Real Estate

What You Need to Know About Home Inspections When Buying a House

Buying a house is likely the most expensive purchase you'll ever make. Make sure your offer to purchase is contingent on your choice to have a home inspection done. Paying for an inspection is one of the first investments you'll put into your new home.

Why Should I Spend Money on a Home Inspection?

You and your house inspector view your hopeful new home with different eyes. The inspector's job is to carefully assess a home's condition and give you a detailed report to help you to make an informed and intelligent buying decision.

Most real estate sales contracts give a buyer several days to complete an inspection. The report results can impact negotiations and reaching a final contract. Your contract should allow you to cancel the deal if you can't agree on inspection items, with the prompt return of your earnest money.

Hiring an Inspector

The clock is running once your offer is accepted, and you need to schedule your inspection. Sources for finding the right inspector include friends and contacts who recently bought homes, or your real estate agent or broker. Do watch for possible conflicts with referrals from real estate agents; you want an inspector who isn't pressured to give a clean report in an effort to close a sale quickly.

Many inspectors belong to the American Society of Home Inspectors, although membership in this organization doesn't assure competence. Many states do require home inspectors to be licensed.

Call several inspectors and get information on the services offered, pricing and qualifications. Ask if the inspector can do specialized inspections you may need in your area for insects, radon gas, flood damage or mold.

During the Inspection

Your inspector will no doubt ask you to sign some paperwork outlining what the inspection covers. It's standard for the contract to limit the inspector's liability for things that couldn't be inspected, such as the area behind drywall or other finished surfaces. Ultimately, you decide on the inspector's skills and credibility.

It's important to go along on the inspection for a few reasons. You can take careful notes and ask questions about possible issues and repairs. You'll be ready for negotiating with the seller if needed. You're paying for the inspection, so tap the inspector's skills - it's an excellent chance to learn about your new house.

Scope of the Inspection

The inspector should carefully look over the house's operating systems and conditions, including:

  • Electrical
  • Heating and air conditioning
  • Plumbing
  • Foundations
  • Roofs
  • Water seepage
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Insect or rodent infestations
  • Code violations
  • Construction defects

If there are any problems, the inspector can give you an estimate of the extent and cost of repairs. It's unethical for inspectors who are contractors or architects to offer to do the repairs.

Solving Inspection Issues

You may need to go back to the negotiating table based on the inspection report. There may be a major repair or several smaller defects to fix. The costs can add up either way. Your options include:

  • Asking the seller to make the repairs, give you a credit at closing or adjust the purchase price
  • Canceling the contract and getting your earnest money back
  • Buying the house despite the defects, and making repairs after closing without any concessions from the seller

Unless your contract says otherwise, the seller doesn't have to agree to your requests on inspection issues. The sales price, the seller's motivation and market conditions affect how inspection issues are worked out. Buyers and sellers usually do find a solution and the sale closes.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Are home inspectors liable for obvious problems they should have found?
  • Do inspectors have to tell me about any conflicts of interest with others involved in a sale, such as the seller and real estate agents?
  • Can I get out of a contract if the seller won't agree to a credit or repairs for several minor items?
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