If you invest a few hundred dollars in a professional inspection, it may keep you from buying a house that will cost you thousands in repairs down the road. A home inspection is an evaluation by a qualified inspector who takes an in-depth and impartial look at the house and identifies things that should be repaired or replaced.
Choosing an inspector
To find a qualified home inspector, consult your state regulatory authorities or your real estate agent. The latter is probably your best source, since most real estate professionals have a list of home inspectors they recommend.
When to contact an inspector
You'll want to contact a home inspector right after the contract or purchase agreement has been signed. Before you sign it, make sure there is an inspection clause in the contract. This makes your purchase obligation contingent upon the findings of a professional home inspection. This clause should specify the terms to which both the buyer and seller are obligated.
Insist on thoroughness
Cost is a good indicator of how comprehensive the inspection is going to be. An inspector can't afford to do a thorough inspection for less than $100. Equipment is expensive, and a true home inspector carries a toolbox that includes carbon monoxide and natural gas detectors, moisture meters, outlet testers, voltage meters and measuring devices. If an inspector shows up to conduct an inspection with not much more than a flashlight, ladder and screwdriver, find another one.
Plan to be there
It’s not necessary for you to be present for the inspection, but it can be helpful. If you follow the home inspector around, you’ll have a chance to ask questions and learn about the condition of the home, how its systems work and how to maintain them. You will also find the written report easier to understand if you’ve seen the property firsthand. It’s a good idea to take notes while the inspector is speaking and bring your digital camera along to photography any areas of concern.
Get it in writing
The inspection report should reflect the thoroughness of the inspection. Examine a sample copy before hiring an inspector. If it’s little more than a checklist, it’s insufficient. A complete report should be anywhere from 20–100 pages, describing in layman’s terms the problems or issues that were uncovered. If there are serious structural issues, or any problems the inspector can’t diagnose, the report should recommend further examination by a structural engineer or other specialist.