We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but what about a free home inspection? As a homeowner, you’re tempted to save money wherever you can.
But as with any professional trade, home inspectors expect payment for their services, so your options are essentially the following:
- Use a home inspection checklist to try and find any problems yourself.
- Have your real estate agent do a walkthrough of the house with you.
- Wait for the buyer’s inspection and deal with any issues that arise.
- Spend the extra cash to get a pre-listing inspection.
Let’s review the pros and cons of each route and what price tag you can expect to pay for professional home inspection services.
What does a home inspection involve, and what does it cost?
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. This is par for the course—95% of buyers opt to get one.
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.
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 time the home inspector will compile their findings into a home inspection report noting any issues they’ve identified.
The average cost of a home inspection nationwide is $315, 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 per, say, each additional 500 feet.
Home inspectors are knowledgeable, but they’re also generalists. Depending on where you live, your home might require additional inspections (pest, radon, electrical system)—or require a specialist if the home inspector thinks a defect is beyond his or her knowledge. “If they see structural damage, they have to refer it to a structural engineer,” Beard said.
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 respects their expertise.
“They’re a profession, just like a plumber or a CPA,” she said. “Are you going to ask that person for a discount?”
That said, there are discounts available. If you’re a military veteran, a teacher or rescue worker, several home inspectors, like the ones that Beard uses, might offer you a reduced price.
Greystone Inspection Services of St. Louis, Missouri, for instance, 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 about 2,600 real estate and mortgage professionals since 2009.
Other inspectors offer promotional discounts and coupons. Groupon, for instance, listed a home inspection from one merchant in the St. Louis and Richmond Heights areas of Missouri for about half off the regular price: $150 to inspect a home of up to 1,500 square feet; $200 to inspect a home of 1,500 to 2,500 square feet; and $275 to inspect a home of 2,500 square feet or larger.
Some home inspectors also will perform an inspection at a reduced fee if examining the same property more than once, Beard said. For instance, an inspector who uncovers a problem may inspect the same home again at a lower cost after any repairs to note that the issue has been rectified.
Can I spot issues that would come up in a home inspection myself?
Even if you’re not a home inspector, there are some things that should start your homeowner’s repair senses tingling. If you’ve noticed moisture in your attic or on the ceiling, or if you’ve become used to that drip around the showerhead, be aware that you’ll likely need a professional repair before selling.
We’ve rounded up a DIY Home Inspection Checklist to clue you in to other possible problems. While this isn’t a substitute for a professional inspection, it does highlight frequent trouble spots. For instance:
- Does your house sag or lean?
- Are there cracks in the brick or stonework?
- Are the windows and door frames square (no visible gaps)?
- How’s the roof? Any 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’s 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 can and do notice obvious issues. They won’t climb into attics or crawl spaces with flashlights, but they will notice things they can’t ignore, such as when Tuscon, Arizona, real estate agent Alicia Girard recognized the pencil-thin tubes dangling from one client’s ceiling as a sign of subterranean termites. (Girard, fortunately, had a trusted pest inspector on speed dial.)
“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 said.
But she doesn’t like to speak beyond her expertise and put her clients at a disadvantage. “Because Realtors have liability, it’s not something that I try to cross over into very often,” she said.
Can I wait for the buyer’s inspection?
Some sellers opt to get a pre-listing inspection to list a property with more certainty of what they’re getting into, but that does mean you’ll be on the hook to cover the costs of 1) the inspection itself, and then 2) any necessary repairs (which if you don’t fix, you’ll have to disclose).
Because lenders like to know that buyers are getting a good investment and not a money pit, buyers typically are on the hook to pay for it. That’s one reason that “some sellers are like, ‘Just let the buyer do it, and we’ll figure it out as we go,’” Beard said.
To offset sellers’ costs, Beard said she’ll sometimes suggest holding off on specialty inspections, such as for radon and pests, until a home inspector determines they’re necessary. These inspections cost additional fees and again can take a few hours.
“A lot of times, what we’ll do is, we’ll go ahead and schedule our home inspection but maybe not schedule our pest and radon [inspections] until we do the review with the home inspector,” she said.
Pay the few hundred bucks for a professional pre-listing home inspection
Especially if your house is older, a pre-listing inspection can help you identify which repairs to make upfront, as well as give you an idea of what the buyer’s inspection will uncover.
The more experience an inspector has, the better. So even though price-shopping is tempting, unless you’re eligible for a discount, don’t let any savings cloud your choice.
“Trying to save $10 when you’re inspecting potentially a million dollar property makes no sense whatsoever,” said Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), one of the largest online resources that provide certification for inspectors and education to consumers.
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:
- Yelp, a top review site dedicated to presenting unbiased reviews
- Angie’s List, a resource of verified reviews and ratings in hundreds of service categories
- Thumbtack, a resource of local professionals searchable by ZIP code
- HomeAdvisor, which pre-screens local home professionals
“I really feel that having someone who is really reputable and has done a lot of inspections is important,” Beard said. “Here, there are new inspectors who are popping up every day, and they just don’t have the experience.”
Home inspections understandably 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 said. “I love it when sellers want to have an inspection before listing because I think it puts them at ease.”
Article Image Source: (Allie Lehman/ Death to the Stock Photo)