Atop the long list of items to do when buying or selling a house is the home inspection. But what is involved? Why is it done in the first place? It’s important to understand what a home inspection entails and how it affects the sale of your home or the purchase of a new one. The more you know, the less likely you are to get ripped off or taken by surprise.
What is a Home Inspection?
First of all, let’s clear up a commonly misunderstood point: a home inspection is not the same as an appraisal. An appraisal is an estimate of a property’s overall market value. A home inspection is much more detailed and practical. It is also not a code inspection and therefore does not report on building code compliance or give a “passing” or “failing” grade. It is defined as an objective visual examination of the structure and systems of a home by an impartial, neutral third party not related to the buyer or seller. In layman’s terms, it shows you what’s wrong with the property you want to buy or sell and if it is serious enough to prevent a sale.
The three main points of the inspection are to evaluate the physical condition of the home, including structure, construction and mechanical systems; identify items that need to be repaired or replaced; and estimate the remaining useful life of the major systems, equipment, structure, and finishes. Bottom line: a home inspection is to inform the buyer of any readily visible major defects in the mechanical and structural components, and to disclose any significant health or safety issues.
What Does a Home Inspection Cover?
A home inspection includes a visual examination of the house from top to bottom. There are hundreds of items a home inspection covers, including general structure, flashings, basement or lower level, framing, central cooling and heating, chimneys, plumbing and electrical systems, drainage, bathrooms and laundry facilities, foundation, common safety devices, fireplaces and wood stoves, kitchen and kitchen appliances, general interior, attic, insulation. ventilation, roof, and exterior.
An inspector cannot report on defects that are not visible. For instance, defects hidden behind finished walls, beneath carpeting, behind storage items and in inaccessible areas, and even those that have been intentionally concealed. Systems that are seasonally inoperable (swamp coolers, air conditioning, furnaces) will not be turned on during the inspection.
Who Hires the Inspector?
Typically in the Mid-Peninsula area sellers order a home inspection prior to putting their home on the market. The home inspection is then disclosed to potential buyers as part of the larger disclosure packet. I recommend that my sellers have the home inspection ASAP as the information will also help them know what items they should address to make their home more marketable. If sellers choose not to make major repairs suggested in an inspection, I advise and help them to at least get estimates for the repairs. Potential buyers tend to be less concerned about issues that are quantifiable.
It’s a good idea to be present during the inspection for a couple of reasons: First, you can ask the inspector questions during the inspection. Also, the inspector will have the opportunity to point out areas of potential trouble, which will mean more to you if you see it with your own eyes than read it in the inspector’s report later. Many inspectors also will offer maintenance tips as the inspection progresses.
If the seller does not have an inspection, I highly recommend that the buyer do so. And, even if the seller has disclosed an inspection report it is a good idea for the buyer to get their own done, however this is not always possible in a market where time is of the essence and no contingencies is a popular strategy.
What Other Inspections Should be Done?
It is common in this market for pest inspections to also be done. This is very important as the standard purchase contract has special provisions regarding pest related issues. If the home has a pool, a pool inspection should be conducted to make sure that the equipment is working properly. The basic home inspection will only address pool safety concerns. If the home inspector has noted any issues with the foundation, I highly recommend a foundation inspection. This is especially important in our area where faults and landslide zones are a fact of life. If the home has a fireplace - either wood burning or gas, I recommend that a fireplace inspection also be done. Also, if the home inspector noted any concerns with the roof, I highly recommend a roof inspection.