What Is a Home Inspection and How Does It Work?

Thinking of buying a new home? You’ll be surprised to find how much work it takes to not only find the right property but also make sure it’s worth the investment before you buy it. One of the important steps in this equation is the home inspection, which tells you whether or not the property is a good investment for you and your lender.

A home inspection is one of the first steps you’ll need to complete as a buyer once you’re under contract on a home. It’s also arguably one of the most important pieces of the puzzle because it reveals the home’s true condition, and any major flaws in the structure or condition of the home are identified during this process.

A home inspector who gives you keen insights into the condition of the property is one of the best allies you can have. Not only will a detailed and accurate inspection report keep you from buying a home with serious issues, but it will also help you get prepared for any necessary home repairs rather than getting hit with unexpected expenses down the road.

In this article

    What is a home inspection? 

    A home inspection is the process in which an inspector checks the physical condition of a home for major issues, minor problems and other defects before you close on the property. Lenders don’t always require a home inspection, but even if they don’t, it’s still a smart move for the buyer to make.

    During the home inspection process, the inspector visually assesses the home’s foundation, roof, windows, siding, appliances and other components for signs of defects or potential problems. The goal is to give the buyer an in-depth understanding of the home’s condition so they know what they’re getting into with the home purchase.

    The results of a home inspection can help warn the buyer against properties that require a ton of repairs to be habitable. These reports can also help the buyer budget for future home repairs or negotiate the terms of the sales contract to include repairs or other concessions.

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    Home inspection process 

    The home inspection is always scheduled by the buyer or the buyer’s agent once a property is under contract. There is typically a timeframe in which the inspection must take place, which is usually within five to 10 days of a signed contract.

    In general, here’s what a buyer can expect throughout the home inspection process.

    Hire the inspector

    In many cases, the buyer chooses their own home inspector, who should be a certified professional. Some states or counties will assign you a home inspector from a pool of professionals, but in most states, you’ll be free to choose your own inspector.

    If you’re unsure of where to start, your real estate agent can often help connect you with a quality inspector, or you can look for your own based on personal recommendations or an online search.

    Meet at the property

    You’ll receive a written report after the inspection, but you should still attend the inspection if possible. The inspector can point out issues to you and you can ask questions as things come up — which can help expedite the transfer of information from one person to the other.

    Plus, you’ll get an idea of the severity of any problems that are found without having to wait a few days to receive the report. That can help you make a quick decision on your purchase if time is running out to negotiate or kill the contract.

    Have the home inspected

    The inspector will take a visual look at the home’s interior or exterior, including areas such as:

    • Roofing
    • Exterior siding
    • Decks and porches
    • Gutters
    • Doors and windows
    • Basement, foundation and/or crawlspace
    • Heating and cooling systems
    • Plumbing
    • Electrical
    • Attic, insulation and ventilation

    Review the inspection report

    Your inspector will send a detailed report with the condition of everything that was reviewed within a few days of the inspection. This lets you know if there are any issues or signs that something may need to be fixed or replaced in the near future.

    This report is also crucial if you need to pull out of the contract due to major issues with the home’s structure or other components. You can also use it to negotiate a lower price or concessions for repairs or replacements if the issues aren’t a deal-breaker but are still something you need fixed prior to purchasing the home.

    Follow up with your agent

    After reviewing the inspection report, you can decide how to proceed on the purchase of the home. You may ask the seller to do some repairs, renegotiate the price, walk away or ask for a credit at closing. Your real estate agent will help you through any new negotiations or decisions on how to handle the contract going forward.

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    How to prepare for a home inspection

    Before your inspection occurs, be prepared with the right questions to ask your inspector while you’re on the property together. Before the inspector gets started, you should ask what they check and what they don’t check. You may need to pay extra for inspections on detached structures or fencing. Clarify what’s included in the standard inspection and decide what additional information you’ll need to make an informed purchase.

    Once the inspection is over, ask about the inspector’s biggest concerns with the property. You should also find out if there was something they couldn’t check, such as an obstructed crawlspace.

    Your inspector can also be a good resource on how to maintain systems specific to the home. Don’t be afraid to ask their opinion on next steps or other contractors who could help with future work.

    You should also ask when you can expect a copy of the formal report. The sooner you receive the report, the faster you can devise a negotiation strategy if necessary.

    How to hire a home inspector 

    Hiring a home inspector is the most often buyer’s responsibility. If you don’t have an inspector you want to use, your real estate agent will likely have an existing relationship with one or more home inspectors. They can usually offer this information.

    Alternatively, you can search for a home inspector on your own. When interviewing potential inspectors, ask about their certifications. Make sure they’re insured and bonded as well.

    You can also request a sample report before the inspection. This will give you an idea of how thorough of a review to expect. If you didn’t hear about the inspector through a trusted recommendation, ask for references. If you’re unfamiliar with the inspector, you should always perform an online search to compare reviews and look for any red flags.

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    How much does a home inspection cost? 

    The price of a home inspection depends on a variety of factors, like your location, the size of the property and whether there are any detached structures. The average cost is about $340, but you can expect to pay more if you live in a high cost area or if the property has an above-average amount of square footage.

    Your inspector will also likely bill you based on the type of home you’re purchasing. In addition to a single family residence inspection, there are also inspections specific to condos, mobile homes and new construction — and the prices could vary based on just that factor alone.

    We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Lauren Ward

    Contributing Writer

    Lauren Ward is a personal finance writer living in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband and three children. In her spare time she enjoys board games and gardening.

    Reviewed by

    • Angelica Leicht
      Angelica Leicht
      Mortgage Editor

      Angelica Leicht is an editor at The Simple Dollar who specializes in mortgages, mortgage refinancing, home equity loans, and HELOCs. She is a former contributing editor to Interest.com and PersonalLoans.org.