Some Home Inspection Tips for Buyers

Homebuyers want home inspection tips as they consider making a large financial investment. Tips about home inspection are especially valuable for those who have not purchased a house before. This article is intended to provide such readers the most important pointers to follow so that the real estate buying process is not so overwhelming.

The home inspection tips contained herein address three primary concerns, namely, how to select a home inspector, how to ensure you get the inspection you want and need, and how to get the most benefit out of the inspection report. These pointers apply whether or not you are working with a real estate agent. In fact, if you are working with an agent, these tips will help you get more involved so that the agent doesn’t make all or even some decisions unilaterally.

Our first tip is to consider why you should have the house you plan to buy inspected. There are various motives or reasons for doing so, the most common of which is to avoid buying a money pit. Sometimes the lender requires an inspection, and in general it’s a good idea to discover what may need to be remedied prior to closing. Also, though at one time a home warranty policy was commonly incorporated into the purchase agreement (perhaps seller and buyer sharing the cost), today the home inspection is in essence the only step taken to protect one’s investment.

But this makes it all the more important to get a report that covers all the bases and serves as a kind of owner’s manual to help you get acquainted to your new residence. Unfortunately, too often the inspection is somewhat rushed or even cursory. Minor problems might get glossed over and occasionally a serious major defect is missed. In such a case, if damages occur down the road, the buyer has some recourse by filing a claim, assuming the inspector is bonded. But the liability may be limited to the price of the inspection.

So our second tip is to find a home inspector who is thorough and who writes a complete report that puts everything he finds in proper perspective. If something is wrong, it is important to know what the implications are, just how serious the problem is, and how necessary it is to fix it.

To accomplish this, your inspector should not be too beholden to the real estate agent. If his primary goal is to please the agent (so he can continue to get referrals), he may take shortcuts. (Agents in general prefer quick inspections and summarized findings of major issues only.)

Don’t ignore or discount an inspector referral from your agent, but ask for more than one name and research them. (Most inspectors have a website with sample reports, and you may find there or elsewhere reviews or client testimonials appraising their work.) Be sure you are going to get the kind of home inspection you want before choosing the inspector.

Our third tip builds on the first two and is similar to them. The first tip was the why, whereas the second advises care in determining who inspects the house and how it is inspected. This next tip advises taking care to establish what is inspected.

A number of things can cause an inspector to exclude items from the inspection. Examples are Standards of Practice, his contract, the utilities not being on, inaccessibility due to blocking objects or locked doors, and dangerous situations. Some of these things are under the inspector’s control, some are not, but he is not liable for unintended exclusions and will charge the same fee despite them.

Thus, we recommend reviewing the contract carefully, identifying normally excluded items you want included and possibly normally included items you don’t care about. Also, be sure that lender requirements and constraints will be accommodated. Discuss changes to the list of exclusions and inclusions with the inspector, potentially negotiating a reduced inspection fee.

Then, we advise leaving as little to chance as possible. Ask the inspector what his expectations are to ensure that all inclusions are actually inspected. Relay this information to your real estate agent, who is responsible for seeing that the expectations are met by making arrangements with the owner via the owner’s listing agent. Now, any unintended exclusions that arise would suggest a deliberately uncooperative seller.

Our fourth tip is to get maximum leverage out of the inspection report. Study all findings in the body, not just the major items listed in the summary. If you followed our second tip faithfully, there should be nothing unclear, vague, or out of context. Even so, don’t hesitate to ask the inspector for explanations or elaborations, who should be more than willing to comply.

Some findings may be purely informational and not defects. Some defects may be more or less trivial and not worth pursuing. Serious problems can be addressed in three different ways: as deal breakers, causing you to withdraw your offer; as things you want the seller to remedy prior to closing at his expense; or as conditions you will accept possibly with some form of compensation such as reduced sales price.

We advise against sharing the inspection report with the seller or listing agent. You have paid for it and it belongs to you. The lender may require a copy, but you may request him to keep it confidential. Simply work up a brief contract addendum with your agent covering items falling into the last two categories mentioned in the previous paragraph.

By following these home inspection tips, you stand the best chance of minimizing if not eliminating home-buying surprises.

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