A professional and thorough home inspection is absolutely critical when buying a home. As the buyer, you pay for the inspection, which will cost between $200 and $500. But don't let the cost deter you. Without an inspection, you could be making the biggest investment of your life in a lemon. Even with a brand new house, there may be hidden problems that only a professional inspector can find.
Your real estate agent can recommend an experienced inspector. If not, look for someone who is certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors. If you are getting an FHA or VA loan, you will also have to have an additional inspection. (Don't let that one be the only inspection you get, however, because it may not be as thorough as a full-blown inspection.)
Your purchase offer should be contingent on the results of the professional inspection. This means that if the inspection turns up something like a really bad termite infestation or cracks in the foundation, you can back out of the contract, or you can have the seller repair the problem to your satisfaction.
Here are the major areas the inspector will cover:
- Foundation: If there is a basement or crawl space, are there signs of water damage? Are there any cracks in the walls or floor that might indicate structural problems?
- Construction: Does the house have good quality construction? Is the flashing properly installed to protect wood, are there any rotting problems with the wood, is the roof in good shape or will it need to be replaced soon?
- Plumbing: Has the plumbing been properly installed? Is it in good shape? Is there any evidence of leaks?
- Heating and cooling systems: Are the units in good shape? Will they need replacing soon? Are they rated for the amount of square footage they are heating?
- Electrical: Do there appear to be any electrical problems or code violations?
- Interior: Are the floors level? Do windows and doors function properly? Do the appliances in the kitchen function properly? Is there any evidence of leaks or mildew in the bathrooms?
The inspector will provide you with a printed report showing everything that passed and the (hopefully) few things that didn't. This report will be your ammunition if you need to renegotiate the purchase contract to include repairs. If the inspection report is clean, it's time to get ready for the big day: the closing.