How to read a home inspection report

a man inspecting the house interior

What’s in a home inspection report and what you should pay attention to

Key Takeaways:

  • Home inspection reports cover all major systems in a home
  • A report should evaluate the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC
  • Driveways, sidewalks, porches, decks, appliances, siding, and chimneys are also covered
  • Home inspectors won’t inspect areas they can’t access without altering a home
  • Not all inspectors provide termite and radon inspections

When you buy a home, you want to be confident that you won’t find expensive or even dangerous issues with it later on. The inspection report is how you know what you’re getting when you agree to buy a home. 

Besides providing an overall impression on the condition of a home, an inspection report details damage and expensive repairs in the electrical system, roof, foundation, and more.

While most sellers would rather choose a home offer that doesn’t require a home inspection, you should do what you can to find out what you’re buying. And if you’re still not sure, get confidence in your homebuying with Flyhomes.

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What’s in an inspection report?

Your report should be stacked with everything you’d ever want to know about your home’s major systems. A home inspection report can range from 10-100 pages and should cover both the interior and exterior of your home.

Here is what every home inspection report should cover:

  • Structural components that include foundation and framing
  • Exterior features that include decks, porches, siding, walkways, and driveways
  • Roofing components
  • Plumbing and drains
  • Functionality and code status of electrical systems and equipment 
  • Functionality of fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and fire sprinklers
  • Condition of stairs and railings
  • Leaks or drainage issues tied to septic tanks
  • Chimneys
  • Fences
  • Attic insulation and ventilation
  • Appliances
  • HVAC system
  • Basement foundation
  • Basement leaking issues
  • Garage foundation and structure
  • Household insulation and ventilation

While the EPA recommends you test for radon before you buy a home, not all home inspectors include it. Be sure to inquire about radon testing before you book a home inspection. You can even consider creating your own home inspection checklist to use when vetting inspectors.

What do with a home inspection report

Use your inspection report to make a budget for your home purchase and a plan for when you move in.

Inspectors should do more than point out flaws with home structures and systems. A home inspection should be a road map for you when you move in so you know exactly what to do first in order of importance.

Part of your homebuying budget should include planned maintenance and repairs. If you know that an expensive repair is on the horizon after you move in, you’ll be able to add that to your budget first. This helps you to know the true cost of buying a home based on its current state.

While each inspector has their own way of delivering reports most will include photographs. Some will also use thermal imaging to spot moisture, insulation, or ventilation issues.

Hold on to these reports and use them as a checklist for maintenance and repairs as you settle into your new home.

What you won’t find in an inspection report

Home inspections don’t cover areas that are unsafe or hard for an inspector to get to without causing damage. That means that home inspectors don’t touch wells or septic systems. It’s  too difficult for an inspector to see these elements up close without the risk of damaging a property that still belongs to the seller.

That doesn’t mean that buyers can’t insist on special inspections from qualified contractors. In some cases, your inspector may even recommend a carpenter, plumber, or other specialist take a look if they think you should get a second opinion.

It’s also important to know that not all home inspectors are qualified termite inspectors. Most inspectors report signs of pest damage but termite inspections and home inspections are not the same. If you have any concerns about termite damage, book an official pest inspection. Here’s a look at what else you can expect to be absent from your inspection report:

  • Asbestos
  • Swimming pools and hot tubs
  • Venting for household appliances
  • Indoor air quality
  • Lead paint
  • Mold

Finally, buyers shouldn’t look for any kind of recommendation about whether to buy a home based on an inspection. Home inspectors aren’t there to tell you if a home is a good deal. They  provide the hard facts about what’s going on in a home to allow the buyer to make an informed decision.

person in black pants and white and black nike sneakers standing on brown wooden floor
Your home inspection should turn up the larger issues you’ll want to have a professional repair but, luckily, most of what an inspection finds are small fixes you can do yourself

Red flags to watch out for in a home inspection

There are five big red flags for buyers to watch out for in a home inspection. These big-ticket finds outline structural issues that could even make the home unsafe to live in. In fact, some issues that are caught on an inspection might make it impossible to get your home insured or financed. Here’s what to look for in your report’s “red flag” sections.

Foundation issues

Leaks near a home’s foundation can weaken the entire structure of a home. If cracks are visible in the foundation, there’s a good chance that a costly repair is in the future. Some other signs of a foundation issue include sticking doors and windows, cracks above doorways, sloping floors, and L-shaped cracks on a home’s exterior. If you think you may have some structural issues on your hands, hire a specialist to take a look.

Roofing issues

It’s not just that roofing repairs or replacements can be expensive. The problem is that a roof issue could actually be a clue for deeper structural damage that is hiding under the roof. Signs of moisture issues on the roof could mean that rot and mold are lurking.

HVAC issues

While a failing HVAC system doesn’t necessarily make a home a risky investment, it’s still important for a buyer to be able to predict the cost. Out-of-code chimney flues, malfunctioning temperature controls, or blocked chimneys are an opportunity to negotiate with the seller.

Electrical issues

Electrical work that is not in compliance with code can be very dangerous. Most inspections uncover outdated electrical panels, old fuse boxes, improperly grounded outlets, and faulty wiring. Homes built during the 1960s and 1970s, may also use aluminum wiring that increases fire risks.

Plumbing issues

Plumbing systems can be costly to fix if they go unchecked long enough to cause leaks. It’s time to do a deeper dive if an inspection report details leaks, excessive moisture, improper piping, or stains on walls or ceilings.

Things you can ignore

Generally, buyers are willing to overlook cosmetic issues if they’re planning a home remodel once they move in. Things like out-of-date appliances  are superficial details that don’t impact a home’s integrity. Some of the common issues found on most home inspection reports are:

  • loose roof nails
  • ripped window screens
  • outdated bathroom exhaust fans
  • dead smoke detectors
  • outdated caulking
  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets for kitchens and bathrooms that aren’t up to code.
  • The good news is that buyers can sigh in relief over these points because they’re small projects.

What to know about your inspection report

Start with a deep breath. Almost all inspection reports have some bad news. You can decide if the rest of the report is worth going through after you read the summary. Your real estate agent will be a helpful resource for making sense of what the findings mean for your purchase and real estate contingencies.

About the author: As the son of a construction contractor and a former property manager, Scott knows how to keep the lights on and the water running. In addition to Flyhomes, he has written for Angi, HomeLight and HomeAdvisor. His hobbies include fixing things around the house, baking things up in the kitchen, and spending quality time with his wife and daughter just about everywhere.

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