Getting a Home Inspected – What Questions Should You Ask?
When getting a home inspected, it is important to consider what questions you should ask. While a home inspector can alert you to any problems that are currently evident in a home, knowing what questions to ask can help you get the most from your home inspection. Asking a home inspector about issues you have found in the home yourself, the potential for drainage or structural problems, and the age of the electricity and plumbing systems, can help you make a more informed decision when purchasing a home.
Ask About Problems You Find Yourself
During a home inspection, it is important to ask about problems that you have personally located, or that have been mentioned by the owner of the home. This is the perfect opportunity to check into a weak floor, suspicious spots on the ceiling, or other seemingly minor problems that could be a warning sign of an impending disaster. In most cases, if you do not ask a home inspector about a specific issue, they will do nothing more than follow the basic home inspection checklist.
Ask Specific Questions About Problem Areas
There are always specific problem areas in a home that could lead to big-ticket repairs. Don’t be scared to ask your realtor about things like drainage around the home, or the potential for flooding in the area the home is located.
Structural items like roofing and siding should also be inspected thoroughly, as these can cost a lot of money to repair or replace. Asking about current problems that may be present, and how long certain structural components can realistically go without being replaced, can be helpful in your decision of whether to purchase a home or not. You wouldn’t want to pay full market value for an older home that may need thousands of dollars in repairs in a few short months.
Ask The Inspector About the Age of Certain Housing Systems
Plumbing, electrical, and heating or cooling systems have a tendency to last a long time, and underlying problems with them may not be as evident as in other areas of the home. Old copper plumbing can be a ticking bomb waiting to burst, and the slightest thing can make old wiring fizzle out. If a home is over fifty years old, asking a home inspector about the kind of systems in the home, or the condition of them, can keep you from making a costly mistake.
Things That Shouldn’t Be Asked of your Home Inspector
Do not ask your home inspector if they think you are making the right decision, or if they think that you should purchase the home. It is not their decision to make, and only you can decide what is best for your situation. Home inspectors are there solely to report the facts about the condition of a home.
You should never ask a home inspector to tell you exactly how long something in the home will last, or how long it will be before a particular item will break. Once again, they are not mind readers, and while they may be able to give you a general answer about when a roof might need to be replaced, it is just an estimate and not fact.
If used to their full potential, home inspections can be useful tools when trying to decide whether or not to purchase a home. If you ask all of the important questions, and address things you have found, problem areas, and the age of the home’s systems, then you will reap the full benefits of a quality home inspection.
The Home Inspection Process: A Guide for Sellers and Buyers
The home inspection is a crucial part of any home sale and purchase transaction, and for good reason. The buyer needs to know that he’s not buying a potential money pit, and that there are no unsafe structures at the property before he hands over the purchase money. For the seller, understanding the home inspection process is an opportunity to fix anything that could scupper the deal and secure a top-dollar sale price. So what happens at this mysterious inspection, and what can you do if it throws up a red flag?
Let the Buyer Beware!
The legal framework for buying and selling real estate comes from British common law, which operates under the doctrine of caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. Caveat emptor means that the buyer has a duty to investigate the property before closing. The seller, on the whole, does not have to disclose any information about the property he is selling, good or bad.
Of course, this is a simplistic view and state law has intervened over the years to water down the caveat emptor doctrine. Today, most sellers make disclosures about the property, such as whether the home has flooded in the past and when the furnace was last serviced. Federal law also requires mandatory disclosure about health-harming substances such as mold and lead paint.
The problem with disclosures is that a seller only has to disclose problems that he actually knows about. Sellers do not have to poke around the roof or go deep into the foundations to uncover any problems with the property. Many sellers will not spot problems, especially those that are invisible to the untrained eye. That’s why 84% of home buyers hire a professional home inspector to put the property under the microscope.
How it Works
Once you have signed the contract, inspections usually happen within five or 10 days. The home inspector will arrive at the seller’s home, often with the purchaser in tow, and spend two or three hours looking at it. Here’s a summary of what the inspector is looking for:
- A home inspector makes a visual inspection of the property. He examines the structure and components of the home and notes any structural, mechanical and other defects. Expect him to open closets, turn on faucets, run the washer, fire up the heating and wander through the basement.
- He will not break open walls, check for radon or other noxious substances or verify whether the home is building code compliant. He’s not checking whether the house is legal, or is worth the price the buyer is paying for it. The inspector is simply interested in the “big picture view” — the safety of the structure and the function of the home’s components.
The American Society of Home Inspectors has issued a set of rules that dictate what an inspector must inspect and how he should report his findings. In theory, only ASHI-certified inspectors are required to follow the ASHI code of practice, but many states have endorsed ASHI’s guidelines as the benchmark for all state-registered home inspectors. Thus, a home inspector’s report will almost always cover the following components of the home: heating and air conditioning systems, electrical systems, plumbing, roof, attic, walls, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, foundation, basement, insulation and the exterior and structure of the home.
Many inspectors offer extra services such as mold testing, radon testing and energy audits — for an additional fee.
What Happens if the Inspector Finds a Problem?
After completing his inspection, the home inspector will prepare a professional report with color photos of his findings. Reports can run to 20 or 30 pages. If there are problems, the home inspector will describe the condition in his written report. The report will highlight defects that need fixing imemdiately and minor problems that could lead to more serious conditions down the road. If he suspects a defect that is not readily apparent from his inspection, the inspector may recommend follow up action, such as an inspection by a structural engineer or pest control expert.
Remember, the home inspector represents the person who hires him. In most cases, this person is the buyer. Therefore, the seller may be the last one to learn about any problems that could potential wreck the transaction. It sounds unfair, but most states enshrine the concept of client privilege and prevent the home inspector from disclosing his findings to anyone other than his client.
No home is perfect — not even a new construction home — so the chances are the home inspector will find something. Before closing, the buyer needs to decide how serious the problems are and what she is going to do about them.
Home Inspection Contingencies in the Sale and Purchase Contract
A standard purchase offer typically includes one or more inspection-related contingencies. Sellers will, on the whole, accept a home inspection contingency as few buyers — and no mortgage company — will proceed without one.
A home inspection contingency exists to protect the buyer. If the inspection reveals any problems, the buyer can typically do one of five things, depending on the language of the contingency:
- Approve the report move towards closing.
- Cancel the contract and have his earnest money returned.
- Ask the seller to carry out the repairs before closing. If the seller agrees, the deal moves forward. Otherwise, the buyer can cancel the contract.
- Adjust the price or ask for a credit at closing in lieu of repairs. This puts cash in the pot for the buyer to do the repair work after closing. It’s usually a good option for buyers and sellers as there’s no argument about which repairs are being done or whether they are done correctly. Also, a repair credit means the home sale will close on time. Some contracts provide for an automatic repair credit up to a specified value, for example, $1,000, or up to a fixed percentage of the purchase price. In all other cases the seller must approve the price deduction or credit and the buyer may cancel the contract if the seller does not agree.
- Extend the inspection contingency so the buyer can carry out further inspections recommended by the report.
If the buyer wants to walk away from the deal, the standard home inspection contingency contains a mechanism for her to do so. Usually, the buyer must give the seller notice and a copy of the inspection report, highlighting the areas of material concern. The seller can then fix the problem before next listing the home for sale.
Advice for Home Sellers
As with any contingency, a home inspection is an opportunity for the buyer to walk away from the deal if substantial problems are found. As a home seller, one of the smartest things you can do is hire a home inspector before you list a home for sale. That way, you avoid any nasty surprises further down the line. Hiring an inspector up front gives you the time to fix any problems so the price you accept for the home is the price you receive at closing, without having to accept a deduction for unexpected repairs.
A Final Word
The best advice for both parties is — check your ego at the door. Home inspection is an information gathering process. It’s not about squeezing a big discount from the purchase price or pushing through a home sale transaction when the property needs more repair than the buyer expected. Understand that repair issues are a fact of life, and be prepared to compromise, and your deal should go through a lot faster and with a fairer outcome for everyone.