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The Ultimate Home Inspection Checklist for Buyers

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Homeowner and home inspector examine a house's interior window

So you’ve fallen in love with a home that’s just right for you, and the seller has accepted your offer. In your eagerness to close the deal, you’re tempted to breeze past the home inspection phase — or skip it altogether. That’s understandable, but it also could be a costly mistake.

“Not everyone is looking to buy a perfect home, but it’s important to know the cost of keeping the property in good, livable condition,” says Karen Parnes, a regional sales manager at Orchard Brokerage, which serves markets in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

The home inspection is one of the most important steps to buying a house. It gives you a deeper understanding of the condition of the home, including needed repairs and what’s required to maintain it. If the sale contract includes an inspection contingency, a home inspection can help persuade the seller to lower the price or pay for repairs before you move in. If you find defects that change your mind about buying the house, an inspection contingency also allows you to walk away from the deal.

Our home inspection guide covers what you need to know, including a home inspection checklist:

Home Inspection Basics and Process

The home inspection provides an objective evaluation of one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make and is conducted after the seller accepts your offer.

“Home inspections take emotion out of the equation and offer an unbiased view of the property,” says Stacy Bergman, owner and inspector at Shut The Front Door Home Inspections, which serves Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties in New York and Fairfield County in Connecticut.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a top-to-bottom examination of a property that reviews the condition of all its physical structures, systems, and grounds. While an appraisal determines the home’s fair market value, an inspection focuses on the home’s physical condition. A licensed third party conducts the home inspection to ensure an accurate and complete evaluation of the property’s condition.

Keep in mind that the home inspection is visual and noninvasive, so the inspector might pass over areas that are inaccessible or unsafe to review.

How much does a home inspection cost?

Fees vary depending on the property and its location, but expect to spend between $300 to $500 for a home inspection, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

How long does a home inspection take?

The average single-family home inspection takes two to four hours to complete, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors. But that may vary depending on the property type — say a condo vs. a single-family home — and square footage, Bergman says.

Do I need to be there for the home inspection?

You should be present for the home inspection. Parnes recommends all prospective buyers walk through the property with the home inspector.

Why do I need a home inspection?

The home inspection is an opportunity to learn more about the property. It should give you a heads-up to maintenance requirements and potential problems, which may affect your decision to buy the home.

“It’s a chance to get educated, learn how to maintain the property, and know where the safety features are — like the main water shutoff valve,” Bergman says.

What happens if I buy a home as is?

Some homes are listed for sale “as is,” which means the seller won’t make repairs — you either take it or leave it. Sellers may list the home as is if they can’t afford to pay for repairs, or if they want to sell quickly. Either way, you have no guarantee that everything in the home is functional, so you need a home inspection to understand what you’re signing up for.

What may seem like a great deal on the surface could end up costing thousands in repairs after you move in. If you’re considering buying a home as is, a thorough home inspection is crucial.

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How To Find a Home Inspector

While it’s easy to go with a quick referral from your real estate agent, you should do some vetting on your own to find a good inspector:

  • Learn about your state’s licensing requirements. Begin the process by understanding your state’s home inspection regulations.
  • Check the inspector’s credentials. If your state requires a home inspector license, double-check your inspector’s professional standing. You also can look for certification from a professional home inspection organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, or the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers.
  • Look up online reviews. You can search for reviews through the Better Business Bureau, Angi (formerly known as Angie’s List), Yelp, or Google My Business.

Watch out for home inspectors who fail to answer important questions or don’t spend enough time reviewing each property.

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What To Expect on Inspection Day

Bergman says the inspector may arrive an hour early to examine exterior features, such as the roof, the foundation, and the structure. She suggests asking your home inspection questions before the interior inspection, so make sure to come prepared.

During the interior inspection, the home inspector will check all the rooms in the house, as well as the appliances, the heating and cooling systems, the interior plumbing, and the electrical systems. This is your chance to learn more about what’s happening inside of the home, so take note of any general recommendations.

“We can offer routine maintenance tips that may be helpful for first-time homeowners,” Bergman says.

After the home inspection, you’ll have another chance to ask questions.

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Your Home Inspection Checklist

While every inspection is different, most homes have similar systems and components. The American Society of Home Inspectors provides full guidelines for inspectors, which we’ve summarized below.

Here’s a checklist of what to look for during the home inspection:

Grounds

  • Are all attached driveways, patios, and walkways in good condition?
  • Is there proper positive grading around the exterior of the house?
  • Have the lawn and plants been well-kept?
  • Are all retaining walls in good condition?

Roof

  • Is the roof structure in good condition?
  • Is the surface of the roof weathered?
  • Are any shingles missing or damaged?
  • Are there any holes in the roof?
  • Do the gutters drain properly?
  • Is there flashing — thin metal strips that redirect water — used where necessary?
  • Are the eaves, fascias, and soffits — part of the roof’s drainage system — intact?
  • Are there any cracks in the skylights?
  • Are all chimneys and roof penetrations in working condition?

Exterior structure

  • Is the framing in good condition?
  • Is the siding fully attached and in good condition?
  • Are all wall coverings, flashing, and trim in good condition?
  • Are all attached balconies, decks, porches, railings, steps, and stoops intact and well-maintained?

Doors and windows

  • Are all exterior and interior doors in working condition?
  • Do the exterior doors close fully or is there space for a draft to blow through?
  • Do the exterior doors and windows lock properly?

Basement

  • Is the foundation in good condition?
  • Is there sufficient ventilation and drainage?
  • Is the sump pump functional?
  • Is there evidence of moisture?
  • Is there water damage?

Crawl space

  • Is there any damage to the subflooring?
  • Is there sufficient ventilation and insulation?
  • Is there any evidence of damage from water or insects?

Attic

  • Are there signs of structural damage?
  • Is there sufficient ventilation and insulation?

Electrical system

  • Do you know the predominant branch circuit wiring method?
  • Do you know the amperage rating of the service?
  • Do you know where to find the main disconnects and subpanels?
  • Do you know where to find the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms? Are there enough of them?
  • Are the service entrance conductors, cables, and raceways in working condition?
  • Are there exposed electrical splices?
  • Are the installed lighting fixtures, receptacles, and switches working?

Plumbing

  • Do all interior water supply and distribution systems work?
  • Are all faucets and fixtures in working condition?
  • Is there any evidence of leaks or dripping faucets?
  • Can you confirm that the water heating equipment works?
  • Is the hot water supply adequate?
  • Is the water pressure sufficient?
  • Do you know where to find the water shut-off valve?
  • Is the interior drain system in working condition?
  • Are all vent systems clear and functional?
  • Are the sewage ejectors, sump pumps, and related pipes in working condition?
  • Are the interior water supply, drain, vent, and waste piping materials in working condition?
  • Are the fuel storage and distribution systems working?
  • Do you know where to find the fuel shut-off valve?

Cooling and heating systems

  • Is there central air conditioning? Does it work?
  • Do you know the energy sources for the cooling system?
  • Is there heating equipment installed? Does it operate properly?
  • Do you know the energy sources for the heating system?
  • Can you identify the distribution systems?
  • Is there sufficient ventilation?
  • Are the air filters clean?
  • Do you know the location of the access panels?

Bathrooms

  • Are the bathroom exhaust systems working?
  • Do all toilets flush correctly?
  • Are all faucets in working condition?
  • Do all sinks, bathtubs, and showers drain properly?

Kitchen

  • Are the kitchen exhaust systems working?
  • Are the countertops and cabinets in good condition?
  • Are all installed appliances working? This may include:
    • Ovens
    • Ranges
    • Dishwashers
    • Microwave ovens
    • Garbage disposers
  • Are all faucets in working condition?
  • Do all sinks drain properly?

Interior rooms

  • Are all ceilings, floors, and walls in good condition?
  • Are all stairways, steps, and railings in good condition?
  • Are the garage vehicle doors in working condition? Do you know how to operate them?

Miscellaneous

  • Are the laundry exhaust systems working?
  • Are there vapor retardants in unfinished spaces?
  • Are the fuel-burning fireplaces, stoves, and fireplace inserts functional?

Check out our free home inspection checklist sheet.

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The Home Inspection Report

The home inspection report will explain the property’s condition in detail, including major problems, safety concerns, and maintenance needs, Bergman says. Expect to receive a copy of the inspection report within 24 to 48 hours after the inspection.

Home inspection terms to know

The report may use these terms to describe the home’s condition:

  • Material defect: This refers to a specific issue with one of the home’s systems or components that could reduce the property’s value or compromise the residents’ safety.
  • Major or minor defect: This means one of the home’s systems or components doesn’t work or could be unsafe. Many inspectors leave it up to the buyer to decide what defects are major or minor. A professional contractor may be required to further evaluate the defect.
  • Cosmetic defect: The home has a superficial blemish or flaw that doesn’t affect its functionality or safety.

Bergman cautions buyers to read the home inspection report carefully. If the report uncovers major issues, you may cancel the sale as long as your contract has an inspection contingency. You also could use the report to renegotiate the price of the home, or ask the seller to make repairs.

“The home inspection isn’t always about the major defects,” she says. “There may be a lot of smaller issues that could add up.”

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Home Inspection Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

If you’re a first-time homebuyer who is new to the home inspection process, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Ask the seller to fix any issues — or negotiate

The purpose of the inspection is to ensure that you know exactly what you’re buying. If the inspector finds major defects, you may rethink the deal. Having a home inspection contingency clause in the real estate contract allows you to cancel the sale based on the results of the inspection. If you discover defects that aren’t deal breakers but may affect the value of the home, you can use the contingency clause to renegotiate the sale price or ask the seller to take care of repairs.

Know what to do if the inspector misses something important

Even with a thorough home inspection, there’s still a chance that you’ll discover a problem later. For example, an inspector could fail to notice that the vent pipe on the roof is too short, meaning snow could block the vent and allow toxic gases to build up in the home.

Bergman says your contract with the home inspector should include a liability clause that covers such scenarios. “Most inspectors carry errors and omissions insurance and will defer to insurance companies for assistance on resolutions,” she says.

Cover your bases with a seller’s disclosure

If the seller concealed any major problems with the home, you might have legal recourse — as long as you can prove they were deceptive. One way to protect yourself is by asking for a seller’s disclosure statement.

“Some places require sellers to provide a disclosure of major defects in the home,” Bergman says. “If a defect isn’t disclosed, the seller may be liable for the expense.”

If your state requires a seller’s disclosure, you should receive it within a few days of signing the sale contract.

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Home Inspection FAQ

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the home inspection process.

Should you always get a home inspection?

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: Even a modestly sized house is a major investment, so you need to know what you’re getting into. Remember, looks can be deceiving. A house that appears to be in pristine condition may be an absolute mess behind the scenes when it comes to the plumbing, electrical, or cooling and heating systems. A house inspection helps ensure that you’re getting a fair deal and you won’t be surprised by major defects that will be expensive to repair.

Going one step further, Bergman says you also should consider separate tests for specific safety hazards, such as mold, termites, and radon.

Can you walk away after the home inspection?

If you have a home inspection contingency clause in your real estate contract and the inspection reveals defects that change how you feel about the home, you can cancel the sale and walk away. You’ll usually have around one or two weeks to schedule the inspection, get a contractor to evaluate any defects, and make a final decision to continue or exit the sale.

Can you negotiate with the seller after the home inspection?

If there’s a home inspection contingency clause in your contract, you can negotiate with the seller to cover the cost of any necessary repairs or even renegotiate the price of the home. The appraiser will have valued the property at a certain amount, but if the home inspection reveals serious problems, then you can use the results as leverage. The seller may arrange for the repairs to be completed or agree to renegotiate the sale price if it means you’ll close the deal instead of walking away.

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The Bottom Line on Home Inspections

The home inspection may be something that you’re eager to cross off your to-do list, but it’s critical to pay close attention from start to finish. By working with an experienced home inspector, you’re less likely to find any major surprises after you move in. But no home is free of problems.

“It’s important to know any property will need ongoing maintenance and repairs,” Parnes says.

By understanding what to expect, you can be prepared before you even move in.

Kate Dore contributed to the reporting of this article.

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