It's important that you witness your home inspection.
Seeking professional home inspection services is perhaps the most important aspect of the homebuying process.
Sometimes people confuse a home inspection with an appraisal, but they are two separate things. An appraisal is the assessed market value of the home. Banks typically require appraisals when determining whether to approve a loan. An appraisal gives just the value of the house, it doesn't include an assessment on the condition of the home or what needs to be repaired (although if there are glaring shortfalls, it could reduce the value of the home).
A home inspection details what's in the house, and offers insight on the condition of specific systems and what might need maintenance or repairs.
What will be inspected?
Generally costing between $300 and $500 and lasting three to four hours, a professional home inspector will examine the condition of the following:
• heating system
• central air conditioning system
• interior plumbing
• electrical system
• attic and visible insulation
• the foundation
• structural components
Once the home inspector examines all these components, he or she will write a detailed report to give to you and the seller. From that point, the buyer can renegotiate if issues arise concerning needed repairs. It's generally best to hire a home inspector as soon as a purchase agreement or contract has been signed.
Also, the real estate contract should always be written to be contingent on the findings of the home inspection. If it's found that the house in question needs $20,000 worth of roof work, the buyer might think twice. Instead, the buyer might want to renegotiate with the seller to compensate for the needed repairs.
The buyer should be there
When it comes time for the home inspection, the potential home buyer should tag along while the inspector is doing his or her job. This is a huge investment, and the buyer has a right to be there.
Not only that, but the buyer can likely learn a lot about the house, such as:
• Confirming the state of the HVAC system. New heating and cooling units cost thousands of dollars. Some inspectors are reluctant to check the air conditioning in the cold of winter or blast the heater during the scorching summer months. Yet, if the inspector skims over this step and it's determined the A/C or heating doesn't work by the time it's needed next season, it could cost the buyer. An inspector might also provide a basic idea of how the system works and the maintenance required each season.
• Checking up on top. The roof is another biggie. Some inspectors will just do a visual inspection from the ground. But a good inspector should get up on the roof and check for loose tiles. Roof leaks have the potential to be one of the costliest home repairs. If the buyer is there, it's more likely the inspector will thoroughly check the roof and either mention defects in his report or tell the buyer about any oddities.
• Looking closely at how some of the things in the house are functioning. The appliances might all be working and nothing significant will make it to the report. But the inspector might offer you some advice such as letting you know your appliances are outdated and only have a couple years' life left. The inspector can also offer helpful maintenance tips.
• Learning where all the shutoff valves are located. An emergency could be averted down the road if the new buyer knows where the gas, water and electric shut-off valves are located.
• Asking questions. For first-time buyers, this can be especially important. Owning a home can be overwhelming. If there's any part of the upkeep or physical components a buyer doesn't understand, a home inspector can typically clarify things.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on October 7, 2013.
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