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What Do Home Inspectors Look For? Why These 5 Items Could Make or Break the Inspection

Even if you’ve bought a house before, you’re still wondering: What do home inspectors look for? What are the biggest problem areas? We inspect the top five. —-

So you’ve found a home you love that checks all your boxes. Congrats! But before going full steam ahead with the purchase, it’s in your best interest to know the house is safe, structurally sound, and that major systems are functioning properly before closing the deal.

The home inspection is a buyer’s single best opportunity to assess a home’s condition. It documents issues both major and minor, giving you a full picture of exactly what you’ll be taking on as a homeowner. After all, buying your home is probably the most money you’ll spend at once on anything in your lifetime! Put another way, the inspection will let you know if you can celebrate, should save for necessary repairs, or run for the hills.

But what’s most important in a home inspection? And what happens if you get a problematic inspection report?

Items that are potential deal-breakers will vary from person to person and depend on a number of factors, such as market conditions, the home’s age, the neighborhood, and your financial situation. Nevertheless, there are several things that inspectors look for that can greatly impact a home sale, for better or for worse.

We’re breaking it all down for you with Omaha agent, Amy Haggstrom, who sells homes 40% faster than the average agent in the area, plus professional home inspectors for their expert advice. Think of this as your home inspection’s CliffsNotes, a quick overview to understand what’s what on your inspection report so you know what you’re getting into before closing the sale (or not).

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What happens during a home inspection

As a buyer, you get to choose your home inspector, so it’s important to find a good one who’s experienced and knowledgeable.

“Lean heavily on your Realtor® for some inspector recommendations,” says Haggstrom. “We see which ones are thorough and which ones are legit. We know who is very thorough, who communicates well with buyers and explains things.”

When your inspector arrives for the appointment and cracks open their notebook, they’re evaluating items in the home that are “readily accessible and visually observable,” according to the American Society of Home Inspectors standards of practice.

“The home inspection is a tool to learn more about what you’re purchasing, so it’s not necessarily to only get a list of defects,” says Brian Wetzel, home inspector and owner of HouseMaster in Somerville, New Jersey. “It’s also an educational overview of the house.”

While the inspection doesn’t cover every nook and cranny, it will paint a fairly accurate picture of a home’s structure and systems. It will provide a snapshot of the home’s condition and the types of maintenance and repairs that will be necessary in the future.

Equally important, a home inspection may help prevent the buyer’s remorse that’s become more prevalent (two-thirds of recent buyers said they regretted some aspect of their purchase in an August 2021 survey). In a competitive seller’s market, buyers might consider nixing contingencies and waiving home inspections to make their offers more attractive to sellers. In fact, inspections accounted for 25% of buyer contingencies waived at contract in June 2021.

We get it — the market’s a jungle out there — but protecting your investment and financial future is important, too. Considering the nominal cost of an inspection (between $280 and $400, on average), the few hundred bucks you spend now could save you thousands of dollars and copious heartache later.

During a home inspection for a recent client of Haggstrom’s, the inspector discovered a sewer leak. He recommended additional tests with a plumber, who found a line break between the home and city sewer lines, causing sewage to slowly leak into the house plumbing.

The buyers “ended up walking away from that home because a potential sewer line was $10,000. That saved them a lot of money,” says Haggstrom.

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The top five things home inspectors look for

The home inspectors we interviewed agree that there are a few things that top their list of importance when it comes to home safety and performance.

Foundation

The foundation is the workhorse of a house. It has to support the home’s structure (frame, drywall, everything up to the roof), furnishings, and most importantly, its occupants. Foundation issues are often a deal-breaker for buyers because the repairs can be costly.

What inspectors look for

Inspectors will typically walk the perimeter of the home looking for settlement problems, cracks, and sloping. If there’s a crawl space, it will get a good once-over for moisture, mold, and warping that could affect the integrity of wood supports. If the foundation’s been repaired previously, the inspector will check the workmanship on that, too.

“Water penetration is probably one of the biggest concerns, because that can lead to foundation settlement that can lead to — if you’re on a crawlspace — rot, decay, gray mold, and termite activity,” says Wetzel.

Average cost to repair

Foundation repair costs vary widely depending on the severity of the problem. The average cost is $4,500, but it can balloon to as much as $15,000.

Roof

Roof quality and performance can also make or break a house deal. You’ll often hear concerned family members ask about the age of the roof in a home sale.

A roof protects a home from outdoor temperatures, wind, rain, and snow. A high-performing roof keeps a home well-insulated while providing good ventilation to maintain interior air quality. It’s also very expensive to replace.

What inspectors look for

Many inspectors will climb up on the roof for a visual inspection, while others may evaluate the roof from a ladder. In inclement weather conditions, an inspector might need to use binoculars and inspect the roof from the ground.

“I’m looking at the overall condition of all the components and making sure that everything is watertight and that we still have three to four years at a minimum life left in that roof at that time of the inspection,” says Tim Damm, home inspector and owner of Blue Ladder Home Inspections in Aloha, Oregon.

Inspectors look for leaks, damaged or missing shingles or tiles, and moss growth. Flashing, gutters, vents, proper attic ventilation, and skylights are also included in their review.

Average cost to repair

Minor repairs can run between $150 and $1,500, while a replacement is a much larger investment and costs, on average, between $6,000 and $12,000.

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Plumbing

Is there anything worse than a leak? If left untreated, water problems have a domino effect and can create serious issues in a home. Nothing drains a savings account quite like a pervasive water problem. It can affect the foundation, walls, floor, and subfloor — pretty much everything that could result in a headache and even bigger expense.

What inspectors look for

The home inspection will include anything that’s affected by water flow — piping, showers, bathtubs, sinks, faucets, toilets, and spigots. Inspectors will check for leaking, corroding, and cracked pipes, in addition to evidence of any DIY work and repairs.

They’ll have a look at walls, flooring, and ceilings for evidence of moisture, and they will also check for cross-connection or contamination issues.

Average cost to repair

Costs to repair plumbing and water damage add up quickly. The spendiest projects top our list. If there’s a plumbing or water problem, you’re probably looking at costs to repair it plus restoration fees such as dry out, mold remediation, building materials replacement, and labor. This can run from $1,000 to $5,000 and can often cost much more, depending on how much of the home’s been affected.

Electrical systems

Assessing a home’s safety is top of mind for a home inspector, and electrical issues can pose a serious risk if neglected. Electrical systems are the third-leading cause of house fires, a dangerous and potentially life-threatening outcome of overlooked electrical problems.

What inspectors look for

During an inspection, the electrical panel gets evaluated from top to bottom to ensure everything’s up to code with correct wiring and grounding. The inspector will also look for corroded wires and proper amperage ratings.

Switches and receptacles must operate properly, and ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets should be installed in most rooms to prevent injury and electrocution.

Average cost to repair

If you’re fortunate enough to purchase a home requiring minor electrical repairs, it should only set things back between $150 and $500. If the issue is serious, like a panel needing a replacement or a whole-house rewiring, be prepared for a heftier price tag, closer to $1,200 to $2,200.

HVAC system

You’re probably going to want to know if your home’s systems can heat, cool, and ventilate the interior efficiently and reliably. Note that the home inspection won’t cover every detail, so if you suspect the unit is older and needs a closer examination, you’ll want a HVAC vendor to conduct a more thorough evaluation.

What inspectors look for

Usually one of the first things an inspector will do during the appointment is turn on the heater and air conditioner to make sure both function properly. They’ll typically let the system run throughout the inspection to check the thermostat, too.

Average cost to repair

Costs span the spectrum (notice a pattern here?) and vary based on the system, what’s wrong, and if it’s a simple repair or replacement.

Furnace repairs can range from $130 to $1,200, while a furnace replacement costs up to $6,000 or more. Air conditioners will set you back $200 to $500 for repairs on average, while a full replacement can cost between $3,250 and $12,500.

What a home inspection isn’t

Home inspectors evaluate much more than the five things we’ve listed, but the items mentioned above usually cause buyers the most headaches and cost the most to resolve.

And while a home inspection is fairly thorough in assessing the integrity and performance of a house, it doesn’t cover everything. Here are some examples of what’s not included:

Anything that’s blocked or locked (the inspector will note in their report if they’re unable to gain proper access to any areas of the house)
Home value (a qualified appraiser will assess the home’s fair market value during a separate appointment)
Landscaping
Appliances
Well or septic systems (specialty inspections exist for these)
Paint, wallpaper, and home furnishings
Areas behind wall cavities
Local code compliance

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What happens if the inspection reveals problems with the home?

There’s no such thing as a perfect house, so it’s inevitable the report will uncover things that need to be addressed. Even brand-new homes have a few items requiring repairs, often referred to as a “punch list,” that’s identified in the final walkthrough. If you want to forego a full inspection when purchasing a new home, an agent experienced in new home construction may help identify what to look for.

With all this in mind, if the inspection report comes back with serious issues, you’ll have to decide how to proceed with the sale (or not).

Keep in mind that there’s no pass or fail with an inspection. The report will provide you with a list of components that do not meet minimum standards or are not functioning properly, along with recommendations to repair or replace items.

So if you get a problematic inspection report, what comes next? You have a few options, though specifics may vary depending on what’s specified in the contract.

Ask the seller to pay for repairs

Determine what you’re comfortable fixing and which items you’d like the seller to repair. Your agent can be a helpful resource here, as they’ll probably have a good idea of what sellers will be willing to take on, given local market conditions.

Also bear in mind that the seller is leaving the house behind, while you’re moving in. They likely won’t be as invested as you are in the quality of the repairs.

Pay for the repairs yourself

Perhaps you’re in a competitive market and don’t think the seller will agree to foot the repair bill. Or maybe you’re getting a great deal and have some extra funds saved. Your inspection report will outline the severity of the issues found so you can prioritize repairs that impact health, safety, and comfort.

“Whether or not repairs are done before closing or after closing, they (buyers) at least have a starting place on where to start improving their new home,” says Damm.

Share costs with the seller

If your agent thinks the seller may be willing to meet you halfway, consider negotiating costs for major repairs. Splitting costs could be negotiated as a percentage, an agreement to pay for specific items, or a credit at closing from the seller.

Walk away

If the inspection report reveals serious defects and you’re no longer comfortable moving forward with the sale, you can cancel the contract if you’re still within the inspection period outlined in the contract. The inspection period is a specific amount of time designated in the home sale contract to allow for buyers to perform their due diligence on the property.

For example, Haggstrom’s client who discovered the sewer leak decided the home wasn’t a good fit after the seller refused to pay for the repairs. “They were able to withdraw their contract without any kind of penalty because of that home inspection period.”

Know your limits

Identifying your priorities and what you’re willing to accept in a home inspection is a personal matter. Your best bet is to find an agent you trust so they can help you discover what’s most important to you so you’re equipped for the transaction’s inevitable ups and downs.

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–Shared with love by the Valmy Team– your Texas realtor team. We would love to earn your trust and partnership, www.TheValmyTeam.com. All content copyright by the original authors.

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