Do You Need A Home Inspection?

Before you buy a home, one of the things you should do is to have the home checked out by a professional home inspector. Buying a home is expensive enough as it is – why would you choose to fork over another $400 if you’re not required to? In this article, we’ll delve into what a home inspection can reveal and why you shouldn’t forgo this optional procedure. (If this is your first time buying a home, be sure to read 10 Worst First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes.)

The Home Inspection Contingency
Your first clue that a home inspection is important is that it can be used as a contingency in your purchase offer. This contingency provides that if significant defects are revealed by a home inspection, you can back out of your offer, free of penalty, within a certain timeframe. The potential problems a home can have must be pretty serious if they could allow you to walk away from such a significant contract. (For more on closing on your home, read Understanding The Escrow Process.) 

What a Home Inspection Examines
Inspectors vary in experience, ability and thoroughness, but a good inspector should examine certain components of the home you want to purchase and then produce a report covering his or her findings. The typical inspection lasts two to three hours and you should be present for the inspection to get a firsthand explanation of the inspector’s findings and, if necessary, ask questions. Also, any problems the inspector uncovers will make more sense if you see them in person instead of relying solely on the snapshot photos in the report.

The inspector should note:

  • whether each problem is a safety issue, major defect, or minor defect
  • which items need replacement and which should be repaired or serviced
  • items that are suitable for now but that should be monitored closely

A really great inspector will even tell you about routine maintenance that should be performed, which can be a great help if you are a  first-time homebuyer. (To learn more, read First-Time Homebuyer Guide.)

While it is impossible to list everything an inspector could possibly check for, the following list will give you a general idea of what to expect. (Home maintenance can cost you more than you bargained for. Read Four Overlooked Homeownership Costs to learn more.)


  • Exterior walls – The inspector will check for damaged or missing siding, cracks and whether the soil is in excessively close contact with the bottom of the house, which can invite wood-destroying insects. However, the pest inspector, not the home inspector, will check for actual damage from these insects. The inspector will let you know which problems are cosmetic and which could be more serious.
  • Foundation – If the foundation is not visible, and it usually is not, the inspector will not be able to examine it directly, but they can check for secondary evidence of foundation issues, like cracks or settling.
  • Grading – The inspector will let you know whether the grading slopes away from the house as it should. If it doesn’t, water could get into the house and cause damage, and you will need to either change the slope of the yard or install a drainage system. (Read about managing the expense of a yard in Save Money On Summer Bills.)
  • Garage or carport – The inspector will test the garage door for proper opening and closing, check the garage framing if it is visible and determine if the garage is properly ventilated (to prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning). If the water heater is in the garage, the inspector will make sure it is installed high enough off the ground to minimize the risk of explosion from gasoline fumes mingling with the heater’s flame.
  • Roof – The inspector will check for areas where roof damage or poor installation could allow water to enter the home, such as loose, missing or improperly secured shingles and cracked or damaged mastic around vents. He or she will also check the condition of the gutters. (The roof offers opportunities for energy-conscious homeowners. Read Building Green For Your House And Wallet to learn more.)


  • Plumbing – The home inspector will check all faucets and showers, look for visible leaks, such as under sinks and test the water pressure. He or she will also identify the kind of pipes the house has, if any pipes are visible. The inspector may recommend a secondary inspection if the pipes are old to determine if or when they might need to be replaced and how much the work would cost. The inspector will also identify the location of the home’s main water shutoff valve.
  • Electrical – The inspector will identify the kind of wiring the home has, test all the outlets and make sure there are functional ground fault circuit interrupters (which can protect you from electrocution, electric shock and electrical burns) installed in areas like the bathrooms, kitchen, garage and outdoors. They will also check your electrical panel for any safety issues and check your electrical outlets to make sure they do not present a fire hazard.
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) – The inspector will look at your HVAC system to estimate the age of the furnace and airconditioner, determine if they function properly and recommend repairs or maintenance. An inspector can also give you an idea of the age of the home’s ducting, whether it might have leaks, if your home has sufficient insulation to minimize your energy bills and whether there is any asbestos insulation.
  • Water heater – The home inspector will identify the age of the heater and determine if it is properly installed and secured. The inspector will also let you know what kind of condition it is in and give you a general idea of how many years it has left.
  • Kitchen appliances – The inspector will sometimes check kitchen appliances that come with the home to make sure they work, but these are not always part of the inspection. Be sure to ask the inspector which appliances are not included so that you can check them yourself. (Energy-efficient appliances can save you big bucks. Read Ten Ways To Save Energy And Money to learn more.)
  • Laundry room – The inspector will make sure the laundry room is properly vented. A poorly maintained dryer-exhaust system can be a serious fire hazard.
  • Fire safety – If the home has an attached garage, the inspector will make sure the wall has the proper fire rating and that it hasn’t been damaged in any way that would compromise its fire rating. They will also test the home’s smoke detectors. (Learn more about protecting your home from fire in Insurance Tips For Homeowners.)
  • Bathrooms – The inspector will check for visible leaks, properly secured toilets, adequate ventilation and other issues. If the bathroom does not have a window and/or a ventilation fan, mold and mildew can become problems and moisture can warp wood cabinets over time.

Home Inspection Shortcomings
A home inspection can’t identify everything that might be wrong with the property – it only checks for visual cues to problems. For example, if the home’s doors do not close properly or the floors are slanted, the foundation might have a crack – but if the crack can’t be seen without pulling up all the flooring in the house, a home inspector can’t tell you for sure if it’s there.

Furthermore, most home inspectors are generalists – that is, they can tell you that the plumbing might have a problem, but then they will recommend that you hire an expert to verify the problem and give you an estimate of the cost to fix it. Of course, hiring additional inspectors will cost extra money. Home inspectors also do not check for issues like termite damage, site contamination, mold, engineering problems and other specialized issues. (Learn how to find qualified experts in The Better Business Bureau’s Tool Belt For Saving Cash.)

After the Inspection
Once you have the results of your home inspection, you have several options.

  • If the problems are too significant or too expensive to fix, you can choose to walk away from the purchase, as long as the purchase contract has an inspection contingency.
  • For problems large or small, you can ask the seller to fix them, reduce the purchase price, or to give you a cash credit at closing to fix the problems yourself – this is where a home inspection can pay for itself several times over. (Read 10 Tips For Getting A Fair Price On A Home.)
  • If these options aren’t viable in your situation (for example, if the property is bank-owned and being sold as-is), you can get estimates to fix the problems yourself and come up with a plan for repairs in order of their importance and affordability once you own the property. (To learn more, read Do-It-Yourself Projects To Boost Home Value.)
Bottom Line
A home inspection will cost you a little bit of time and money, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did it. The inspection can reveal problems that you may be able to get the current owners to fix before you move in, saving you time and money. If you are a first-time homebuyer, an inspection can give you a crash course in home maintenance and a checklist of items that need attention to make your home as safe and sound as possible. Don’t skip this important step in the home-buying process – it’s worth every penny.

Amy Fontinelle is a financial journalist and editor for a variety of websites, public policy organizations, and book publishers. She has written hundreds of published articles and blog posts on topics including budgeting, credit management, real estate and investing. Her articles have been featured on the homepage of Yahoo! and on Yahoo! Finance,, and numerous local news websites.




Top Inspection Problems

As a follow up to my last posting, “Pre-Listing Inspections”, the following is a list of my top things a homeowner can take care of before you start showing their property.

1. Poor Drainage
One of the most common things I find during an inspection is poor drainage.  This can lead to all kinds of problems with the most important piece of any structure – the foundation system.  There are many remedies to improve drainage including a new system of roof gutters and downspouts or have the lot re-graded to better channel water away from the house.

2. Inadequate Electrical System
An undersized or outdated electrical system is a common problem, especially in older homes.  With today’s modern appliances, audio/video systems and hi-tech gadgets, quite a few homes still have old fuse type systems or undersized panels consisting of 100 amp service.  A common misconception is that this is a major problem.  On the contrary – for around $2000.00+/-, a home’s electrical system can be upgraded to a full 200 amp service, in as little as a day.

3. Leaky Roof
Finding where a roof is leaking can be one of the most annoying problems a homeowner faces.  More often than not, a qualified roofing contractor can get to the root of the problem and remedy the situation in hours.  Repairing damaged shingles or re-flashing areas that have failed can generally be done in a day and will remove serious concerns a potential buyer may have.

4. Heating Systems
We often find older boilers or furnaces in a home.  Some show signs of wear, tear and neglect, while others show that the home owner has taken proper steps to maintain the system.  In either situation, this is one of the most important areas of a home inspection.  Inadequate ventilation of a heating system can be deadly!  A quick and easy thing for the home owner to do is have their system checked for leaks and efficiency by a licensed contractor.  Having this done before a home inspection will ease the fears a buyer may have.

5. General Maintenance
Minor things like cracked or peeling paint, crumbling masonry, broken fixtures or overall messiness can quickly and easily be fixed prior to you showing your clients house.  A homeowner can easily repaint a wall, replace a fixture or repair minor masonry problems.  If they’re not handy or don’t have the time, they can hire a handy man or the like to take care of this for them.

6. Plumbing Problems
The most common plumbing defects include old fixtures that are leaking, dripping or just simply don’t work.  Faucets, drains, traps and old pipes can easily be replaced with a trip to the local box store.  Again, if the home owner isn’t handy, simple plumbing things like this can be addressed by any knowledgeable handy man.

7.  Windows & Doors
More times than not, a home is not sufficiently insulated or caulked around door and window openings.  This can allow outside elements such as wind and rain into the house.  Repairing this is relatively simple and inexpensive.  Spray foam and exterior caulking go a long way in weather-proofing around openings.

8. Inadequate Ventilation
Poor ventilation can result in too much moisture that will ruin interior walls, ceilings and flooring. It can also be the culprit for many allergic reactions. Installing vent fans in every bathroom if there are no windows is a must.  Proper ventilation in the attic is also a must.  If there are signs of moisture or mold in an attic this means there is inadequate ridge, gable or roof vents.  To repair damage caused by poor ventilation the home owner may only have to repaint or replace drywall and other inexpensive pieces.

David Dodge
PO Box 822
Mohegan Lake, NY 10547

So You Think Your House Is Radon Free

The other day I performed a home inspection. It was your typical home inspection of a nice little house that had a few updated amenities. As I was walking around the outside with my client, I noticed there was a radon mitigation system installed. I commented on it and my client said “oh that’s what that is”. As I looked at it I noticed the top of the PVC stack was broken (not a big deal, all it needed was a new elbow installed to carry it above the eave).

A little while later my client says to me, “well I guess we don’t need to do the radon test so how much less will the home inspection be now”. I replied back to him, “just because there is a mitigation system here doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the test”. My client looked at me and said “well there shouldn’t be a radon problem since this system is here so why should I pay for a test I don’t need”.

Instead of arguing the point with my client I said “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I always want the test to be done, especially here as it is evident there is a radon problem. Just because there is a system doesn’t mean it’s working properly or addressing the obvious problem. I am going to do the test anyways. If it comes back and there is no problem and the system is doing its job, I’ll pay for the cost of the test myself.” My client looked at me and said “OK – you’ve got a deal”

A few days later I went and picked up the radon test canisters and sent them to the lab I use. The next day I get the results back from the lab and I forward it off to my client with a note attached.

About an hour later I get a call from my client that goes like this: “Hi Dave, thanks for doing such a great job on the inspection, the report was excellent by the way. I’m glad you insisted on doing the radon test, even though I was pushing you not to – just to save a few bucks. I can’t believe the radon levels were so high – even with a system installed. I called the company that installed the system and they informed me that they haven’t been out to the property to service the system in over 3 years. I called my realtor who in turn called the sellers realtor and they are having the company come out first thing tomorrow to service the system. When they are done, can you come back and do another test to make sure the system is operating properly and that the levels are within normal standards”? My reply: “Of course I will.”

Being a Home Inspector is a job I take very seriously. My clients are paying me for my advice and my experience. For something as deadly as radon can be, I’m not taking any chances. I’ll do what I have to do to convince my clients that it is in their best interest to always get a radon test done – NO MATTER WHAT!

David Dodge
PO Box 822
Mohegan Lake, NY 10547

Ten Important Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector

1. What does your inspection cover?

The inspector should ensure that their inspection and inspection report will meet all applicable requirements in your state if applicable and will comply with a well-recognized standard of practice and code of ethics. You should be able to request and see a copy of these items ahead of time and ask any questions you may have. If there are any areas you want to make sure are inspected, be sure to identify them upfront.

2. How long have you been practicing in the home inspection profession and how many inspections have you completed?

The inspector should be able to provide his or her history in the profession and perhaps even a few names as referrals. Newer inspectors can be very qualified, and many work with a partner or have access to more experienced inspectors to assist them in the inspection.

3. Are you specifically experienced in residential inspection?

Related experience in construction or engineering is helpful, but is no substitute for training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection. If the inspection is for a commercial property, then this should be asked about as well.

4. Do you offer to do repairs or improvements based on the inspection?

Some inspector associations and state regulations allow the inspector to perform repair work on problems uncovered in the inspection. Other associations and regulations strictly forbid this as a conflict of interest.

5. How long will the inspection take?

The average on-site inspection time for a single inspector is two to three hours for a typical single-family house; anything significantly less may not be enough time to perform a thorough inspection. Additional inspectors may be brought in for very large properties and buildings.

6. How much will it cost?

Costs vary dramatically, depending on the region, size and age of the house, scope of services and other factors. A typical range might be $300-$500, but consider the value of the home inspection in terms of the investment being made. Cost does not necessarily reflect quality. HUD Does not regulate home inspection fees.

7. What type of inspection report do you provide and how long will it take to receive the report?

Ask to see samples and determine whether or not you can understand the inspector’s reporting style and if the time parameters fulfill your needs. Most inspectors provide their full report within 24 hours of the inspection.

8. Will I be able to attend the inspection?

This is a valuable educational opportunity, and an inspector’s refusal to allow this should raise a red flag. Never pass up this opportunity to see your prospective home through the eyes of an expert.

9. Do you maintain membership in a professional home inspector association?

There are many state and national associations for home inspectors. Request to see their membership ID, and perform whatever due diligence you deem appropriate.

10. Do you participate in continuing education programs to keep your expertise up to date?

One can never know it all, and the inspector’s commitment to continuing education is a good measure of his or her professionalism and service to the consumer. This is especially important in cases where the home is much older or includes unique elements requiring additional or updated training.