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What is a home inspection? Here's what to expect

What we'll cover

  • Types of home inspections

  • What to do before an inspection

  • Average cost and who pays

You may have heard the expression “good bones" referring to a quality, well-built home. But how do you know if a house fits that standard? That's where a home inspection comes in.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a professional property examination which typically occurs during the homebuying process . A trained and certified inspector usually conducts the assessment after a buyer and seller sign a sales contract or purchase agreement, before a home sale closes.

During an inspection, a home inspector assesses the physical structure of a home. The typically two- to four-hour evaluation determines whether a property meets all building codes and regulations.

While not required, an inspection could save buyers time, money and potential headaches. You might consider having your home inspected before you sell your house so you make any necessary repairs that may deter a buyer.

Types of home inspections

What type of inspection do you need? It depends.

General home inspections

In most instances, homebuyers hire a general home inspector to assess a property and receive a written property condition report.

Inspectors examine electrical, water, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems. They also check for fire and safety issues. The inspection also looks for evidence of insect, water and fire damage. If the inspector spots trouble, they might refer you to a specialist to investigate further.

Foundation inspection

A foundation inspection looks for drainage problems, tree roots, cracks or other indications of movement or shifting. A foundation inspector may suggest that you have the property inspected by a residential structural engineer if more issues lurk.

Mold inspection

You can't see (or in some cases, smell) everything. A mold inspector can detect dampness in your home using a moisture monitor meter and possible air samples.

Radon testing

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that results from the gradual breakdown of radium from well water, building materials and soil through cracks in the foundation, floors or walls. A professional radon inspector can test the home.

Wood-destroying organism (WDO) inspection

More commonly called a termite inspection, this inspection evaluates whether you're harboring unwelcome insect tenants like termites, wood-boring beetles and carpenter ants. These inspectors will also look for dry rot caused by fungi.

Homebuyers can make the closing contingent on the results of the home inspection.

Understanding a home inspection report     

Once complete, the inspector will create a comprehensive written assessment that usually includes:

  • The basics, like construction date, square footage and home type

  • Significant issues

  • Recommendations on how to proceed with repairs

The report can take 24-48 hours to be delivered.

Can a home inspection affect the sale?

Homebuyers can make the closing contingent on the results of the home inspection. Don't panic if a home inspector discovers defects. Some buyers understand that no home is perfect.

If you're the seller, you can base your next move on several options:

  • Make the repairs

  • Give a repair credit based on contractor quotes

  • Renegotiate the sale price and sell as-is

  • Offer a one-year home warranty

  • Offer furniture or appliances to sweeten the deal

  • In the worst-case scenario, cancel the contract altogether

If you're the buyer, know that you can request a reinspection to verify that issues have been fixed.

How to prepare for a home inspection

As a seller, here's a checklist to follow ahead of an inspection:

  1. Provide clear access to all areas

  2. Clean inside and outside

  3. Check your roof and AC or furnace filters

  4. Check all lights and ensure the fuse box is labeled correctly

  5. Look for leaks and water

  6. Check your cabinets and doors

  7. Take care of any bug problems

How much does a home inspection cost?

Home inspections cost between $200 to $500 on average, depending on the size of the home and location. Buyers usually pay for the inspection through closing costs , but if you get a home inspection before you put up the “for sale" sign, you'll pay the bill.

What to look for when hiring a home inspector

When looking for a general home inspector, ask for referrals and check online reviews. Once you ID someone, ask a few questions:

  • Are you certified and licensed?

  • Are you insured, bonded or covered?

  • Do you belong to a professional association?

  • Do you have references?

A report by a qualified home inspector can help you feel confident in your decision to purchase a home, or give you a clear picture of how to improve your home before selling it.

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