How To Have An Home Inspection The Right Way

A few years ago, I watched a reality TV show about a home inspector who went to homes that had already been inspected. He always found all sorts of problems that the original inspector had missed.

I was struck by one important thing about that show: The TV version of an inspector was poking holes in walls to look at the wiring, ripping out siding to look for mold underneath, digging up the yard to peek at foundations, even prying up floorboards to peer at the joists…and more.

In real life, a home inspector can’t do any of that. The only thing an inspector can do is observe surface conditions. He or she can turn things on and off, pull away anything not fastened down, and use his or her knowledge of symptoms to evaluate what “might” be going on under the surface, but that’s as far as it goes.

By law, a home inspector isn’t allowed to be “invasive.” Even when being invasive might be the only way to truly discover some of the worst problems.

Knowing that, what can you do to improve the quality of your home inspection? Here are 5 ideas:

1. Look For Positive Reviews

a woman in yellow sweater working on her laptop

Most new homeowners discover problems with a home after they move in. That’s when they’re more likely to register their frustration by leaving a bad review for the inspector.

It’s a lot harder to find a positive review because most people don’t register their satisfaction as often as they register their frustration. If you see positive reviews, it might be a good indication that the inspector has don’t his or her job well.

Try to find reviews from homeowners who have lived in the home for a while and are giving a review after the fact. A character review is OK (“He was a nice guy.”) but a work review is better.

2. Make sure the utilities are on

All inspectors will tell you that the utilities need to be on. If the seller refuses to or can’t turn the utilities on, you’re taking a big risk.

Even if the utility in question seems new or in good condition, you can’t always tell. For instance, suppose all the plumbing looks new. But once the water is turned back on, you discover hot water is being directed into the toilet tank instead of cold (true story), or the water meter keeps running even though the water spigots are all off, indicating a leak in the water main (true again).

Or suppose the electrical system looks correct. But when the power is back on, you discover the new stove doesn’t work when plugged in. Accepting a home inspection with any utilities off is the same as accepting the home “as-is.”

3. Do take the inspector’s advice seriourly

Many homeowners say their inspector told them something wouldn’t be a problem, but then later, it turned out to be a big problem. Where things go wrong is when the inspector says something like, “I’ve seen this before, and it usually means it’s been repaired and if the repair was done correctly, it should work.”

The inspector should also add, “But you should have a qualified ___ inspector look at it.”

If the inspector doesn’t tell you to have a specialist inspection, that doesn’t mean everything is OK. Ask questions of the inspector. Remember, the home inspector’s job is to highlight potential problems. It’s your job to follow through with specialists.  

For instance, the inspector points out a wet spot on the roof and tells you there’s no evidence of a leak right now, but it’s a low point that could leak in the future. Even if nothing is said about a getting specialist roof inspection, that should raise a red flag for you to ask more questions, and possibly get a specialist inspection for your own satisfaction.  

Often a home inspector will reassure buyers it’s not currently a problem, and they’ll recommend a specialist inspection. But the buyers will ignore the advice, leaning too heavily on the inspector’s reassurance. Don’t make that mistake. Have the specialized inspection if it’s recommended.

Many of these specialized services will charge a small fee to come to assess the problem, then apply that fee to the work, if needed.

4. Don’t throw the babay out with the bathwater.

All houses have problems. That’s not a reason to reject the house.

Having a list of problems is good. Now you know what needs to be addressed. Now you can assess the cost of those repairs. Isn’t that better than buying a house you know nothing about?

All houses have problems. You just need to decide how to get things fixed. You can ask the seller to make the fixes, ask the seller for money so you can make the fixes, or decide you can live with the problem for now.

Depending on the price, you may have to agree to some combination of those things. Even if the home is listed for sale in “as-is” condition, you can still ask the seller to remedy problems. They can say yes or no, and then you get to decide what you want to do.

5. Listen to your gut

If something looks suspicious, don’t be afraid to seek the seller’s permission to dig deeper into “inaccessible” areas.

For example, if there’s discoloring around the edge of the carpet, ask the seller for permission to take up a corner to inspect for mold. If the wall looks recently patched, ask the seller why it was patched, and if the inspector can open the wall to look. You may have to agree to have the wall professionally repaired afterward.

Most homebuyers won’t go this far, but if you have serious concerns, you should ask.

If the seller says no, you must decide if you’re willing to take a risk on something that you (and the inspector) can’t see.

Do a risk assessment. If the indicated problem is small, you may want to take the risk and shoulder the repairs if any are needed.

For instance, if the wall looks patched, and the seller says they accidentally kicked a hole in it when they were demonstrating a new karate move, you can decide to accept that—or not.  Remember that a seller is obligated to tell the truth, in writing. So, get the seller’s explanation in writing. If it turns out later to be the result of a rat infestation that is now causing health and financial hardship…and you discover that the seller had gone into the wall to clear out a rat’s nest, then you have a case against them to recover costs.

BUT remember that you can’t always recover costs sufficient to the problem. If your health has suffered, you probably won’t be able to recoup that.

What happens after the home inspection?

Chances are you’re present with the inspector when he/she is doing the job.

Usually, the inspector will stand with you while still on the property and review their findings with you. You’ll get to see what the problems are in real-time. The inspector will point to the actual suspicious spots and demonstrate real problems. That’s when you need to ask all your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask.

In fact, as you listen, make four different lists:

  1. Items you need to ask the seller about. These could be items that require further “invasive” investigation. Or items you need the seller’s written explanation about. By the way, any negotiations about what you can and can’t do will be negotiated by your agent with the seller’s agent. Repair negotiations can get heated, so it’s usually for the best that agents are the go-between here. They’ll also create a formal addendum, so all agreements are in writing.
  2. Items you want the seller to fix. These are items you already know are a problem, as noted in the report. You are not asking the seller for an explanation or to inspect future. You’re simply asking them to fix or pay for repairs. Any agreements will be written into an addendum and made part of the formal agreement.
  3. Items you need to get a specialized inspection for. Your real estate agent should help you coordinate inspection times with the owners/sellers, but ultimately, you are responsible for finding, calling, and setting the appointments with specialists.
  4. Items you are going to fix yourself. Not every single item is going to be handled by the seller. And not every item is a big deal. If you already know you’re going to rip the carpet out because you want hardwood floors, then you can ignore the large worn spot in their carpet.

Stay on top of timeframes

The process of arranging for, then doing the home inspection, and then following up on all the details can take days…or even weeks in some cases.

Your contract will state how many days you have to “remove the inspection contingency.” That means if you agree to 7 days, you need to get all your inspections done in 7 days or the seller has the right to pull out. This time frame includes all the negotiations with the seller, too. So you can see you need to get as much time as you can for inspections, and also move fast!

  • Sellers like short inspection time frames.
  • Buyers like long time frames, so they have as much time as possible.

How long does an inspection take?

The inspection itself will likely take several hours, so prepare for that time away from work. You do not need to be present during the inspection, but you should try to be present at the end of it, so the inspector can show you his or her findings in real-time.

Setting up and attending the specialized inspections can also take hours, over many days, depending on each person’s availability.

Your agent must keep on top of the sellers (via their agent) to make sure they’re meeting all their obligations, too.

Fortunately, you have a great real estate agent on your side to keep an eye on the contractual details, help you find qualified services, set appointments, and remind you of important deadlines during the transaction! Just give us a call and we’ll help you manage your home buying experience.

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