Why You Need a Home Inspection When Buying a Home

I rarely use the word “always” since there is an exception to every rule. However when it comes to home inspections, I believe they are essential for just about every buyer to have, even home-savvy and experienced buyers. Unless your day job is Home Inspector, it is vital you obtain a professional home inspection with a reputable inspector. I actually spoke with a home inspector that hired another home inspector on his own home purchase. He said the inspector he hired caught a few things he missed, and he was glad he hired him. Although there are many home buyers that would never buy a home without a professional home inspection, I have seen experienced home buyers willingly offer to proceed on a home purchase without a home inspection. Let’s talk about some of the risks involved in a home purchase and how a home inspection via a reputable professional home inspector can not only reduce your risk, but also potentially save you money in the transaction and avoid future homeowner headaches.

home inspections

Who Does Home Inspections and How Can I Trust Them?

In California, you don’t currently need a specific license to be a home inspector. This means just about anyone, regardless of expertise or industry knowledge, can become a home inspector. For this reason it is vital you do your homework to insure you are working with a reputable inspector. There are two major trade organizations for home inspectors; ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) and in California, CREIA (California Real Estate Inspection Association). Most reputable inspectors here in California are members of one or both organizations. Again, these are not licensing bodies, but they do have standards that they ask their members to adhere to as well as ongoing training. At minimum, you should check out any online reviews for your inspector, as well as investigate any complaints with an organization such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB). I will have more on what to look for in a home inspector below.

Expectations – What Home Inspectors Inspect

Ideally, your inspector will be experienced in a broad range of construction topics. It is important to note that most inspectors are not experts in any specific trade. In other words, your inspector probably isn’t a plumber, electrician, structural engineer, foundation expert, or roofer. Home inspectors are generalists when it comes to knowledge about homes, construction, and specific trades. You will often see verbiage in a home inspection that suggests the buyer consult with an expert regarding further investigating particular concerns. Sometimes these suggestions are more liability avoidance for the inspector, however often they are sincere suggestions to do further due-diligence. I will be covering when it is advisable to pursue supplemental inspections in a future article. The short answer is that if a concern has been flagged by your home inspector and you are concerned about it, you may want to hire a specialist to inspect that concern.

Most good inspectors try to inspect the major systems and structures of a house. The inspection should include the roof in most cases. I have seen inspectors use cameras attached to very long poles to inspect roofs that are too steep or inaccessible to reach. The inspectors should also inspect the attic and crawlspace if the property has them. This is the least glamorous phase of the inspection, and there are some less ambitious inspectors that will skip these crucial spaces. Both the attic and crawlspace often provide a lot of insight into the home’s condition, along with any obvious foundation concerns.

Home inspectors should also test major appliances as well as the HVAC system (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning). Another key part of an inspector’s job is pointing out any water damage, or conditions that might lead to water damage (such as improper slope, lack of exterior drainage, failed roofing components, moisture in the crawl space, etc). Windows and doors, along with the homes exterior should also be closely inspected. A key focus of home inspectors should be on issues related to health and safety, and on issues that could have significant financial consequences to address or repair.

thermal imager of a home inspector
Many good inspectors use thermal imagers to detect moisture issues, HVAC functionality and insulation levels, etc.

A few things inspectors DO NOT typically inspect include sprinklers/irrigation, landscape lighting, cable TV, phone wiring, low voltage wiring, water features, solar power systems, septic system, and fire sprinkler systems. Don’t confuse your home inspector with a licensed pest control inspector either. Inspectors may mention any obvious issues related to these topics, however they will generally not test or evaluate them. Just about every inspector I have worked with has advised the client to have a licensed pest control company do a full inspection for termites and other wood destroying pests and organisms.

How Home Inspections Can Save You Money

Here in San Diego, California, home inspections are typically ordered and paid for by a buyer of a home once they are in escrow. There are parts of the country where sellers order and pay for an inspection before putting a home o the market as well. I will dive into the pros and cons of doing a home inspection prior to listing a home in a future article. The typical process here in San Diego is that the buyer has a professional home inspection completed as part of their due diligence.

Although residential home sales are “as-is” in our market, there is a Request for Repairs process during which a buyer can request a seller either repair certain defects, provide a credit to the buyer’s closing costs in lieu of repair, or a combination of repair work and credit. The seller is under no obligation to even respond to the buyer’s Request for Repair, but it is not uncommon for sellers to agree to some or all of a buyer’s requests in the interests of keeping a deal moving forward.

When submitting the Request for Repair to the seller, it is customary to include supporting documentation. This documentation almost always includes the home inspection, and it helps to bolster the buyer’s case for requesting the repair(s) or credit. In my experience, requests that are reasonable are often accommodated or partially accommodated by sellers. I define reasonable as repairs on broken / non-functional items, defects that would not have been obvious to a buyer when they made their offer, and modest in terms of the costs to remedy.

Your home inspection, and any supplemental inspections and estimates for repair you might obtain, all are potential bargaining chips as you navigate the Request for Repairs process. Without a home inspection, most sellers are unlikely to take your requests as seriously. I have seen many home inspections more than pay for themselves in terms of repairs and credits that came about from defects called out by the home inspector in their report.

home inspection report
The best home inspectors cover all the major systems and structures of a home.

Home Inspection Costs

In my experience, most of the home inspectors I have run across charge anywhere from $350 to $550 on “typical” condos and detached homes. How much a home inspection costs can sometimes exceed $1000 on larger and more complex homes. Overall square footage, number of rooms, age of construction, foundation type, etc. can all affect your home inspection costs. It can be worth getting quotes from two or three reputable home inspection companies to make sure you have a good sense of pricing for home inspections in your local market.

What to Look For When Hiring a Home Inspector

As with any service, the value of your inspection varies. I have seen some home inspections with no photos and only a cursory written summary of the property. I have also seen home inspection reports with 100+ pages and dozens of photos to clearly document defects or areas of concern. Your real estate agent will likely be able to recommend one or more home inspectors for you. If you get the sense your agent is overly invested in you buying that specific home you are in escrow on, you may also wish to seek out a reputable home inspector independent of your agent. No matter whom you are considering, I highly recommend reading their online reviews and getting basic information on how long they have been in the business, and what, if any, construction or trade-related experience they had prior to becoming a home inspector.

Professional Home Inspections – It’s About Awareness and Minimizing Costly Surprises

Although home inspections can be vital as a negotiating tool, I believe their main benefit is reducing the risk of a bad home-buying decision and minimizing the potential for future surprises. Once you are in escrow on your dream home, that is only an early step in the process. If your home inspection reveals a failed foundation that might be into the six figures to repair, or severe water damage, those can be the types of discoveries that turn your dream home into a purchase you might prefer to pass on. Even if discoveries turned up in an inspection aren’t dealbreakers, they are still crucial information for negotiations and for calculating your costs of ownership. Finally, a good professional home inspector will give you insights into the systems of your future home, potential maintenance issues, and even tips for maintenance that can save you money and aggravation during your time as a homeowner. In short, if you’re buying a home, make sure you hire a professional home inspector!

If you or someone you know might be buying or selling real estate in San Diego, regardless of location or price point, please let me know. I can also assist in connecting buyers and sellers outside San Diego with outstanding Sotheby’s International Realty agents via our 800+ offices in over 60 countries. Please read my client reviews, and don’t hesitate to call, text or email me with any real estate questions or to schedule a no-obligation consultation.

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About Marc Lyman

Marc Lyman grew up in Silicon Valley where he was exposed to the nuances of the real estate business at a young age. He graduated from UC San Diego in 1995 with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Psychology. His studies were followed by the launch of multiple businesses, including a popular online home publication. The latter has made Marc a sought-after media personality and home expert.