Home inspection checklist for first-time buyers

A home inspector at work

Not sure what to expect during a home inspection—or if you need one? Set your mind at ease by following these house inspection tips for buyers.

By Jenny Rose Spaudo

Your offer just got accepted. Congratulations! Now it’s time for the next important step in becoming a new homeowner: the home inspection.

A certified home inspector can protect you from buying a house with major problems that could drain your bank account.

A home inspection might sound like an intimidating step, but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we’re walking you step by step through the entire process. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a confident grasp on this important part of buying a home.

Points to remember about home inspections

  • A home inspection gives buyers the chance to discover any issues with the home before buying it.
  • It’s difficult to get a mortgage if you waive the home inspection.
  • The buyer is typically the one who pays for the house inspection, which costs anywhere from $300 to $500.
  • Home inspections can uncover issues that could put you and your family in danger.
  • If your home offer includes an inspection contingency, home inspections that reveal problems with the house give you a legal way to back out of the contract without penalty.
  • A licensed home inspector will check the roof, walls, attic, foundation, windows, electrical systems, appliances, water heater, faucets, plumbing, ventilation, HVAC, and fire safety systems.

What is a home inspection contingency?

A home inspection contingency is a clause in your real estate contract that allows time for a licensed house inspector to check the seller’s home in a non-invasive way. If the inspection reveals any significant issues, you can retract your offer on the home without penalty—as long as it’s within the timeframe outlined in your contract.

Keep in mind that a home inspection is very different from a home appraisal, which is an unbiased opinion of a home’s value from a professional home appraiser. While an appraiser compares the home to similarly sized properties nearby, a home inspector checks the details of the house for any problems.

Why are homebuyers waiving inspections?

In a seller’s market, buyers face competition to buy homes they love. For example, in June 2021, some homes were getting as many as 50 bids—sometimes tens of thousands of dollars above asking price!

When competition is that fierce, some buyers waive their right to a home inspection to make their bid more attractive. It’s their way of telling the seller they won’t ask for costly concessions.

What are my other options?

Making an offer with an inspection contingency and foregoing the inspection altogether aren’t your only options as a homebuyer. There are two other valuable alternatives worth considering.

Reviewing an inspection provided by the seller

In a competitive market, many sellers have a home inspection done early on and then make the report available to prospective buyers. Sellers do this to make it easier for buyers to offer a bid on their home and to keep the process moving quickly. If you go this route, it’s a good idea to thoroughly look over the report with your agent to make sure you understand the home’s condition.

Ordering a pre-inspection before you bid

Some agents, including your Flyhomes Agent, will help you get an inspection done before making an offer. 

The great thing about this option is that you get to know what’s going on with the house before ever making an offer. 

The downside, though, is that it can be hectic to find an available inspector on short notice. After all, for this to work, you need to move quickly so you can still make an offer by the seller’s deadline. But chances are, your agent has relationships with inspectors and can help you meet that tight deadline.

Why is a home inspection important?

While waiving a home inspection can make your offer stand out, it’s also financially risky. You don’t want to buy a house only to find out you have to spend thousands of dollars on repairs after you move in. 

Around 50% of buyers say one of their biggest homebuying regrets is unexpected repairs. It’s frustrating to settle into your new home and then realize it has a broken toilet, a corroded water heater, or a slanted foundation—things a home inspector could’ve easily discovered. 

Even if issues uncovered by the inspection aren’t deal breakers (maybe you’re OK with buying a new water heater), it’s good to know what you’re getting into with a particular home. 

Plus, if you’re planning on getting a mortgage, your lender will likely require a home inspection. Few lenders are willing to fund your home purchase if you waive the inspection. After all, they don’t want to put money into a home that has hidden issues that affect its overall value. 

What happens during a home inspection?

A certified home inspector will thoroughly check everything that’s easily accessible in the home’s exterior and interior. The entire process can take anywhere from two to four hours. You don’t have to be there during the inspection, but it’s a good idea to hang around so you can ask the inspector questions about any problems they find.

Afterward, the inspector will give you a comprehensive report of their findings, including photos of any issues and recommendations for fixing them. The report should tell you which of those issues are a safety hazard and need to be dealt with ASAP (before the sale goes through), which should be repaired in the near future, and which aren’t a problem yet but should be monitored.

What’s included in a home inspection?

You may be wondering exactly what things home inspectors check. The answer varies depending on the individual inspector, but typically, a professional house inspection will include the following list of items. 

Exterior

  • Roof
  • Chimney
  • Attic
  • Basement
  • Walls
  • Windows
  • Foundation
  • Garage or carport
  • Garage door
  • Porch
  • Outside condensing unit (air conditioning)
  • Water heater
  • Gutters, eaves, and downspouts

Interior

  • Plumbing
  • Toilets
  • Showers and baths
  • Faucets, sinks, and fixtures
  • Smoke detectors
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Ceilings
  • Air ducts
  • Cabinets
  • Countertops
  • Fireplace
  • Lights

Appliances

  • Refrigerator
  • Dishwasher
  • Garbage disposal
  • Trash compactor
  • Microwave
  • Oven and stove
  • Washer and dryer
  • Water heater
  • Fans
  • Bathroom fans or vents
  • Sump pump
  • Sewage ejector pump

Electrical

  • Electrical panel, circuit breakers, and fuses
  • Overcurrent and overload protection devices
  • Grounding
  • Cables and conductors
  • HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), thermostats, and vents
  • Light fixtures, outlets, and power switches
  • Disconnected or exposed wires

What’s not included in a house inspection?

Your home inspector won’t do anything that causes damage to the home. That means they won’t cut through the walls to check for mold, water damage, or broken pipes. They also won’t check for airborne hazards or inspect phone lines, landscaping, or any areas that aren’t easy to access.

If you’re concerned about hazards like mold, termites, or asbestos, you’ll likely need to pay extra or hire an expert for specialized inspections.

How much does a home inspection cost?

The buyer is the one who typically pays for the home inspection. You can expect to pay around $300 to $500. The price will vary depending on how big the home is, which services the inspector includes, and what area you live in.

Is an inspection worth the money? 

Absolutely! A proper home inspection is worth the investment. Think about this way: An inspection may cost you a few hundred dollars now, but buying a home with a hidden problem can end up costing you thousands of dollars down the road. That’s why home inspections are one of the most crucial steps in buying a house.

Home inspection checklist: What to look for as a buyer

No home is perfect. But there are certain issues that can make homeownership a nightmare. Below, we’ve listed some common repairs needed after inspecting a home for sale. Use this house inspection checklist to protect yourself from unpleasant surprises.

Roof damage

How old is the roof? Most asphalt shingle roofs should be replaced after 15 to 30 years. Also, watch out for any leaks, water damage, and broken or missing shingles.

Foundational issues

Your home inspector won’t be able to check the foundation directly. But they’ll look for any visible signs, such as cracked walls, sagging or uneven floors, cracked concrete floors, counters and cabinets separating from the wall, and doors and windows that have too much or too little room around their frames.

Rotten or degraded wood

Wood damaged by water or termites can quickly spread out of control. Your inspector will check any wood coverings on the outside of the house (windowsills, shutters, decorative panels, etc.), decks, porches, and other wooden structures connected to the house.

Grading

Grading is the slope of the ground around your house. If the soil slopes toward your home, it puts you at greater risk of flooding and water damage. Make sure the home has proper draining.

Faulty plumbing

A leaky pipe won’t only increase your water bill—it can also cause serious water damage. If the home has a septic tank, you should also look for leaks and improper drainage. 

Unsafe electrical systems

Hazards like exposed wires and broken ground fault circuit interrupters can put you at risk of electrocution and electrical burns. Your inspector should also check to make sure all circuit breakers are properly labeled to avoid confusion in case of an emergency. 

HVAC issues

Your inspector will likely run the heating and air conditioning systems for several minutes to make sure they work properly. They’ll be on the lookout for any burning smells, temperature control issues, and leakage. If any of these systems need to be replaced, your inspector will let you know.

Water heater corrosion

The water heater shouldn’t show any signs of rust or corrosion, and it should be high enough off the ground that it’s not mixing fumes and flames, which could cause an explosion. Water heaters should be replaced every 15 to 20 years. 

Fire hazards

Beyond electrical systems, your inspector will check for other fire hazards, such as faulty smoke detectors, heating systems, dirty washer and dryer vents, and broken ovens and stoves. They should also make sure the walls in the garage have a proper fire rating.

Moldy or leaky bathrooms

Without proper ventilation in the bathroom, mold and mildew can become a serious problem. The inspector will also check for any leaks in the faucets, toilets, and showers, which could cause mold and water damage.

Broken appliances

If any appliances—such as a refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer, microwave, or oven—are broken, you can ask the seller to fix or replace them.

Garage problems

The inspector will make sure the garage door opener works, the structure isn’t damaged, and the garage has proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Wrapping up on home inspections

Getting a house checkup before buying a home is an important step—one you shouldn’t skip. But as long as you know what things to look for when inspecting a house to buy, you can make a wise purchase that you and your family can feel good about. 

FAQ About Home Inspections

Should I get a home inspection?

If you’re buying a home, you should get a house inspection as soon as the seller signs the contract. An inspection can uncover problems the seller failed to tell you about or didn’t even know existed. Taking this extra step will cost a few hundred dollars, but it can protect you, your family, and your investment when you buy a house. Even if no big issues are uncovered, an inspection will give you peace of mind. 

How do I prepare my house for an inspection as a seller?

Make sure all pathways are clear of any clutter. That includes doorways, driveways, garages, porches, and countertops. If you see any issues—such as broken shingles, leaky toilets, or dripping faucets—it’s a good idea to fix them now.

What issues do you have to fix after a home inspection?

Legally speaking, you don’t have to fix any of the issues you find. That said, your lender may require any problems with the roof, electrical systems, structure, A/C and heating, plumbing, and bug or animal infestations to be fixed before granting you the loan. Keep in mind that no house is perfect, but if something could be a safety issue to you, your family, your pets, or your neighbors, you should deal with it before buying the house.

How do I ask the seller for repairs after the home inspection?

Asking a seller for repairs after an inspection is normal and even expected. Your real estate agent will help you negotiate by presenting the seller a list of items that need to be fixed, repaired, or replaced.

Once all the repairs are done, it’s wise to walk through the house one more time to make sure every item on your list is good to go. If a home seller is not willing to negotiate after inspection, you have two options—pay for the repairs yourself or back out of the contract.

How do I find a good home inspector?

Your real estate agent likely has a home inspector they’ve worked with before—someone they trust to do a great job. And if they don’t, ask a friend who recently bought a home for recommendations. Above all, look for someone who is bonded and insured.

Before hiring a home inspector, ask these important questions:

  • What’s included in your inspection?
  • How long will the inspection last?
  • Can I join you during the inspection?
  • What do you charge?
  • How long will it take to receive your report?

About the author: Jenny Rose Spaudo is a freelance writer, content marketer, and copywriter specializing in real estate, PropTech, and investing. She’s also a proud Central Florida homeowner. Visit her website at jennyrosespaudo.com and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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