Get ready for the home inspection with this checklist of basic elements and questions.
What a Home Inspection Should Cover
Home inspections will vary depending on the type of property you are purchasing. A large historic home, for example, will require a more specialized inspection than a small condominium. However, the following are the basic elements that a home inspector will check. You can also use this list to help you evaluate properties you might purchase.
For more information, try the virtual home inspection from the American Society of Home Inspectors.
Structure: A home’s skeleton impacts how the property stands up to weather, gravity, and the earth. Structural components, including the foundation and the framing, should be inspected.
Exterior: The inspector should look at sidewalks, driveways, steps, windows, and doors. A home’s siding, trim, and surface drainage also are part of an exterior inspection.
- Doors and windows
- Siding (brick, stone, stucco, vinyl, wood, etc.)
- Attached porches, decks, and balconies
Roofing: A well-maintained roof protects you from rain, snow, and other forces of nature. Take note of the roof’s age, conditions of flashing, roof draining systems (pooling water), buckled shingles, loose gutters and downspouts, skylight, and chimneys.
Plumbing: Thoroughly examine the water supply and drainage systems, water heating equipment, and fuel storage systems. Drainage pumps and sump pumps also fall under this category. Poor water pressure, banging pipes, rust spots, or corrosion can indicate problems.
Electrical: Safe electrical wiring is essential. Look for the condition of service entrance wires, service panels, breakers and fuses, and disconnects. Also take note of the number of outlets in each room.
Heating: The home’s heating system, vent system, flues, and chimneys should be inspected. Look for age of water heater, whether the size is adequate for the house, speed of recovery, and energy rating.
Air Conditioning: Your inspector should describe your home cooling system, its energy source, and inspect the central and through-wall cooling equipment. Consider the age and energy rating of the system.
Interiors: An inspection of the inside of the home can reveal plumbing leaks, insect damage, rot, construction defects, and other issues. An inspector should take a close look at:
- Walls, ceilings and floors
- Steps, stairways, and railings
- Countertops and cabinets
- Garage doors and garage door systems
Ventilation/insulation: To prevent energy loss, check for adequate insulation and ventilation in the attic and in unfinished areas such as crawlspaces. Also look for proper, secured insulation in walls. Insulation should be appropriate for the climate. Excess moisture in the home can lead to mold and water damage.
Fireplaces: They’re charming, but they could be dangerous if not properly installed. Inspectors should examine the system, including the vent and flue, and describe solid fuel burning appliances.
10 Questions to Ask Home Inspectors
Before you make your final buying or selling decision, you should have the home inspected by a professional. An inspection can alert you to potential problems with a property and allow you to make an informed decision. Ask these questions to prospective home inspectors:
- Will your inspection meet recognized standards?
Ask whether the inspection and the inspection report will meet all state requirements and comply with a well-recognized standard of practice and code of ethics, such as the one adopted by the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors. Customers can view each group’s standards of practice and code of ethics online. ASHI’s website also provides a database of state regulations.
- Do you belong to a professional home inspector association?
There are many state and national associations for home inspectors, including the two groups mentioned in No. 1. Unfortunately, some groups confer questionable credentials or certifications in return for nothing more than a fee. Insist on members of reputable, nonprofit trade organizations; request to see a membership ID.
- How experienced are you?
Ask how long inspectors have been in the profession and how many inspections they’ve completed. They should provide customer referrals on request. New inspectors also may be highly qualified, but they should describe their training and let you know whether they plan to work with a more experienced partner.
- How do you keep your expertise up to date?
Inspectors’ commitment to continuing education is a good measure of their professionalism and service. Advanced knowledge is especially important in cases in which a home is older or includes unique elements requiring additional or updated training.
- Do you focus on residential inspection?
Make sure the inspector has training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection, which is very different from inspecting commercial buildings or a construction site. If your customers are buying a unique property, such as a historic home, they may want to ask whether the inspector has experience with that type of property in particular.
- Will you offer to do repairs or improvements?
Some state laws and trade associations allow the inspector to provide repair work on problems uncovered during the inspection. However, other states and associations forbid it as a conflict of interest. Contact your local ASHI chapter to learn about the rules in your state.
- How long will the inspection take?
On average, an inspector working alone inspects a typical single-family house in two to three hours; anything significantly less may not be thorough. If your customers are purchasing an especially large property, they may want to ask whether additional inspectors will be brought in.
- What’s the cost?
Costs can vary dramatically, depending on your region, the size and age of the house, and the scope of services. The national average for single-family homes is about $320, but customers with large homes can expect to pay more. Customers should be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.
- What type of inspection report do you provide?
Ask to see samples to determine whether you will understand the inspector’s reporting style. Also, most inspectors provide their full report within 24 hours of the inspection.
- Will I be able to attend the inspection?
The answer should be yes. A home inspection is a valuable educational opportunity for the buyer. An inspector’s refusal to let the buyer attend should raise a red flag.
Source: Rob Paterkiewicz, executive director, American Society of Home Inspectors, Des Plaines, Ill. Reprinted from REALTOR® magazine with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.