You may think hiring a professional inspector is just another unnecessary added cost when buying a home, and that you can do it yourself. You’ll flip the light switches, test the stove burners, and take a close look at the paint for chips and cracks. That way, you figure, you can save a few bucks. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Home inspectors do a lot more than you realize and are an important part of the home buying process.

In fact, if you overlook one hard-to-detect sign of a problem that a home inspector would have detected, you may find yourself paying a lot more to fix the problem.

A trained and experienced home inspector certainly will do all the obvious things, checking the lights, the stove, and the water faucets. But he will also do much more. An inspector certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) will check more than 200 items throughout the home, says Frank Lesh, Executive Director of the organization.

An Objective Eye

Home inspections 101When you see a home you want to buy, you often don’t see the potential problems. You may be eager to snatch up the home because of its beautiful landscaping, swimming pool, and French doors leading to a sunroom by a brook, or new granite-topped kitchen island and stainless appliances. You can already picture your family sitting down beneath the vaulted ceilings of the dining room under the beautiful chandelier for a holiday meal, with the majestic fireplace roaring in the background. It’s okay to fall in love. But you also need to keep your feet on the ground. When you hire a home inspector, he will assess the home with an objective eye.

“An ASHI inspector has nothing to sell but the truth,” Lesh said. “We have seen all sorts of issues. Every ASHI-certified instructor has conducted an absolute minimum of 250 inspections. Most have done thousands. If you find a problem with water – is that a problem with the plumbing or a clogged gutter? An inspector will know exactly what to look for.”

So what does a home inspection cover? A basic inspection will report on anything that is in plain view or easy to access, and that may be broken or malfunctioning. That includes:

Structure

Home inspectors will visually inspect the structural components, including walls and foundation. An inspector may notice windows that are difficult to open and close – and they will know that that means the foundation has become uneven.

Exterior

An inspector will look at a host of items, including steps, windows, decks, porches, eaves, walkways, driveway, and drainage. They look at a home as an entire working unit, rather than a collection of individual parts. 

Interior

Inspectors will look closely at interior walls, ceilings and countertops. They will also generally check major appliances, such as washers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers, to make sure they work properly.

Roofing

Inspectors will look at the materials a roof is made of and will scrutinize the roof drainage system, flashing and skylights for tightness and leaks. Has the flashing separated? (If you have to look up what “flashing” is, you definitely need a pro for the job.)

Systems 

Home inspectors will look over a home’s plumbing, electrical and heating systems, checking for leaks and other problems. They can comment on the wiring methods or tell you if the plumbing is outdated.

Insulation and Ventilation

Inspectors will inspect visible insulation, ventilation in attic and foundation areas, and exhaust systems and tell you approximate age, what sort of condition they are in, and when they may need to be replaced in the
future.

Fireplaces

They will look at installed fireplaces and stoves, as well as look at the exteriors of chimneys and vents. That’s just a sample of the items an inspector will check on, probing methodically, from the chimney to the basement floor, wall to wall and beyond.

Inspectors Are Not Just for Buyers

Home inspections are not just for buyers anymore. Now, home sellers are ordering inspections before putting their homes on the market, Lesh said. Some homeowners get an inspection every few years, even if they’re not moving, the way motorists bring their cars in for tune-ups periodically. Years ago, that was unheard of, Lesh said. These days, he selling a homeestimated, five to seven percent of sellers are ordering inspections. Those who do so don’t have to automatically accept the opinion of the buyer’s inspector. And if there is a problem, they can fix it before it breaks the deal or forces them to pay rush fees to order the work in the middle of negotiations.

“It takes away a lot of that ‘Oh my gosh!’ factor,” Lesh said. “You’ll have a good idea what to take care of before the deal falls apart. And checking regularly catches any problems before they grow too large. A house doesn’t have a check-engine light.”

However, it’s generally not the home inspector’s job to uncover the potential environmental health hazards. To check on those issues, an environmental inspection is prudent. “Smart buyers don’t throw away money,” says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group. “They want to know what they are getting into, and if there are going to be costly repairs or health hazards.” For more on what’s covered in an environmental home inspection, read our blog, Purchasing a Home? Watch for These Costly Hidden Pitfalls.

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