Home Inspections – Their Purpose and Process

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection, as defined, is an examination of the physical structure and systems of a home, which provides a detailed ‘snapshot’ of the condition of the home at the time of the inspection. The purpose of a home inspection is to help reduce some of the risk involved in purchasing a home; however, it cannot eliminate those risks, nor can the inspector anticipate future events or changes in performance due to changes in use or occupancy. The inspection will cover any potential health and safety issues in addition to areas in need of repair or replacement.

In Texas, inspectors must be licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC), and are required to comply with the TREC Standards of Practice when inspections are performed for a prospective buyer or seller of a one-to-four family residential property. The Standards of Practice are the minimum levels of inspection practice required of inspectors for the accessible parts, components, and systems typically found in improvements to real property.

Keep in mind that the inspector is not required to move any furnishings or stored items. Therefore, it is always a good idea to ensure the access to all the major components of the home is clear prior to the inspection commencing.

In the report, the inspector will note which items were Inspected (I), Not Inspected (NI), Not Present (NP), and/or Deficient (D). General deficiencies include inoperability, material distress, water penetration, damage, deterioration, missing parts and unsuitable installation. Items identified on the report do not obligate either the Seller or the Buyer to make any repairs or take any other action. The decision to correct a hazard or any deficiency identified in an inspection report is left to the parties to the contract for the sale or purchase of the home.

Please keep in mind that there may be several items on the report that are related to building codes or safety issues – and very few homes will comply with these. These same conditions may not have violated building codes or common practices at the time of the construction of the home, or they may have been ‘grandfathered’ because they were present prior to the adoption of codes prohibiting such conditions. The inspection is still required by law to report these items as deficient if found not to comply.

Why do I need a home inspection?

The purchasing of your home may be the largest single investment you will ever make. To minimize unwanted surprises, you will want to learn as much as you can about the condition of the home BEFORE you purchase it. An inspection may identify the need for repairs, as well as the need for maintenance to better protect your investment. After the inspection, you will know more about the property, which will aid you in making an informed decision as to purchase the home or not.

What does a home inspection cost?

The inspection fee for a typical single-family property varies depending upon a number of factors such as: size of the house; its age, particular features of the house (slab foundation, crawl space, etc…); and possible option systems inspected. Typically, a home inspection costs around $250 to $400…plus any ‘optional’ services, such as: lawn sprinkler systems; swimming pools, spas, hot tubs and associated equipment; outbuildings; outdoor cooking equipment; gas supply systems; private water wells; septic systems; whole-house vacuum systems; and other built-in appliances. Cost should not be a factor in deciding whether or not to have a home inspection – due to the potential costs involved should you decide NOT to have it inspected.

Can a home ‘fail’ an inspection?

No, an inspection is an examination of the current condition of the home. There is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ rating issued.

When do I schedule the home inspection?

Once the purchase contract has been signed, you will want to schedule your home inspection right away. This is because you will want to find out about any potential problems, have time to schedule any additional inspections that may be required, and of course…time to negotiate repairs with the Owner. All of this will need to occur DURING your option period. Should it exceed the time frame of your option period, and you have not extended the option period, you are stuck with purchasing the home, no matter what additional problems may be revealed in the condition of the home.

Should I attend the inspection?

If you are the Buyer, I recommend you have the inspector call you before his inspection is concluded. Allow yourself enough time to get there and attend a final walk-through with the inspector. You will want him to show you any potential problems – also, feel free to ask any questions about his report. If you are the Seller, you have every right to attend; however, I recommend that you do not follow the inspector around the house trying to justify any deficiency he writes down.

What if deficiencies are found in the home?

If the inspector identified any deficiencies, this does not mean that you should not purchase the home. It only notifies you in advance of what you can expect. Perhaps the major issues can be negotiated out, and the minor issues can be repaired by you after you purchase the home. Do not ‘nit-pick’ every little item on the report. That is a good way to get the Seller ticked off.

As the Seller, how do I prepare my home for the inspection?

Ensure all utilities are turned on
All pilot lights are lit
All locks are to be removed or unlocked from areas that may prohibit the inspector accessing, such as attics, doors, padlocks on gates, etc…
Attic access is clear. If attic access is in the garage, be sure there are no cars, shelving units, moving boxes, storage crates blocking the access. If attic access is in a hallway or closet, make sure thee are no light fixtures or furniture blocking the access panel or pull-down ladder
Crawl space (if applicable) access is clear
Electrical panels are accessible and not locked
Water heater is accessible
Furnace is accessible
Cooling system is accessible
Built-in kitchen appliances are accessible and ready to operate
Pets are secure

Spending a couple hundred dollars on the inspection, can potentially save you thousands of dollars.

Home Inspection Misconceptions

What To Expect: Home buyers sometimes buy their home in on impulse. Home inspectors can help home buyers avoid buyers remorse by reporting on home defects and problems before the home buyer finds them after closing. Professional home inspectors assist home buying clients with the tools they need to make an educated choice regarding the quality and condition of their potential new home. Home buyers must take care to hire the most experienced home inspector they can afford and make sure the person they hire has their best interest solely in mind. Inspectors who rely on realtors for referrals sometimes have moral dilemmas.

Buyers Benefits: A professional home inspection is the best way for potential home buyers to effectively evaluate the risks of a property purchase. A major concern of home buyers is being suddenly confronted with major and costly problems after they take possession of a property. A professional pre-purchase home inspection can reduce anxiety by screening for problems and itemizing them in a comprehensive report. This report may include approximations of repair costs and recommendations of useful upgrades to the property systems. The general result of a professional home inspection is that property buyers make significantly more informed purchases.

Screening for Problems: All homes have strong and weak points, they are not always what they seem. Gain the perspective and sound information you need to make better decisions with a home inspection performed by an experienced professional home inspector. A good home inspector works through a very long checklist of potential concerns to identify the major and minor deficiencies in the home. A good report will clearly describe the problems and illustrate them along with the what-to and how-to of repairs.

Provide Owners Benefits: Home owners who are planning to make improvements to their homes in order to increase its market value would be well advised to have it inspected first. A home inspectors can help prioritize home improvements and offer advice on the best ways to approach repairs. More importantly, an inspectors can help the seller identify potential or undiscovered problems before those problems become material for contract contingencies. By taking a pro-active approach one can avoid the frustrations many owners encounter when they are asked to renegotiate their contracts because of unanticipated problem areas.

Credentials: Like any other professional, home inspectors (even those with licenses) have varied degrees of expertise. All home inspectors should be carefully screened. Inspectors learn from experience. It takes a few thousand inspections and a more than a few complaints for a home inspectors to LEARN what it takes to satisfy clients.

Recently passed legislation allows New Jersey home inspectors to be licensed with as little as three weeks of class room training and just one week in actual homes. Licensing is a minimum qualification. Make sure you ask for resume! Belive it or not the standards in many states are LOWER!

Many people without specific home inspection credentials offer home inspection services. Likewise, credentials are not always what they seem. Engineering and architectural credentials alone do not prepare anyone to competently inspect homes and communicate the findings. A helping attitude, good communication skills, and mature judgment must supplement technical competence. Make sure you work with a company employing a contract which specifies both what is inspected and what limitations apply.

Additional services like the ones listed below are usually NOT included in the standard home inspection are available for an additional fee.

Code compliance: to determine what changes and upgrades are necessary for the home to comply with modern (or when built) building, fire, plumbing, zoning, mechanical and electrical code and to determine if the required permits and inspection were obtained when changes were made to the home.

Engineering analysis: structural, heating, cooling, soils, electrical, geological, site, investigate for latent structural defects or problems, evaluate the condition of playground equipment, determine if private waste disposal systems are functional, determine if cantilevers are safe, evaluate traffic density and noise, evaluate insulation efficiency, perform flood plain review and issue flood hazard certification, evaluate easements and encroachments, determine the quantity and cost of wood replacement made necessary by rot, age, water infiltration and insect damage.

Hazardous materials: to determine the presence or absence of: asbestos, lead paint, lead in water, formaldehyde, radon gas, lead paint, fungus, mold, mildew, water and air quality, toxic or allergenic substances, flammable materials, underground oil or fuel tanks and other environmental hazards.

Pest evaluation: to determine the presence of animal, rodent, termite, pest or insect infestation and to provide an opinion as to the cost of repairing damage caused from these infestations.

Pool and spa: to evaluate the necessary changes and upgrades to pools, pool equipment, gates and fences.

Plumbing: to determine the condition and necessary upgrades and repairs to the waste piping, main sewer pipe, supply piping, venting, shower pans and tub walls, lawn and fire sprinklers, water wells (water quality and quantity) condition of underground and under slab piping.

Electrical: to determine the condition and necessary upgrades and repairs to the electrical system, telephone system wiring, intercom system, security systems, heat detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, provide circuit mapping, determine the electrical system capacity, adequacy of ground bonding, perform voltage testing, to evaluate electro magnetic fields, check voltage drops and circuit impedance.

Chimney sweep: check condition of flue, safety of wood burning stoves and perform level II chimney flue inspections as recommended by National Fire Protection Association.

Appraisal: determine the value of building and suitability for intended use, check zoning ordinances and provide an opinion on the advisability of purchase.

Mechanical contractor: determine the adequacy of the heating and cooling system size and provide efficiency measurement, provide an underground storage tank evaluation, perform heat exchanger leakage test, check the condition of evaporator coils, determine air flow velocity and balance system.

Appliance service person: test and calibrate oven and range temperature, test for microwave leakage, check to determine if appliances secured to floor as required.