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If you’re trying to save money or keep your costs down, you may wonder if you really need to have a home inspection done. The seller’s disclosures gave you a window into the home’s condition, and your agent may have pointed out watermarks on the bedroom ceiling, a sign the roof might leak, or cracks in the walls from a settling foundation. When your agent helped you write your offer, the home’s condition informed your offer price. So, why get a home inspection? And how much does a home inspection cost?
Phillip Orr, a Missouri agent who works with 71% more single-family homes than the average agent in his area, thinks that “you don’t necessarily need an inspector to tell you about an issue that you’ve already identified. You need them to tell you what you don’t know.”
What is a home inspection?
When you make an offer on a home, your agent will probably advise you to include an inspection contingency. During a home inspection, the inspector looks at variables like the age and condition of the roof and foundation; they’ll also test the plumbing and water pressure, and examines the HVAC and electrical systems.
Where you live will influence where they concentrate their attention. In a cold-weather state, they may spend a lot of time on the roof. In a hot, humid state, they’ll test your air conditioning system.
After the inspection, they’ll give you an inspection report. This could be a print-out in a binder, an emailed PDF, or an interactive report with videos and pictures. You should hang on to this report, even if you don’t use it to negotiate on price.
As Orr puts it, “sometimes you want an inspection just to simply have a checklist of improvements to make on the home down the road.”
How much does a home inspection cost?
Just like the home inspection’s contents will depend on where you live, so will its price. Market conditions, demand, and supply (in other words, the number of home inspectors in your town), all influence the final price. In Orr’s area, home inspections cost about $400, but nationwide, most homebuyers can expect to pay between $275 and $400.
In general, Nick Gromicko, the founder of International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, says “size, distance from inspector, price, and age of home are all factors that determine the price.”
It’s up to your inspector how they want to set their pricing. Some charge a flat fee based on square footage, such as $300 for a 2,000-square-foot home, tacking on $25 for each additional 500 square feet. If one home has double the square footage than another you made an offer on, expect its inspection report to cost more than the smaller home’s.
Others might dig deeper on the home’s age and condition before quoting a price. Older homes can have more issues — such as plumbing or an electrical system that’s not up to code — and an inspector might charge more to look at a 100-year-old home than they would for new construction. This is because the inspector will have to spend more time in older homes.
Specialized inspections will add to the overall cost. If you or your agent suspects the presence of any of these hazardous substances in the home, or possible issues with the sewer, think seriously about having these tests done. Having them remediated could cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
- Lead testing: $250 to $350
- Mold testing: $600 to $800
- Radon testing: $90 to $200
- Sewer scope: $75 to $300
- Asbestos testing: $250 to $800
What if you’re not buying a single-family home? Do you still need a home inspection? Yes! Some of the same problems that a single-family home could have — such as a leaking roof or faulty electrical — can still exist in a condo or townhome. Even a new construction home could have issues if the contractor cuts corners.
The cost for a home inspection for a condominium can be less, sometimes just $200, if it’s a smaller unit. It costs, on average, about $250 to have a mobile home inspected, but the fee will rise if it’s a double-wide or triple-wide.
If you’re taking out a VA loan or another government loan to fund your purchase, expect to pay the normal price for a home inspection. The inspection process is the same, and the inspector won’t discount their services.
Do you have to get an inspection? Not always — but it’s actually smart to protect both you and the seller; it’s your look under the hood of the house. Problems aren’t always visible to the naked eye. In certain circumstances, such as when you’re buying a foreclosure or a home “as is” and there are no seller’s disclosures, the home inspection is even more important.
A home inspection can give you negotiating power, or it might reveal a problem so big you choose to walk away. One of Orr’s buyers had made an offer on a house with what they thought was just an addition. But the inspection revealed that it was substandard construction, and the buyer wasn’t required to complete the purchase.
That said, it’s common to waive home inspections in competitive situations, where the seller has multiple bids on the house. Waiving the home inspection contingency could sweeten your offer. Before going down this route, make sure that you could financially cover any unexpected repairs right after moving in.
If this makes you too uncomfortable, you could write an offer where you promise that you won’t request any repairs after the home inspection. You’ll either proceed with the purchase or walk away. Both options shorten the timeline to close on the house, and the seller may prefer a shorter closing.
How long does it take?
Buying a home is a large investment, and a good home inspector helps protect that investment. Taking the time to research and find the right inspector for your home purchase can impact your long-term financial wellbeing. It could take a few hours, or days, to find the right person for the job.
Once you’ve found someone, you’re probably eager to have them get into the house. But how quickly they perform the inspection will depend upon their availability and how hot the real estate market is in your area. In hot markets, inspectors are busy, and it could take a few weeks.
Your agent will also have to coordinate with the inspector to find a time for the inspector to walk through the property. Typically, the seller isn’t home when they’re there. For an average-sized house, Gromicko says that “it takes a bit more than two hours.”
If you’ve chosen to have a specialized inspection done, it’ll take longer. A radon test takes two days, plus a few hours to get results. The inspector leaves the equipment in the home to measure radon levels in the air during that time. A sewer scope can take less than an hour, and the results from an asbestos test can come back within a day.
Timeframes for specialized tests could depend upon a lab analysis and their turnaround time. If your home inspector suggests that you have one of these tests done, they should be able to set your expectations for when you’ll get the results.
Who hires and pays the inspector?
You do, as the buyer! Buyers pay for a home inspection because they’re the ones using what it tells them to inform their home purchase.
However, in certain cases, a seller might have a home inspection done proactively. When Orr is the listing agent on a house and he sees something obvious — such as possible termite damage or prior leaking — he’ll point it out to his sellers and suggest they have an inspection done before listing.
He wants to ensure that his sellers disclose what they know about the house, and it “foreshadows with the buyers what they’re going to receive from their inspector.”
As a buyer, it’s helpful if the seller has supplied an inspection report. It will help you make a fair offer on the house. But you’ll still need to pay for your own inspection; legally, a home inspection done for someone else has no weight if you use it.
What does this mean? Orr has seen instances where someone had a home inspection done and then decided not to purchase the house for unrelated reasons. But they had a friend they thought might be interested, so they sold them their home inspection at a discounted price.
“Come to find out, the inspector missed something,” Orr says, but “they’re not obligated to you or to the other person who didn’t buy the house.”
In this instance, there was no way to hold the home inspector accountable because the person who bought the house used a resold inspection report.
How do you find and vet an inspector?
Ask your agent for recommendations. When Orr’s clients ask for recommendations, he provides them with a list of potential inspectors he’s worked with in the past and their business cards. Part of the benefit of working with an experienced agent is their network of contacts.
To vet an inspector, it’s useful to know who can become an inspector and how they get licensed and certified.
Who can become a home inspector?
When interviewing and selecting an inspector, check out their certifications.
There are three major organizations that certify home inspectors — the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASI), or the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI).
All three provide training programs, require members to complete continuing education, and help home inspectors stay compliant with state regulations.
According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, 17 states and the District of Columbia don’t require home inspectors to have a license:
- Rhode Island
If you live in a state where home inspectors don’t have to be licensed, then other certifications will be even more important.
If your state does license and regulate them, then it’s smart to check their license. You can usually do this with your state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies. And don’t forget to look online for complaints with the Better Business Bureau and in places where clients can leave reviews, such as Yelp or Angie’s List.
Many home inspectors make copies of sample reports available on their websites, so you can see what you’re getting for your money. Or, you can request sample reports from one to two home inspectors that you’re comparing to see if you’ll receive the same level of detail.
Given the size of your investment, spending a little time to vet your home inspector can pay off in the long run.
Can you attend a home inspection?
Usually, yes — but not always during a pandemic! Gromicko says that with COVID-19, homebuyers shouldn’t attend the inspection, and they don’t even need to because “inspectors produce full-color reports, can send them to you digitally, and can review with you by Zoom or FaceTime.”
Under normal conditions, first-time homebuyers often like to accompany the inspector during the inspection. You can learn a lot about houses and home maintenance. Sometimes, you’ll arrive at the end of the inspector’s time in the house, and they’ll have time to point out anything important that they’ve found.
If you or your agent had any particular concerns when you first saw the house, be sure to mention them to the inspector. That way, they can spend extra time looking at those areas of the house and either alleviate your concerns or tell you how seriously you should take the problem.
What if your home inspector misses something?
Unfortunately, you won’t have a lot of recourse if the inspector misses something.
Orr had a situation where the seller concealed that they had built the house over a septic tank. They packed the septic tank with mothballs to disguise the smell and absorb the methane gas, and the home inspector missed it.
When the buyers discovered the septic tank under their living room floor, they filed a lawsuit. The judge ultimately ruled that the previous sellers had to purchase an adjoining lot and put in a new, complete system for the home’s buyers. But it obviously took time and money for the buyer to get a resolution, and in this case, the inspector was not at fault for failing to find the septic tank that the seller took such pains to conceal.
Some home inspectors offer a warranty, which, depending on its provisions, might provide insurance to cover repairs or legal costs if they didn’t find an existing problem. While their inspection report could cost more than an inspector who doesn’t offer a warranty, if you’re a nervous buyer, it would give you some added peace of mind.
Even though it’s unlikely you could sue a home inspector for something they missed, a warrantied home inspection in addition to any seller’s disclosures that contain omissions or outright lies could add weight to any potential lawsuit. (Seller’s disclosures aren’t required in every state, however.)
In the grand scheme of things, a home inspection doesn’t cost that much. It provides you with valuable information and could protect you from a financially disastrous mistake. Most experienced agents will highly recommend that you have one done. You’ll sleep better at night in your new home knowing that you got the full picture before you ever turned the key and walked through the front door as a new homeowner.
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