What, exactly, do you really know about home inspections? A quick pop quiz among our friends shows most people have the idea that a home inspection will reveal any and all problems in a property. They think the inspection report will alert them to impending disasters or any essential repairs that are required. But is this really so? What is a home inspection, which elements of the home are under scrutiny, and what will the report actually reveal?
What Is A Home Inspection?
A home inspection is a visual examination of a property, carried out by a qualified professional with the intention of identifying any problems or deficiencies in the systems or the structure of the house. An inspection is non-invasive, so the inspector will not remove tiles or cut into walls.
This appears, at first glance, to be simple enough, but there are a lot of misunderstandings about the process, what inspectors do and do not look at, and what the report will tell you. Are you confident you know everything you need to? Read on to find out what you do and don’t know about home inspections.
What Is A Home Inspection?
The purpose of a home inspection is to look for hidden defects in a property which are not immediately apparent to the potential buyer. I am not talking about a crack in a tile that you might not notice because it isn’t in plain view, although those items might also be listed. The intention of the home inspection is to identify issues you cannot see on a walk through. This is why offers are usually made with a “home inspection contingency.”
When you make an offer on a property, it is fair to assume you do so within the context of what you can see. You will take into account any work you know you will need to do when you decide on the amount of the offer you make. Therefore you cannot come back to the seller later and try to negotiate a lower price using these obvious issues as leverage.
The home inspection is carried out to find any issues that are not clearly apparent to the average person. If significant problems are found then the “home inspection contingency” allows the buyer to either renegotiate the deal or walk away from their offer without penalty.
What A Home Inspection Is Not
The majority of people believe that the home inspection will tell them about the quality of the property’s construction, the longevity of the homes systems or any imminent breakdowns you need to worry about.
While you can infer or extrapolate much of this information from the report, that is not the primary function of the home inspection. The inspector will be able to give you an overview of the property’s systems, its general condition, which materials have been used, and roughly how long you can expect these elements to last. Things such as current failures, signs of recurring issues like water leaks or pest problems will be in the report, but home inspectors cannot predict the future. They cannot tell you that there will or will not be a particular issue within a specific timeframe, only what may or may not happen according to the law of averages.
What Does A Home Inspector Check?
There is not enough room here to tell you in detail, everything a home inspector will check. However, the following is a list of the things you can generally expect to be included.
A home inspection will usually begin with an external examination of the property. The inspector will look at:
The home inspector will take a look around the grounds of the property, taking note of any potential issues with overhanging foliage, roots, pathways, driveways, etc.
Retaining walls and other hard landscaping will be assessed for integrity as well as any patio or deck and associated railings and supports.
The earth around your property should slope from the building in order divert water away from the house. If the grade is not correct, then moisture can pool and get into the house causing damage.
While the foundation is not usually visible, the inspector will look for evidence of foundation problems such as settling.
The home inspector will look at the general structure of the building. They will check the walls are intact, window and door frames are in good condition, square, and free from apparent defects.
Outside pipework will be reviewed. A particular emphasis is on the places where the pipes enter or exit the structure of the house. Also important are where pipes, venting, drains or other areas where the structure is breached.
The inspector will look at the paint, brickwork, stonework and/or siding. They will check for cracks, dents, flaking, and any other damage. They will also ensure there is a minimum of six inches between the wall and any earth in order to avoid water damage.
Roofs will be checked for any damage, for loose or incorrectly installed shingles, and flashing issues. The gutters, downspouts, roof vents, and any skylights will also be inspected for problems as will the chimney.
If the roof has a shallow pitch or is no more than three floors up the inspector may climb up and walk around. In the case of steeper roofs, those higher than three stories, or bad weather the inspector will not take any risks with their health and safety.
Even without a “hands-on” inspection, the home inspector can use an infrared camera to determine if there are any areas where heat is escaping. This can indicate problems with the roof or with the insulation in the attic.
Garage / Carport / Outbuildings
All outbuildings that are physically connected to the house, as well as the garage, will be reviewed. The inspector will check to see if the garage is correctly vented and any visible framing is in good condition. For attached garages, they will also check the correct fire break insulation is installed.
It is important to understand that a home inspector will not move furniture in order to gain access to areas of the house. Neither will they be able to inspect items such as pipework, HVAC, and electrical that are in the wall or ceiling.
The general internal inspection will include checking that the walls are straight and there are no issues around leaning or sagging etc. Door and window frames will be viewed to ensure they are square, well installed and free from damage.
Facets, toilets, and showerheads will be inspected for any obvious damage, visible leaks, and evidence of previous leaks. Water pressure will be checked at various points around the home. In addition, the speed of drainage in the sinks, baths, and showers will be tested
If the pipework is obviously damaged or old the inspector may give a rough estimate of the work required. They may also be able to give you an idea of cost. However, if there are serious concerns, the inspector is more likely to recommend a specialist plumbing inspection.
A home inspector will look at the hot water heater to see if it is correctly installed and secured. They will estimate the age of the heater and whether or not there are any obvious problems that may necessitate repair or replacement in the near future.
HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning
The inspector will look at the visible ducting and report on the general condition. They will highlight any visible evidence of leaks or damage. The level of insulation in the home will be noted. You will be alerted to the possible or actual presence of any asbestos. However, this will only happen if the inspector sees any signs of it. A report that does not mention asbestos does not mean the home is 100% free from it.
An estimate of the age of the furnace and any AC units will be made. In addition, a general note will be recorded of any obvious issues around maintenance, compliance with building codes, etc.
The number and position of heating vents, A/C, or radiators, in each room, will be noted. If there are potential issues around positioning or an inadequate number of vents etc, the home inspector will mention it in the report.
The type and approximate age of the wiring will be noted. Then the home inspector will test the electrical outlets making sure the ground fault interrupters are fully functional. Electrical panels will be checked for safety, as long as they are accessible. Light switches will be tested and a note will be made of how many outlets are in each room.
Any fire alarms will be tested along with the venting system in the laundry room which can be a significant fire hazard if not correctly installed and maintained.
Room Specific Checks
As you might imagine particular attention will be paid to some rooms in the house. Those that rely on the systems of the home to function correctly. For this reason, there are additional checks in these rooms:
The home inspector will check the kitchen is well ventilated. Special attention will be paid to ensure any hood fan is correctly installed and vented to the outside. They will also perform a cursory check on cabinet doors and drawers to ensure they are sound and work correctly.
Under the sink will be inspected for leaks. The inspector will ensure electrical outlets within six feet of a water source are fitted with the appropriate safety features.
Bathroom ventilation will be checked to ensure there is enough air flow to prevent a build-up of moisture and subsequent mold or mildew issues. High moisture levels can also warp cabinetry over time as well as affect any decorative finishes.
The inspector will ensure that there are no obvious safety or building code violations, such as light switches or plug sockets in close proximity to water sources and that the toilet is secure, properly installed and the flush works correctly.
What a Home Inspection Doesn’t Cover
In some ways, it’s more important to know what a home inspection doesn’t cover than to know what it does. Most people assume inspections will tell them about any issue or potential issue with the property in question. This is just not true.
Home inspectors are generalists who check for obvious problems or clues to possible problems.
Your inspector may see a crack in an outside wall that could indicate a damaged foundation. The inspector cannot say for sure that the foundation will need repair if they cannot see it. However, they will alert you to what could be lurking below ground level. Then they will recommend you have a foundation specialist come and take a look.
In addition, home inspectors do not look specifically for things such as mold, pest damage, ground contamination, asbestos etc. This is especially true if these issues are hidden behind walls on in inaccessible areas of the house. They can only let you know if they see something on the surface that indicates such a problem. Either that or an issue that is readily visible.
Additional, Specialist Inspections
If your inspector identifies any concerns they will suggest a more specialized inspection. This also goes for things such as wells, septic tanks, and swimming pools. These items are not covered in a regular general home inspection.
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.