Many buyers choose to purchase a home inspection soon after making an offer on a property to gather more information on the health, safety, and major mechanical conditions of a home they are planning to buy. The primary intent of the home inspection is to help the buyer(s) identify any major defects that may cost the buyer(s) money above the purchase price to repair. A home inspection is not intended to point out minor cosmetic issues, like outdated fixtures. Nor is it intended to be used as a negotiation tool after a property is under contract to try and drive the purchase price lower. 

A general home inspector will be evaluating things you can see with the naked eye. Things behind the walls are not in the services they cover. Also, they typically do not cover swimming pools or hot tubs, appliances, landscaping, septic tanks, sewer lines, and pests. The four primary areas a general home inspector will focus on include:

  • Visible Electrical & Plumbing
  • Structural & Roof
  • HVAC & Fireplaces
  • General Health & Safety

However, it should be noted that there are specialist inspectors in each of these areas. If you have specific concerns about a certain area, you may want to hire an inspector who specializes in structural engineering if you are worried about the foundation or settling for example. 

ELECTRICAL & PLUMBING

While all systems within a home should have compiled with building codes at the time the home was built, depending on the age of the home you are purchasing, the electrical and plumbing systems may no longer abide by current building codes. That does not mean the house is failing or that you shouldn’t consider buying it. Nor does it mean that you can reasonably expect the sellers to rewire or replumb a home to bring it to current code before you buy it. It should be noted though that unaddressed electrical issues pose potential fire risks and unaddressed plumbing issues can lead to water damage, mold, and more. Hence, an inspector will point out electrical and plumbing issues so that you are aware of things that you may want to upgrade over time and things that require immediate attention. It is up to you how you handle asking for the seller to assist with those changes and which ones you take on yourself. Your inspector will be looking for:

ELECTRICAL
  • Exposed wiring 
  • Outlets that are not working correctly (reversed polarity)
  • Incorrect modifications to electrical panels
  • Multiple neutral wires in a slot
  • GFCI Protection

PLUMBING

  • Water leaks around the bathroom, laundry, and kitchen fixtures and outdoor faucets
  • Evidence of leaking pipes in crawl space or on ceilings
  • Rust
  • Clogged sewer lines
  • Clogged drains
  • Broken pipes
  • Galvanized pipes
  • Temperature Pressure Relief Valve on hot water heater

 

STRUCTURE & ROOF

An inspector is not a structural engineer nor are they a roofing specialist. Hence, do not be surprised if the inspector recommends bringing in an expert to evaluate any potential issues they may identify with the structure of the home, condition of windows/doors/skylights, or the condition and installation of the roof.  Things the inspector may look at:

  • Signs of settling inside the home, like cracks in the walls or separation of the wall from windows
  • Cracking on the foundation
  • Support structure, (placement of floor joists) in the crawl space
  • Flashing
  • Windows, doors, and skylights
  • Siding
  • Gutters & downspouts
  • Drainage
  • Condition of roof

 

HVAC & FIREPLACES

  • Size and age of units
  • The general operating condition of units()
  • Venting
  • Thermostat and ducts
  • External view of chimney and fireplace 

 

GENERAL SAFETY

  • Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
  • Steps, stairs, and handrails
  • Trip hazards
  • Lead-based paint (point out the potential for, but likely not test for)
  • Garage door safety
  • Egress windows

 

When finished evaluating the property, the home inspector will compile his findings and prepare a report for the home buyers. Sometimes a home inspector will invite the buyer(s) to attend the inspection for the final 30 minutes to go over their preliminary findings in person and point out the issues while at the home, but not all inspectors offer this service. Be sure to ask for this service if you want to have an onsite consultation included in the inspection estimate. The inspector will compile their findings into a report that details what they saw along with a recommendation for the level of seriousness of the finding. For example, they may recommend a specialist evaluate a specific area or type of concern. If you have any questions about their findings, you should be able to reach out to them to ask for further information. The final stage is personally deciding on the needed actions based on the findings of the report. It is best to discuss this with your realtor and then determine how much of the risk you are willing to bear yourself and how much of the findings you want to ask the seller to repair prior to closing on the property. Again, the expectation for most sellers and realtors is that your requests focus on health, safety, and mechanical functions - not personal taste or upgrades you’d like the property to have.

If you are hiring a home inspector, be sure to ask what services they cover and which ones they do not so you can determine if you want a specialist to dig deeper into any of the systems in the home, the structural integrity of the property, or the presence of any pests or mold. Be sure to do your due diligence in the home buying process so you can make the most informed decisions possible as you make this big investment.