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A Free Home Inspection? Why Inspections are Worth the Money

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

If you’re buying or selling a home, you want to snag a good deal. It’s natural to wonder, “Can I get a free home inspection?”

In order to understand what you can and can’t receive for free, it’s important to know what role your home inspection plays in a home transaction. During a home inspection, a professional will scope out the home and assess its condition, structure, and safety.

Inspections can be useful for both the buyer and the seller. For the buyer, it’s a way of protecting yourself against less-obvious structural problems that could wreck your investment or endanger your safety later on. They also make it easier for buyers to negotiate a fair price when there are underlying issues plaguing a home.

And inspections also protect the seller. Since a neutral professional will assess the home’s structural soundness, inspections stop buyers from calling for last-minute demands that are based on unfounded claims. The process also helps to protect sellers from potential liability because it gives them a chance to disclose issues up-front.

Wondering what parts of the inspection process you can get for free and what inspections will cost you? Here are your home inspection options, the pros and cons of each route, and what price you can expect to pay for professional home inspection services.

What does a home inspection involve, and what does it cost?

Most often, the buyers of your house will schedule a professional home inspection before closing to make sure they aren’t inheriting any surprises with their purchase. A home inspector then visually evaluates every square inch of a home, recording details about its main systems and components, such as the condition of its plumbing, roofing, electrical system, HVAC, and exterior grounds. The inspector also notes any health or safety concerns. You can check out our complete guide here.

This can take an average of two to four hours because home inspectors examine nooks and crannies that many homeowners forget about or infrequently use. In a few days, the home inspector will compile their findings into a home inspection report that notes any issues they’ve identified.

The average cost of a home inspection nationwide in 2023 is $340, according to HomeAdvisor, but this varies by home size, your local real estate market, and the home inspector’s experience. Some inspectors charge a base fee for a home up to 2,000 square feet, then charge an additional fee for additional footage.

Depending on where you live, your home might require additional inspections, or it may require a specialist if the home inspector thinks a defect reaches beyond their expertise.

How is a home inspection different from an appraisal?

Although people often confuse the two, inspections and appraisals are different activities with different purposes. The main goal of an inspection is to determine the condition of a home. The goal of an appraisal is to assess the value of a home. So, while an inspector will be looking for structural soundness and safety issues, an appraiser will examine home features, the neighborhood, recent home additions, and other factors that contribute to the home’s worth.

How can I save money during the home inspection?

If you have a friend or relative who is a certified home inspector, that person may be willing to inspect your home for less before you list, but asking may be awkward. Randi Beard, a top-selling real estate agent in Asheville, North Carolina, says her husband is a home inspector, but she doesn’t ask him to inspect her clients’ properties because of the conflict of interest.

She also says she respects their expertise. “They’re a profession, just like a plumber or a CPA,” she says. “Are you going to ask that person for a discount?”

Still, there are discounts available. If you’re a military veteran, a teacher, or rescue worker, home inspectors may offer you a reduced price. For instance, Greystone Inspection Services of St. Louis, Missouri offers $50 off residential home inspections for firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, and health care professionals, as well as teachers and military veterans. The discount is part of the Homes for Heroes, Inc., program, a nationwide network of real estate and mortgage professionals.

Some home inspectors also may perform an inspection at a reduced fee if they’re examining the same property more than once, Beard explains. For instance, an inspector who uncovers a problem may inspect the same home again at a lower cost after repairs to note that the issue has been fixed.

Can I spot issues that would come up in a home inspection myself?

Even if you’re not a home inspector, there are some red flags that signal you may need to make a repair. Here are a few questions to consider as you think about what to repair:

  • Does your house sag or lean?
  • Are there cracks in the brick or stonework?
  • Are the windows and door frames square?
  • How’s the roof? Are there missing, buckled, loose, or curved shingles?
  • Are there mysterious stains on the ceilings, floors, or walls?
  • Is the thermostat in working order?
  • Do the sink, shower, tub, and toilet drain properly?
  • When was the last time the air filter in the HVAC was cleaned?

Will my agent alert me to any red flags?

Because they walk through all properties before listing, experienced real estate agents often notice obvious issues. They might not climb into attics or crawl spaces with flashlights, but they often notice subtle issues, such as when Tucson, Arizona, real estate agent Alicia Girard recognized the pencil-thin tubes dangling from one client’s ceiling — a sign of termites.

“Sometimes I can walk into a house, and I can be like, ‘OK, we’re gonna have some issues here because they’re so visible,” Beard says.

But she doesn’t like to speak beyond her expertise or risk misleading her clients. “Because Realtors® have liability, it’s not something that I try to cross over into very often,” she explains.

What to expect during an inspection

Not all inspections will be identical, but most inspections work in a similar way. Most professional inspectors will look for safety issues, structural damage and items that could pose health or safety risks.

If you want to dig deeper into what an inspector is looking for, you can download the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors’ Basic Home Inspection Checklist. Here are a few common things inspections focus on:

Can I wait for the buyer’s inspection?

Some sellers choose to get a pre-listing inspection before they put their house on the market. It can be a smart move in some instances, but it does mean you’ll need to pay for two things:

  1. The inspection itself
  2. Any necessary repairs, which you’ll have to disclose if you don’t fix

As a seller, you usually don’t pay for a traditional inspection. Because lenders like to know that buyers are making a sound investment, buyers typically pay for the inspection. That’s one reason many sellers decide to wait for the buyer to order an inspection before they try to make major fixes.

To offset a sellers’ costs, Beard says she’ll sometimes suggest holding off on specialty inspections, such as radon and pest inspections, until a home inspector determines they’re necessary. These inspections cost additional fees and can take a few hours.

It may be worth it to pay for a pre-listing home inspection

Especially if your house is older, a pre-listing inspection can help you identify which repairs to make upfront. It can also give you an idea of what the buyer’s inspection will uncover–and help you avoid last-minute holdups in your sale.

Keep in mind, the more experience an inspector has, the better. Even though price-shopping is tempting, unless you’re eligible for a discount, don’t let any savings cloud your decision.

Check an inspector’s certification and experience through your state, if available, or through an association such as InterNACHI or the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Also look over their testimonials and reviews, and confirm that they have errors and omissions insurance that covers any mishaps on your property during the inspection.

Your real estate agent is a good resource for trusted, qualified home inspectors. You also can check reviews on consumer websites, including:

Home inspections can improve your home transaction

Home inspections can be nerve-racking, but try to view them as a way to put your home’s best foot forward. “Most sellers want to pass on a good house,” Beard says. “I love it when sellers want to have an inspection before listing because I think it puts them at ease.” By securing an inspection, and understanding the costs involved, you’ll have what you need to complete your home transaction with confidence.

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