sidebar shadow
Inspections

Inspections

Why Should I have a Home Inspection?

Resales

You're most likely to order inspections if your "new" home is someone else's used house. Obviously, the older the house, the greater the likelihood that you'll find defects in its mechanical and structural systems.

New houses

Even if you're buying a newly constructed, never-been-lived-in home, having it thoroughly inspected is wise. Just because the building is new doesn't guarantee that it was built properly. Believe it or not, brand-new houses often have construction flaws, sometimes major. Some home builders are not competent, or they cut corners to save some money and boost their profits.

Condominiums

You need an inspection before buying a condominium. Don't forget that when you buy a condo, you're also buying into the entire building in which your condo is located. As a co-owner of the building, you'll be assessed your proportional share of the cost for corrective work required in common areas, such as the roof, heating system, or foundation.

Townhouses/co-op apartments/ all other forms of co-ownership property

See the preceding bullet point about condominiums. Shared ownership doesn't get you off the hook. You still need property inspections.

All properties should be inspected. Period. Inspect detached/ attached residences, single-family dwellings, multifamily dwellings, condos, co-ops, townhouses, and anything else that has a foundation and a roof.

If you're spending big bucks for a property, protect your investment by having it inspected.

Suppose that you spend $250 to have the home you want to buy completely inspected by a qualified inspector, and you find out that nothing is wrong with it. Now you can sleep soundly, knowing that your home doesn't need any corrective work. If you skip the inspection to save $250 and later discover that your house needs $25,000 worth of repairs, you'll end up spending $100 in repairs for every dollar that you "saved."

Understanding Inspection

A home's physical condition greatly affects its value. You'd feel horrible if you paid top dollar for a home that you thought was in tip-top shape and then discovered after you bought it that the house was riddled with expensive defects. And yet, unless you're a professional property inspector, you probably won't have the faintest idea how much corrective work a house needs simply by looking at it.

Most states (but certainly not all) now require that sellers and real estate agents make full, immediate disclosure to prospective buyers of all known mechanical, structural, and legal problems associated with owner-occupied residential property.

Patent and Latent Defects

Property defects come in two general categories—patent and latent:

Types of Inspections

What inspections should you get to protect your investment?

That depends on what area of the country you live in, how the building in question is constructed, and what you plan to do to the property after buying it.

Here are the three most common inspections—which we recommend be done after you have an accepted offer to purchase but before removing your inspection contingencies:

Prepurchase interior and exterior components inspection

No matter whether you're buying a wood-frame cottage in the country or an urban condo in a 20-story, steel-and-concrete building, you need a complete inspection of the property's interior and exterior. The inspection should cover such areas as the roof and gutters, plumbing, electrical work, heating and cooling systems, insulation, smoke detectors, kitchen, bathroom, and foundation. This type of inspection usually takes several hours to complete and costs from $200 to $500, depending upon the size of the property.

Don't be surprised if the property inspector recommends additional inspections. Good property inspectors refer their clients to specialists, such as roofers, structural engineers, and pest-control inspectors, if they discover a problem beyond their scope of expertise.

Pest-control inspection

Temperate climates, such as in the South and West, are a mixed blessing. You're not the only one who loves warm, balmy weather. So do termites, carpenter ants, powder-post beetles, dry rot, fungus, and other wood-munching infestations or infections. If these are a problem in your area, you'll also need a pest-control inspection. These inspections generally cost from $75 to $225.

Pest-control inspections are very limited in scope - the inspectors check for propertydamage caused only by wood-destroying insects (infestations) and organisms (infections, such as dry rot and fungus). Although homes made of wood or wood-and-stucco are the wood-destroyers' primary targets, even brick homes aren't safe.

Architect or general contractor's inspection

You need an architect or a general contractor on your team if you're buying a fixer-upper, intending to do corrective work, or planning a major property renovation, such as adding rooms or installing a new bathroom. The architect or general contractor can tell you whether what you want to do is structurally possible and meets local planning codes for such things as height restrictions and lot coverage. This inspector can also give you time and cost estimates for the project.

Architects and general contractors usually don't charge for their initial property inspection because they are hoping to get your business. Don't expect them to give you a completely objective assessment as to whether you should buy the property, because they'd probably love to do the work for you.

Optimizing Inspections

Here are guidelines for getting the biggest bang out of the bucks that you invest in a prepurchase property inspection:

Always make your offer to purchase a house subject to your review and approval of the inspection reports. Doing so gives you the opportunity to either negotiate a credit or price reduction for corrective work that is discovered during the inspections or, if you wish, get out of the deal.

Have your agent order a permit search on the property to find out whether electrical, plumbing, or other repairs have been performed. But always pay for your own inspection by an inspector of your own choosing.

Read your property inspector's report carefully. If you don't see some defects listed in the report that your inspector specifically mentioned during the inspection, call the inspector to find out why. Don't be the least bit shy about calling your inspector to get a detailed explanation of anything you don't completely understand.

To minimize the cost of corrective repairs, get bids on the job from several reputable, licensed contractors. Never try to save money by using unlicensed contractors to do the work without permits. Many states require that housesellers disclose to prospective purchasers the fact that work on the house was done without permits.

Use your property inspector during the contractor bidding process. If the contractors have questions regarding items discussed in the inspection report, refer them to the report's author for clarification. For an additional fee, some property inspectors will help you evaluate bids you receive to do the corrective work.

Prepurchase property inspections are intended to give you a factual basis for negotiating the correction of big-ticket defects—not to nickel-and-dime sellers over credits for stained carpets and worn curtains. Let your offering price reflect the home's reduced value due to normal wear-and-tear cosmetic defects.

If your agent or the seller offers to pay for a home warranty plan or home protection plan (that is, a service contract that covers some of your home's major systems and appliances), it wouldn't be gracious of you to turn down a freebie. Never accept such a plan in lieu of an inspection.