspection contingencies are put into many real estate contracts for a reason. They’re designed to protect homebuyers from purchasing homes that are unsafe living spaces or unsound investments. Waiving your right to a home inspection means flying blind into a mortgage you’ll be paying off for decades. And if anything really concerning turns up after you move in, you may find yourself unable to sell the house for the price you bought it for.
As a homebuyer, a home inspection is the best protection you, your family, and your money have from predatory sellers and unsafe homes.