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Buying a home is one of the most important (and expensive!) events in a person’s life, so it’s critical to ensure that it gets done right the first time. The best way to ensure that the home you’re interested in is safe and ready for you to move in is to hire a home inspector to check the property. It’s important to note that the home inspector you hire is paid for by you (the buyer), not the seller.

As a general rule, a home inspection is always worth the cost because it will ensure your home is safe and ready for you to move in, saving you money in the long run and making sure you’re not on the hook for expensive repairs later on. A home inspection could save your life by detecting unsafe conditions.

Take a look at what a home inspection involves and why it’s critical during the buying process. 

What Does A Home Inspection Include?

It’s important to know that inspectors are generalists – they can identify problems but might not know how to fix them. Your home inspector can tell you there’s a problem with the electrical wiring, but you’ll need an electrician to identify and fix the specific problem. Also, an inspector isn’t guaranteed to check everything, as they only look for visual cues to current or impending issues. In other words, home inspectors can’t tell the future. They do not examine homes for specialized problems like termites, mold, or asbestos. Any good inspector will give you a heads-up if they suspect something or recommend testing services if the property appears to be at risk. They should, however, complete a full inspection of the outside and a thorough inspection of the home’s interior.

Suppose you’re buying a newly built home or are building a house yourself. In that case, you should consider getting inspections on your new home build to cover a few extra things, like checking the foundation before the concrete is poured and the structure and mechanics of interior walls before drywall is completed. Neither can be fixed afterward, so it’s better to double-check before. 

Exterior Inspection

One of the main things an inspector will be on the lookout for during a home inspection is cracks, especially in the walls or foundation, which can be expensive and difficult to fix. They check the grading slope of the house to ensure it’s not prone to flooding, the ventilation of any storage units, framing, and any water heaters within them. They will also closely examine the roof to ensure there will be no leaking due to loose or missing shingles or damaged mastic near the vents, as well as check the quality of the gutters. 

Interior Inspection

Two of the main interior systems a home inspector will check, which also require a specialist, are the plumbing and electrical systems. An inspector will check all the plumbing fixtures to look for visible leaks and see if the water pressure might hint at any problems within the pipes. They will also check for adequate ventilation in the bathroom because moisture can lead to mold and mildew without a window or ventilation fan. If the pipes are visible, they might recommend a secondary inspection if they notice the pipes are old enough to become a hazard later on. In terms of electricity, the home inspector will identify the type of wiring in the home, test all the outlets for potential fire hazards, and check your electrical panel. They will also make sure that the ground fault circuit interrupters work, which are necessary to protect against electrocution, electric shock, and burns. 

The inspector will examine the HVAC system to determine functionality and estimate the necessity of repairs or maintenance in the near future. They might identify the possibility of leaks or if the insulation is sufficient to minimize energy bills in the winter. Similarly, they will examine the water heater to check for age, condition, proper installation, and the likelihood of requiring maintenance. 

Fire hazards are a primary target of home inspectors, and aside from outlets, they will also check that the smoke detectors are up-to-date and functional. If the home has a laundry room, the inspector will check that it is properly vented to prevent the dryer-exhaust system from catching flame. If there is an attached garage, they should look to make sure the wall is undamaged and has the necessary fire rating. 

Every single one of these items checked is one less thing you need to worry about. Whether that’s as small as knowing the sink isn’t leaky or as life-saving as a well-installed circuit interrupter, it can save you time, money, or even your life. 

What Is The Home Inspection Contingency?

A home inspection is intended to be an opportunity for a buyer to identify significant problems with the property they are buying before the sale. The home inspection contingency – also called the “due diligence contingency”- means that if a home inspection shows serious problems, you can back out of the purchase offer with no penalties as long as it is within a pre-determined time frame. This contingency is included in the purchase agreement of the real estate contract. It is negotiated between the buyer and the seller before scheduling an inspection, although the rules about these contingency agreements can vary according to state and local laws. The contingency states the amount of time a buyer has to get an inspection done and brings up objections if any issues they wish to address are found. The wording of the clause is usually couched in the term ‘satisfactory’, which gives buyers a lot of loopholes if they don’t like the seller’s response to their demands. The money saved thanks to this foresight is far more than the average cost for a home inspection of about $300-$500.

On the seller’s end, typical contingency clauses will also determine how to fix any issues the buyer objects to, like determining if the buyer will pay for professional repairs or demand an adjusted, lower price on the home to compensate. The seller will, however, only do these things after negotiation – a problem during inspection does not guarantee they will pay for repairs. If they don’t wish to do either, you can back out or waive the contingency to continue with the purchase. 

Some sellers get a Pre-Listing Home Inspection to make sure they can sell the property at the agreed-upon price without needing to renegotiate during the sale due to a finding by the buyer’s inspector. Although this is good practice for sellers, especially those who aren’t interested in uncovering surprises, buyers should still do their own home inspections. What the seller is legally required to disclose can change depending on state law. Most laws require that any major defect the seller is aware of must be disclosed prior to sale completion, but some states still have Caveat Emptor laws, or “let the buyer beware”. In real estate, this is the idea of buying a house “as-is”. In a state like Virginia, private sellers do not have to disclose information. However, they cannot lie when directly asked or actively conceal a problem without opening themselves up for later lawsuits. 

What To Do After An Inspection

If you decide to back out of a sale after a home inspection, either because you are unhappy with the current state of the house or the proposed solution, there is an upside. A lot of buyers who are interested in a home will take extra steps to ensure their offer stands out to the seller. One of the tactics used is an earnest money deposit, sometimes used interchangeably with the term “good faith deposit”. This money is a specific amount offered before closing on the house to show you are serious about purchasing. This attracts sellers because when the two parties enter a purchase agreement, even without a guaranteed sale, the house must be taken off the market. If the buyer backs out, the seller has to go through an expensive relisting. The earnest money deposit, usually around 1-3% of the sale price, is held in an escrow account until the deal is complete, and if the purchase goes through, it is added to either the down payment or the closing costs. However, if the deal falls through, the seller keeps the forfeited deposit as collateral for the time and money spent. The only case where you get your money back is if the reason for their backing out is due to one of the contingencies listed in the purchase agreement. Although the home inspection is just one of a few contingencies that can be included in the contract, it can save a buyer a lot of money if they discover something unpleasant about their prospective home and want to back out. 

If you’re interested in making sure you’re doing home buying correctly, check out 10 Deadly Mistakes Buyers Make When Purchasing A Home. If you’re in Frisco, Texas, check out Kissee Inspection Services for experienced, licensed inspectors near you.