Home Inspections – A Question and Answer Guide

A home inspection is an evaluation of the visible and accessible systems and components of a home (plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical, structure, roof, etc.) and is intended to give the client (buyer, seller, or homeowner) a better understanding of the home’s general condition. Most often it is a buyer who requests an inspection of the home he or she is serious about purchasing. A home inspection delivers data so that decisions about the purchase can be confirmed or questioned, and can uncover serious and/or expensive to repair defects that the seller/owner may not be aware of. It is not an appraisal of the property’s value; nor does it address the cost of repairs. It does not guarantee that the home complies with local building codes or protect a client in the event an item inspected fails in the future. [Note: Warranties can be purchased to cover many items.] A home inspection should not be considered a “technically exhaustive” evaluation, but rather an evaluation of the property on the day it is inspected, taking into consideration normal wear and tear for the home’s age and location. A home inspection can also include, for extra fees, Radon gas testing, water testing, energy audits, pest inspections, pool inspections, and several other specific items that may be indigenous to the region of the country where the inspection takes place. Home inspections are also used (less often) by a seller before listing the property to see if there are any hidden problems that they are unaware of, and also by homeowners simply wishing to care for their homes, prevent surprises, and keep the home investment value as high as possible.

The important results to pay attention to in a home inspection are:

1. Major defects, such as large differential cracks in the foundation; structure out of level or plumb; decks not installed or supported properly, etc. These are items that are expensive to fix, which we classify as items requiring more than 2% of the purchase price to repair.

2. Things that could lead to major defects – a roof flashing leak that could get bigger, damaged downspouts that could cause backup and water intrusion, or a support beam that was not tied in to the structure properly.

3. Safety hazards, such as an exposed electrical wiring, lack of GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) in kitchens and bathrooms, lack of safety railing on decks more than 30 inches off the ground, etc.

Your inspector will advise you about what to do about these problems. He/she may recommend evaluation – and on serious issues most certainly will – by licensed or certified professionals who are specialists in the defect areas. For example, your inspector will recommend you call a licensed building engineer if they find sections of the home that are out of alignment, as this could indicate a serious structural deficiency.

Home Inspections are only done by a buyer after they sign a contract, right?

This is not true! As you will see when you read on, a home inspection can be used for interim inspections in new construction, as a maintenance tool by a current homeowner, a proactive technique by sellers to make their home more sellable, and by buyers wanting to determine the condition of the potential home.

Sellers, in particular, can benefit from getting a home inspection before listing the home. Here are just a few of the advantages for the seller:

· The seller knows the home! The home inspector will be able to get answers to his/her questions on the history of any problems they find.

· A home inspection will help the seller be more objective when it comes to setting a fair price on the home.

· The seller can take the report and make it into a marketing piece for the home.

· The seller will be alerted to any safety issues found in the home before they open it up for open house tours.

· The seller can make repairs leisurely instead being in a rush after the contract is signed.

Why should I get a home inspection?

Your new home has dozens of systems and over 10,000 parts – from heating and cooling to ventilation and appliances. When these systems and appliances work together, you experience comfort, energy savings, and durability. Weak links in the system, however, can produce assorted problems leading to a loss in value and shortened component life. Would you buy a used car without a qualified mechanic looking at it? Your home is far more complicated, and to have a thorough inspection that is documented in a report arms you with substantial information on which to make decisions.

Why can’t I do the inspection myself?

Most homebuyers lack the knowledge, skill, and objectivity needed to inspect a home themselves. By using the services of a professional home inspector, they gain a better understanding of the condition of the property; especially whether any items do not “function as intended” or “adversely affect the habitability of the dwelling” or “warrant further investigation” by a specialist. Remember that the home inspector is a generalist and is broadly trained in every home system.

Why can’t I ask a family member who is handy or who is a contractor to inspect my new home?

Although your nephew or aunt may be very skilled, he or she is not trained or experienced in professional home inspections and usually lacks the specialized test equipment and knowledge required for an inspection. Home inspection training and expertise represent a distinct, licensed profession that employs rigorous standards of practice. Most contractors and other trade professionals hire a professional home inspector to inspect their own homes when they themselves purchase a home!

What does a home inspection cost?

This is often the first question asked but the answer tells the least about the quality of the inspection. Fees are based according to size, age and various other aspects of the home. Inspection fees from a certified professional home inspector generally start under $300. An average price for a 2,000 square foot home nationally is about $350-$375. What you should pay attention to is not the fee, but the qualifications of your inspector. Are they nationally certified (passed the NHIE exam)? Are they state certified if required?

How long does the inspection take?

This depends upon the size and condition of the home. You can usually figure 1.2 hours for every 1,000 square feet. For example, a 2,500 square foot house would take about 3 hours. If the company also produces the report at your home, that will take an additional 30-50 minutes.

Do all homes require a home inspection?

Yes and No. Although not required by law in most states, we feel that any buyer not getting a home inspection is doing themselves a great disservice. They may find themselves with costly and unpleasant surprises after moving into the home and suffer financial headaches that could easily have been avoided.

Should I be at the inspection?

It’s a great idea for you be present during the inspection – whether you are buyer, seller, or homeowner. With you there, the inspector can show you any defects and explain their importance as well as point out maintenance features that will be helpful in the future. If you can’t be there, it is not a problem since the report you receive will be very detailed. If you are not present, then you should be sure to ask your inspector to explain anything that is not clear in the report. Also read the inspection agreement carefully so you understand what is covered and what is not covered in the inspection. If there is a problem with the inspection or the report, you should raise the issues quickly by calling the inspector, usually within 24 hours. If you want the inspector to return after the inspection to show you things, this can be arranged and is a good idea, however, you will be paying for the inspector’s time on a walkthrough since this was not included in the original service.

Should the seller attend the home inspection that has been ordered by the buyer?

The seller will be welcome at the inspection (it is still their home) although they should understand that the inspector is working for the buyer. The conversation that the inspector has with the buyer may be upsetting to the seller if the seller was unaware of the items being pointed out, or the seller may be overly emotional about any flaws. This is a reason why the seller might want to consider getting their own inspection before listing the home.

Can a house fail a home inspection?

No. A home inspection is an examination of the current condition of your prospective home. It is not an appraisal, which determines market value, or a municipal inspection, which verifies local code compliance. A home inspector, therefore, cannot not pass or fail a house. The inspector will objectively describe the home’s physical condition and indicate which items are in need of repair or replacement.

So What Is A Home Inspection Exactly?

Sometimes, as a professional Home Inspector, I get asked “Exactly what is a Home Inspection?”. And for someone who hasn’t ever been directly exposed to a residential real estate transaction, and perhaps for some that have, it is an excellent question.

In large part, any definition to be applied to the phrase Home Inspection is dependent on where the Home Inspection is being conducted (in what State or municipality) and on what organization, if any, the Home Inspector might have an affiliation. Many states have adopted licensing requirements; some have not. It is worthy of note that an inspection of a home (note that I did not refer to it as a Home Inspection…) conducted in a State with no licensing requirements, by an individual with no or minimal experience and no professional association affiliation, may just be whatever he or she decides it will be at any given time…very, very scary indeed! And, If things are as they should be, we ought to be able to answer the subject question without having to determine what the definition of “Is” is.

According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), one of the oldest and most generally respected Home inspector associations, a Home Inspection is a conducted in accordance with the ASHI Standards of Practice is an inspection of the readily accessible, visually observable installed systems and components of a home. ASHI Standards of Practice also state that an inspection performed to their Standards of Practice are intended to provide the client with objective information regarding the condition of the systems and components of the home as inspected at the time of the Home Inspection. The inspector is required to provide a written report that identifies any systems or components inspected that, in the professional judgment of the inspector, are not functioning properly, are significantly deficient, are unsafe, or are at the end of their useful life. Further, reasoning or explanation as to the nature of the deficiencies reported must be provided if they are not self-evident.

In a state such as North Carolina, the state with which the author has the most familiarity and where licensing laws have been in effect since October of 1996, inspection reports must comply with the state requirements…period. Compliance isn’t voluntary…it’s the Law! According to the North Carolina Home Inspector Licensure Board (NCHILB), a home inspection is intended to provide the client with a better understanding of the property conditions, as inspected at the time of the inspection. The NCHILB Standards of Practice further require (among a myriad of other specific requirements), that a Home Inspector must:

Provide a written contract, signed by the client before the Home Inspection is performed, that states that the inspection is conducted in accordance with the Standards, that states what services are to be provided and the cost of those services, and that stated when an inspection is for only one or a limited number of systems or components and exactly which systems or components those might be;
Inspect readily visible and readily accessible systems and components that are listed in the Standards as being required to be inspected;
State which systems or components that are required to be inspected, but that were not inspected, and the reason that they were not inspected;
State any systems or components that were inspected that do not Function As Intended, allowing for normal wear and tear, or that adversely affect the habitability of the building;
State whether any reported condition requires repair or subsequent observation, or warrants further investigation by a specialist; the statements shall describe the component or system and how the condition is defective, explain the consequences of the condition, and provide direction as to a course of action with regard to the condition or refer the recipient to a specialist:
State or provide the name, license number, and signature of the person(s) conducting the inspection.
The ASHI Standards of Practice (SOP) can be viewed HERE. Additionally, ASHI prescribes a Client Bill of Rights and as Professional Home Inspectors, our Raleigh Home Inspection firm subscribes to those key principles that serve to protect clients/customers.

The preceding has been a short and partial commentary regarding what a Home Inspection is…by definition. But much can be added to arrive at an answer to the initial question…”What Is A Home Inspection…Exactly?”.

A client typically uses the contents of a Home Inspection report as an assessment of the general condition of the property so that they can make a more informed and intelligent purchasing decision related to their real estate transaction.

A Home Inspection report should generally address the following systems and/or components (note that this may not be a complete list):Structural Components – Foundation, floors, walls, ceilings, etc.
Exterior Components – Wall cladding, Door and Windows, Decks, flashing, eaves, fascia, driveways, walkways, steps, grading, drainage, any evidence of water penetration into the building envelope or etc.
Roofing – Roof covering, flashing, gutter systems, skylights, chimneys, roof penetrations, evidence of leakage or abnormal condensation, etc.;
Plumbing – Water distribution systems, drain/waste/vent piping systems, fixtures and faucets, functional flow and functional drainage, water heaters, safety controls, normal operating controls, fuel storage equipment, leakage, etc.;
Electrical – Service entrance conductors and equipment, main and distribution sub-panels, over-current devices, grounding equipment, fixtures, switches, receptacles, smoke detectors, Ground Fault protective devices, Arc Fault protective devices, etc.;
Heating – Furnaces and heat pumps, safety controls, operating controls, flues and vents, heat distribution systems, energy sources, etc,;
Air Conditioning – Cooling and air handling equipment, operator controls, distribution systems, energy sources, etc.;
Interior – Walls, floors, ceilings, stairs, railings, balconies, counter-tops, cabinets, door, windows, any evidence of water penetration or abnormal condensation, etc.;
Insulation and Ventilation – Insulation, vapor retarders, the absence of any required insulation, ventilation systems in kitchens/bathrooms/laundry rooms, attic ventilation systems/fans, etc;
Built-in kitchen appliances – Dishwashers, ranges, cook-tops, microwave ovens, trash compactors, garbage disposals, range hoods, etc.
So, what are some other “factoids” that might help us understand What a Home Inspection is…Exactly.

Home Inspections, by most all accepted definitions, are general and visual in nature and are not technically exhaustive.

A Home Inspection is a fee-paid service, prepared for a specific client (usually, but not always, a home buyer) that should give that client a good general assessment of the physical condition of the property to assist them is making a more sound purchasing decision.

A Home Inspection typically costs between $300.00 and $600.00, depending on the size and age of the home. Other ancillary services are often chosen by a home-buyer e.g. Radon Testing, Water Testing, etc.; but those additional services are usually provided outside the scope of the Home Inspection

A Home Inspection will typically take between 2 and 5 hours to complete, with that time period also being dependent on the size and age of the home.

It is recommended that a client, who has contracted for a Home Inspection, be present during the duration of the inspection so that they can learn about, and observe “first hand”, any reportable issues. Further, the client should be made to feel completely at ease to ask any question at any time; there should be no “silly” questions during a Home Inspection.

The report generated by a Home Inspector should be clear, concise, and able to be readily understood without the use of jargon or “techno-speak”; in other words, the Home Inspector should be capable of communicating using complete sentences and plain, common language. The report should contain digital photos of any significant issues. The completed inspection report should be delivered in a timely manner because, during a real estate transaction, time is typically of the essence and the information should be made available with that in mind.

In summary, a Home Inspection is a well-defined procedure intended to provide a good, thorough representation of the physical condition of a property on the date of the inspection. A report resulting from a Home Inspection is typically used by a home-buyer to make a more well-informed and intelligent purchase decision.