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In most real estate transactions, the home inspection is the final step before making the sale official. Most home buyers choose to make the closing contingent on the results of a home inspection, making it a crucial moment in the home buying process for both buyers and sellers.
Research shows that home inspections save buyers an average of $14,000. That’s because inspections often discover major issues with the home that the seller either hasn’t disclosed or didn’t know about. Catching those issues early may allow a buyer to lower their offer or force the seller to pay to make repairs.
A bad home inspection could also give a buyer legal recourse to back out of a sale, which is why a smooth home inspection is essential for sellers. In this piece, we’ll explain the most common types of home inspections and show you what you can do to have a smooth home inspection — including outlining the most common ways home inspections go wrong.
What is a home inspection?
A standard home inspection provides a buyer with a detailed report on the home they’re interested in buying. A licensed home inspector conducts a visual inspection of all parts of the property that are easily accessible and makes note of the condition of the home. It’s not a “pass/fail” kind of test — it provides an assessment of what may need to be repaired or replaced in the home.
From there, a buyer can negotiate that a seller pay for certain changes or updates before the sale or lower their offer based on the results of the inspection.
A standard home inspection usually covers:
- Structural components like floors, walls, ceilings, and stairs
- Exterior components like siding, attached decks, and porches
- Heating and air conditioning
- Major appliances
- Fireplaces and wood stoves
- Windows and doors
It doesn’t cover everything, however, and depending on the age, location, and condition of the home in question, you may need additional inspections focusing on septic, hazardous materials, and more.
Additional types of home inspections
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that results from the breakdown of radioactive elements, most commonly released through well water, building materials, and soil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and surgeon general’s office say radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers in the U.S. And about 1 in 15 homes has an elevated radon level.
Older homes are more likely to be at risk of elevated radon levels. While the recommended testing takes more than 90 days, you can do a short-term test that takes about 48 hours. It’s not as thorough, but it should tell you if there is a dangerously elevated presence of radon in the house.
Wood-destroying organism (WDO) inspection
Termites, wood-boring beetles, and carpenter ants are among the nasty creatures that burrow into homes and eat away at the wood. They can cause enormous damage to homes, which is why many states require a WDO inspection to close on a home. Likewise, if you’re using a VA loan or a FHA loan, a WDO inspection is likely required.
During this inspection, an inspector looks for signs of active infestation, past infestation, and potential trouble spots. The detailed report will help you determine if you need an exterminator and help you prevent WDO infestation.
According to the EPA, if you see mold, you have mold, and you should get a mold inspection to see the extent of the damage. A mold inspector uses a moisture meter to detect dampness in drywall, insulation, and other building materials while also taking air samples from inside and outside the home. Through these inspections, you can see just how bad a mold problem is so you can go into remediation.
A standard home inspection might note some structural issues with a home, but it won’t closely inspect the home’s foundation. If the house appears to be in rough shape on the outside or has obvious cracks in the foundation, a foundation inspection is necessary. These inspectors analyze a house’s foundation and note potential issues like drainage problems, tree roots, cracks, and other indications of movement. If there are real problems, you may have to hire a structural engineer to fix the house.
How to pass a home inspection
As previously stated, you don’t exactly “pass” or “fail” a home inspection, but it can feel like failing if an inspector recommends thousands of dollars in repairs. While some things may be too big to fix overnight, you can set yourself up for a more efficient, positive home inspection experience. When you’ve prepped the house for inspection, it’s easier for an inspector to do their job. You want your inspector in a good mood because if they aren’t feeling generous, it may wind up costing you money.
Here’s a checklist of things to do to prepare your home for inspection:
- Provide open access to areas that need inspection: If inspectors can’t get to an area, they can’t inspect it, resulting in a blank field on the report. That can be a red flag to buyers. Make sure to clear away any clutter impeding access to basements, attics, closets, furnace rooms, and under sinks. Basically, just keep the house uncluttered and clean before inspection.
- Clear the perimeter: The inspector will look at siding, trims, caulking around windows and doors, and more. Clear the area around your home of plant growth, trash cans, and anything else that might impede access.
- Clean the roof: You probably don’t go up there much, but the roof is an important part of the inspection. Cleaning out moss and debris from the gutters, ensuring the downspouts are in the right spot, and checking for damaged or missing roof tiles could help you in your inspection.
- Replace any bulbs that are out: Either the bulb is out or there’s something wrong with the wiring. An inspector won’t know, so either they’ll waste time examining a fixture or they’ll note a possible defect.
- Fix toilets: Most people can fix a running toilet easily and inexpensively. The long run after flushing might not bother you, but a home inspector will note it as a defect, so just take care of it now.
- Label the fuse box: Nobody likes a confusing fuse box. Double check that labels are correct and that switches are functioning correctly. Add or replace any missing or damaged labels.
- Check doors, drawers, and cabinets: Test anything that you open and close. Make sure knobs are securely in place and that locks are functioning properly. It’s easy to tighten hinges or replace broken knobs before a home inspector docks your home for it.
- Check for leaks and water damage: An inspector will look for signs of leaks or water damage so, if you can, you should beat them to it. Check under sinks, around faucets, around the base of toilets and tubs, and under any appliances that use water like dishwashers or refrigerators. Examine your walls, ceilings, and floors and look for signs of warping, sagging, or buckling. Don’t forget to do the same outside.
Ways to fail a home inspection
Just as there are good things to do to have a smoother home inspection, there are myriad ways to “fail” an inspection. It’s as important to note the most common home inspection missteps as it is the best practices.
- Ground sloping or draining toward the house: A good lawn should have at least a 3% slope away from the home, draining water to avoid damage. Water intrusion can shift the soil under the foundation, cause cracks, or cause mold and rot. You probably don’t know off-hand the slope around your house, so if you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to hire a landscaper to investigate the natural drainage.
- Foundation problems: A cracked foundation may lead to roofing issues, doors and windows shifting, leaks, and worse. Foundations crack due to poor drainage, settling soil, intrusive tree roots, inadequate steel reinforcement, earthquakes, and more. It’s best to address small foundation problems before a home inspector gets there.
- Leaks and plumbing issues: Plumbing issues might be as simple as a leaking faucet, or as complicated as cross-connection issues, requiring replacing the pipes. Leaks and plumbing issues can be a killer on home inspections because they lead to other big problems, like mold, rot, and could even invite a WDO infestation.
- Electrical problems: Did you know that electrical problems start 51,000 home fires every year? It’s a big problem, so home inspectors will pay close attention to a home’s electrical system. You want to avoid any fraying insulation, DIY wiring, or mismatched wires. If you have concerns, hire an electrician to audit and fix your home’s wiring.
- Safety and security features: A home must have basic security like working locks on windows and doors, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors. You don’t need a whole smart security system, but you should ensure that locks — especially ones leading to outside — and detectors work correctly. The required number of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors varies by state. You can check your state’s requirements here.
- HVAC problems: An old or non-functioning HVAC system will seriously hurt your home inspection. It might cost you thousands to replace the HVAC, but it’s better to replace it earlier rather than have a home inspector flag it and a buyer bring down their offer because of it.
- Roofing: A leaky roof is a big problem to a home inspector. If the roof leaks, the home is vulnerable to a lot more problems. Many buyers will walk away from a home with roof issues because they’re so costly to repair.
- Hazardous materials: Home inspectors will look for asbestos, radon, lead paint, and other hazardous materials that are common in older homes. If an inspector has concerns, they may order a special radon inspection or lead paint inspection, both of which will require additional costs. You don’t want to be living in a house filled with hazardous materials, so if you didn’t already discuss hazardous materials with the home’s previous owners, it’s worth looking into it before going through the inspection process.
The home inspection is the last hurdle you have to overcome before you officially sell your home. But it can be an expensive, complicated headache. Being aware of the most common deal breakers and best practices for making an inspection easier will give you a leg up in the process and help eliminate the stress.