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Getting a home inspection on a house that you’ve fallen in love with can feel like getting a background check on someone you’ve just started dating. It can feel pushy and pessimistic, or you might worry that the sellers will think that you’re too high-maintenance and go for a less needy buyer.
We’re here to be the voice of reason in this romcom and assure you that getting a home inspection is exactly what you should be doing. A home inspection will not only make you a more informed buyer, it can also save you a lot of money. To ease your nerves and help the process go as smoothly as possible, here are 17 tips on getting calmly through the home inspection process.
Tip 1: Make sure you get one!
Even though some potential problems can be spotted through a DIY home inspection, many issues such as radon, insulation problems, and shoddy electrical wiring (just to name a few!) take professional work to detect.
Sandi Van Camp, a multiple-award-winning agent who spoke with us about the nitty-gritty of the home inspection process, says not to worry — a good agent will provide you with a list of at least three tried-and-tested home inspectors to pick from. A home inspection will add to the cost of the process, but it is very, very worth it.
Tip 2: Bake it into the contract (and make sure you understand the parameters)
Once you decide to make an offer, you will present the seller with a purchase agreement, also known as a contract. That contract will contain contingencies clauses: Make sure that a home inspection contingency clause is one of them! In fact, if you’re getting a mortgage loan, then an appraisal involving a surface-level home inspection is most likely required.
Even if you are buying your house with cash and can skip both the appraisal and inspection experts firmly recommend getting an inspection anyway. Once you’ve signed your contract, make sure to keep an eye on any time-based parameters your contingency clause includes. You will usually have between a week and 10 days after the purchase agreement is signed to get the inspection completed and decide what to do about any issues that come to light. Early bird, worm, etc.
Tip 3: Take a good look around on your own first
Some of the things the inspector will be looking for are issues you can first identify yourself. Water stains, cracks in walls, windows and doors that won’t shut (or open) properly, leaky or corroded pipes, and lights that don’t turn on immediately are all things you can notice in advance and point out to your inspector.
In bathrooms and kitchens, look under sinks for water, flush the toilets, and run all the taps and showers. In the basement and attic, look for signs of water or pests, and in all rooms close and open the doors, and give the ceilings and walls a once-over for any cracks, water stains, or discoloration.
Tip 4: Be prepared for problems
Returning to our background check metaphor for a moment: Nobody is perfect. Inspections look for a variety of things, from big issues to easy fixes, and even in the most perfect house there will probably be something. Van Camp told us that “a lot of [the home inspection] is educational,” meaning it is both her and the inspector’s job to educate rather than scare buyers about issues. So — be prepared for your inspector to find a problem, and when they do, be ready to calmly talk through options with your inspector and your agent.
Tip 5: Be there
If you’ve taken our advice in tip no. 3, you should already have a working list of observations and questions for your inspector. The next step is being there to ask them!
During the inspection listen to what the inspector has to say about any issue and be prepared to ask follow-up questions. If you don’t understand something that the inspector says, request an explanation!
Tip 6: On that note — ask lots of questions!
We encourage you! We implore you! Ask so many questions!
Buyers, especially first-time buyers, can feel embarrassed about asking “too many” questions in the moment because they don’t want to seem uninformed, or they assume they can always follow up later.
While a follow-up is possible, asking questions while the inspector is in the house is an invaluable resource: It gives the inspector a chance to explain what they mean and point out in real-time what and where issues are.
Tip 7: OK, but also — don’t get in the way
Asking follow-up questions and coming with a list is advised, but you also need to let the home inspector do their job. Like most lines of work, some peace and quiet is needed for the inspector to do their best work possible; Distracting them comes with its own consequences (and as the buyer, you’ll be dealing with the fallout).
So although we definitely want to emphasize the importance of asking questions, try not to over-correct and hit them with every possible concern you’ve ever imagined. Just like in love — a little space goes a long way.
Tip 8: Allow plenty of time for the inspection process
The inspector will need two to four hours to do their job properly, and you should build in 20 to 30 minutes on either side of that time to account for traffic, late arrivals, or scheduling conflicts.
Even if you feel confident in a speedy, easy inspection, don’t schedule your home inspection for 9 a.m. and plan to be at brunch by 11. Give this process the time it deserves, and make sure you’re there for all of it.
Tip 9: Use a qualified inspector
This probably goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway: Work with someone who is good at what they do. Your agent should provide a list of at least three inspectors for you to choose from.
Even if you trust your agent completely, make sure to check reviews and ask about experience and certification (Certification laws vary state-by-state). Finally, request a sample report, and confirm that the inspector is fine with you being there during the inspection (If they’re not, feel free to take that as the red flag that it is) — and make sure to pick one who will accommodate everything you need.
Tip 10: Get pictures
Inspectors will take pictures for proof of any issues. Van Camp, a multiple-award-winning agent, underlines the importance of photographs:
“Photographs are critically important to the communication effort between the buyer and the seller themselves by making sure the right thing is being addressed.”
Pictures will serve as a visual reminder for the inspector (and you) on the seriousness of issues, and these pictures will wind up in your final report. While continuing to observe tip no. 7 (don’t get in their way), feel free to take your own pictures.
Tip 11: Bring binoculars
…And use them for the roof. The roof is one of the areas that can be physically difficult or dangerous to access during a home inspection.
Binoculars allow you to get up close without getting up there in person, and will allow you to see anything the inspector might need to point out firsthand. The important criteria to consider when bringing binoculars is their magnification or zoom feature. You can tell what zoom your binoculars have by reading the first number of their specification — for example, 13×50 binoculars zoom up 13 times.
Tip 12: Keep an eye out for recent cosmetic updates
Recent cosmetic updates are common in properties that have just been put on the market. However, depending on the type of update, these cosmetic fixes could be hiding something more sinister than an interest in modern decor.
New paint can cover cracks in the ceiling, water damage or mold. A recent remodel on a particular room can point to past flooding issues or recent electrical problems. While you don’t want to assume a mold issue in every new coat of paint, do be sure to keep a lookout, and ask questions of both the seller and the home inspector when you think something might not look right.
Tip 13: Ask about longevity of the big stuff
Talk to the seller and inspector to get a clear sense of the age and life expectancy of the major appliances and systems in the house. Even if the seller says that everything has always worked perfectly, knowing how long it’s been working for (age) and how long it can reasonably be expected to go on working (longevity) could save you a pretty penny down the road.
Systems like HVACs and plumbing, and appliances such as furnaces, water heaters, and washers, can cost a boat-load to fix if they collapse on you. Everything has a lifespan — make sure you know where your systems and appliances are on the timeline between birth and death so you can plan accordingly.
Tip 14: Consider additional specialty inspections
Depending on what the inspector finds, you might want to get a specialty inspection that focuses on specific issues in your home.
Lead paint, radon, pests, roofs, and chimneys are all types of specialty inspections that can be requested for an extra cost. Specialty inspections are typically regionally specific; For example, in Philadelphia and upstate New York, where radon is a frequent issue, special radon inspections are widely available.
While it may seem like a burden to drag out the inspection process even longer (at an even higher price tag), getting a specialty inspection can give you a clear, actionable idea of the costs and timelines associated with your home’s exact issues.
Tip 15: You have the report — now, actually read it
The report is dense and most likely involves technical language that you won’t immediately understand, so it’s tempting to just ask the inspector for a quick summary and leave the report sitting in your inbox or on your desk. Don’t do that!
You paid for the report, and it contains more details and information than your inspector can possibly cover in a quick conversation — so make a cup of coffee, Google things you don’t understand, and read the dang report!
Once you’re finished, you will be more well-informed and literate in the house’s issues than before you read it; We promise.
Tip 16: Talk to your agent about next steps
The inspection is over, the results are in, and as expected, a few issues have come to light. Depending on the nature of the issues, you can ask for a repair, take a credit, or decide it’s not worth raising with the seller. Van Camp says she works to guide buyers on navigating between cosmetic issues and safety concerns:
“I think the biggest thing is asking for too many things. They’re getting a home that is way under the value of a new home and realizing that [an] older home is gonna have some challenges.”
Your agent will have a strategy in place for post-inspection setbacks, so talk to them and take their advice seriously. A good agent will be able to help you strike a balance between bringing up serious issues and letting small cosmetic stuff slide in order to prioritize staying on a timeline and price that work for both you and the seller.
Tip #17: Get documentation of repairs
The last in the series of crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s is making sure that the repairs that need to happen before the sale is finalized actually happen.
The difference between a repair getting done correctly and a repair being done partially can simply come down to communication — when you agree with the seller that a repair is necessary, make sure to be specific so that all parties are clear on the terms of that repair. The seller might say they’ve gotten a repair done, but even if you trust them — get the documentation of the repair.
Home inspections should not be a moment to let nerves and doubts overtake you. When undergone with the right team of inspector and agent, the home inspection process should be educational, illuminating, and in the end, nerve-reducing.
After all, knowledge is power, and knowing that much more about the ins and outs of a home will make you that much wiser and happier of an owner in years to come. In the end, nothing says “I love every inch of you” to a house like a home inspection that is calmly reviewed, meticulously handled, and professionally conducted.
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