What Is a Home Inspection? 

A home inspection is an examination of a home—from the foundation to the roof and many things in between—that is meant to be objective. Homes inspections are like having a mechanic inspect a car before buying it. The inspection takes between two and three hours and can cost between $250 and $500—the time and cost can vary based on the size of the home and location.

Buyers typically pay for a home inspection, but this can be negotiated. Sellers may get a home inspection before officially putting the home on the market as a way to address minor issues and offer reassurance to potential buyers. 

Broadly, a home inspector will check the major appliances, heating and air conditioning system, and roof, among other things. They will look for visual cues to things that could be wrong, such as signs of mold and mildew. Damp basements or crawl spaces are a red flag, as are deteriorated shingles on the roof. Any signs of leaks or poor water pressure will also be flagged. 

What Does a Home Inspection Include?

You can’t technically “fail” a house inspection. There is no pass or fail, such as might be the case with a municipal or housing code inspection. Instead, the home inspector will tell you the current physical condition of the home and identify any need for repairs or replacements. Typical things a home inspector will look for include: 

  • Heating and air conditioning system 

  • Plumbing 

  • Electrical system 

  • Water heater

  • Attic 

  • Walls, ceilings, floors, and windows

  • Roof

  • Basement

  • Foundation 

  • Exterior walls

Other things the inspector will take a look at include grading, the garage and garage door, faucets and showers, outlets, fire safety, and ventilation. Add-on services that go beyond a home inspector’s duties, but that you can get or have another professional inspect may include: 

  • Lead pipes or paint

  • Termites

  • Radon

  • Asbestos

  • Septic 

Benefits of a Home Inspection 

For most people, a home is the largest asset they will own and a mortgage the largest debt they will take on. A home inspection helps mitigate or address any unseen issues, such as major repairs and needed maintenance.

While home inspections are mostly performed during the home-buying process, they can be performed at any time. Say a homeowner wants to do an assessment of their home. They might get a home inspection to identify potential problems and head off any costly repairs. On the seller side, knowing what the home inspection will include can allow them to fix minor problems that might arise. 

Preparing for a Home Inspection

If you’re the seller, there are things you can do to help make the home inspection go more smoothly. This includes tidying up and making certain areas readily accessible. In addition, the seller may choose to go ahead and compete repairs that are noticeable before the inspection. The buyer should plan to be present for the inspection. This way, the buyer will be able to ask questions and get some insight on the home condition and improvement suggestions. It’s worth noting that most lenders don’t require a home inspection. 

Home Inspection and Earnest Money 

Earnest money is money that is put down as a good faith deposit by the buyer. The money is meant to show that the buyer is serious about buying a home. It gives the seller a sense of security that the buyer won’t get “cold feet.” And if the buyer does back out, the seller gets to keep the money for their time and inconvenience. 

However, if the deal does fall through for a reason outside the buyer’s control, the buyer will get their earnest money back. One of the reasons that a buyer might get their money back is a poor home inspection. Many home purchase contracts will have contingencies, and one of the more common ones is that if a home inspection reveals a lot of issues or needed repairs, then the buyer can walk away from the purchase and get their earnest money refunded. 

Home Inspection Limitations

The limitations of a home inspection include only being a visual tool. They can only tell you what might be wrong with the property, but without visual evidence, they can’t say something is wrong for sure, such as with pests or a crack in the foundation. Home inspectors won’t look inside the drywall or insulation, nor will they look inside chimneys, pipes, or sewer lines. 

A home inspection is a general checkup and not a detailed analysis. Each inspector will have different experiences and competencies. Plus, they aren’t necessarily experts in local building codes.

Home Inspector Report

A home inspector will provide a report following the inspection. There is no set length or standard, but it should include safety issues and whether any problems are major or minor. As well, it will highlight things that are in workable condition but need to be monitored and items that need to be repaired or replaced immediately. 

A home inspector’s report will generally include summaries, checklists, and photographs. They typically have estimates of the remaining useful life for major systems and the roof. Having a number of issues on a home inspection isn’t necessarily a big red flag; the more important thing is the seriousness of the issues. If things work, then they are classified as being in good working condition. This includes appliances and roofs. Even if they're older, if they work, then they will likely be considered in good working condition. 

Finding a Home Inspector

Home inspectors aren’t federally regulated. They are licensed in some states. You can interview home inspectors to get a better idea of their experience and expertise. There are databases provided by organizations, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors and the National Association of Home Inspectors, that can be used to find an inspector. Some of these organizations require inspectors to pass exams and meet continuing education requirements.  

As well, certain organizations have different guidelines and requirements for their inspectors. Thus, it’s useful to ask a potential inspector for a sample report to get a better idea of what to expect. 

Recommended reading
Related terms
Eminent Domain
Eminent domain refers to the right of the government to take private property and convert it to public use.
Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents are licensed professionals who arrange real estate transactions for either a buyer or a seller.
Fair Market Value (FMV)
This is an estimate of the market value of a property. At its simplest, it is the price that a property would sell for in a fair and open market.