Home Inspections - What Buyers & Sellers Should Know

A home inspector viewing open cabinets in the kitchen with a home buyer looking on.

Home inspections are undoubtedly a major part of the real estate buying and selling process. Playing a role in both residential and commercial transactions, inspections are intended to provide the buyer with a professional opinion of the observable material defects of a property. By identifying these issues prior to finalizing the purchase, the buyer is able to make an informed decision on whether or not they will move forward with the purchase.

When representing a buyer, nearly every real estate agent recommends their client get a home inspection. It is one of the many things a home buyer should do during their due diligence period. However, it’s important to understand that, home inspections are designed to give the buyer a general idea of the property’s condition. By no means are they 100% comprehensive. It’s important to educate yourself on what’s included, what’s not, and the scope of the inspection process.

Home Inspection Basics & FAQs

If nothing else, you should know that the home inspector bases their findings on the observations made during their visit to the property. They’re not obligated to make assumptions of past conditions, or try to predict what could arise in the future. As mentioned previously, it’s impossible for any one inspector to uncover every issue and material defect that is currently present. They do their best to identify as many pertinent issues as they can during the limited amount of time they’re on site.

How To Find A Sample Report

If you’d like to see what a report looks like, it’s easy to find samples on the internet. You can do an advanced Google search for “home inspection report” and select only PDF documents as the file type. This should only return PDF files in your search results. Since most inspection reports are delivered to the client in PDF format, you should have no trouble finding examples posted online.

Even better, try finding a sample report on a prospective home inspection company’s web site. Many of them post examples of their past work, so you can see exactly what you’re getting. If they don’t have anything available online, contact them and request one.

It’s extremely helpful when the inspector’s findings are conveyed clearly and concisely, in a format that is easily digestible. A properly structured report with an accurate table of contents is much more intuitive to follow. The inclusion of photos, labels, notations, and clear explanations will help you fully understand the key findings and noted conditions that are being reported.

What’s The Cost?

In my experience, the cost of a basic inspection (average sized home - 2,500 sq/ft, no basement/crawl space) with a written report in Metro Atlanta, is around $425. However, I’ve had clients pay as little as $250 (small, one bedroom condo, no report), and as much as $1,000 (large, older home with a crawl space); so it really just depends on the property and who is doing it. An experienced home inspector could charge thousands of dollars for a massive mansion that requires multi-day visits to complete.

Most home inspectors will give you a pretty firm estimate in advance. You’ll just need to give them some basic information about the property (location, home size, age and whether or not it has a crawl space, slab or basement), as well as any additional services you’d like them to perform. As with most service providers, the more experienced and in-demand they are, the higher their rate tends to be. My advice: don’t get cheap when it comes to hiring a home inspector… A good one can save you thousands of dollars in the both the short-term and in the long-run.

How To Find A Great Home Inspector

Simply ask around. Reach out to friends, neighbors, and especially your real estate agent. These days, it’s hard to trust the validity of online reviews from strangers, so ask someone you know and trust. Great home inspectors typically don’t even need to advertise. Their business often grows organically through word of mouth. As an agent, we deal with them on nearly every transaction, so we know who’s legit, and who’s not. It makes us look good when we can refer you to someone who will do a thorough job; helping you feel even more comfortable with your home purchase.

How Long Do Home Inspections Take?

Similar to cost, how long they take usually depends on the size and condition of the property. For an average house, you can expect them to be at the property between 2.5 - 4 hours. They can often give you an estimate of how long it will take, but keep in mind, each and every issue found will need to be documented. The more problems they uncover, the more time they’ll spend taking notes and photos of their findings.

Most inspectors have a set routine that helps them cover all aspects of the home in an efficient manner. When left alone to do their work, they can run through their checklist to make sure they’ve covered everything. A more experienced home inspector typically knows what to look for and can work through their routine fairly quickly, allowing them to focus on finding issues that will be of utmost concern for their client.

Should A Buyer Attend A Home Inspection?

Absolutely. It’s common here in Georgia for home buyers to attend at least part of the inspection, if not all of it. This allows the buyer to meet the inspector in person, discuss pertinent issues that have been discovered, and get more familiar with the home. If they’re able to make it, I typically encourage my buyers to be there during the final 30-45 minutes… Once things are starting to wrap up and all the most important issues have been uncovered.

For the most part, there’s not much happening during the 3-4 hours it takes to inspect a home. If you’re planning on being there the entire time, do something productive. This is a perfect opportunity to take measurements for furniture, meet with a contractor (renovations or repairs that are needed) or decorator (design ideas), and get to know the neighborhood. Whatever you decide to do, make good use of your time and remember to respect the seller’s home.

Will The Inspection Show Everything Wrong With The Home?

Short answer; NO. If you were to get five independent inspections from five different inspectors, you’d have five different reports. Sure, much of their findings would overlap, but each of them would discover issues that some of the others would not. They’re only human, so they’ll all see things differently. Plus, they’re only there for a couple hours, so it’s impossible to check every single potential problem with the property.

As long as they’re identifying the most pressing issues (potential health concerns or major expenses), that’s really all you can ask for. Each has their own experiences and knowledge base to draw from, so their findings will always vary. As long as you hire someone who’s legit, you should feel comfortable that you’re getting a comprehensive assessment of the home’s current condition.

How Much Will The Repairs Cost?

Some home inspectors may verbally provide general estimates of repair costs (if you ask), but you'll be hard to find any of them willing to put it in writing. After all, they’re not the ones making the repairs, they’re just documenting the issues. Inspectors don’t want to be held liable in the event the actual costs far exceed what they’ve estimated. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. Depending on who you ultimately hire to make repairs, the quality of work and costs can be all over the board. There’s just too many unknowns for the home inspector to accurately predict.

If you really want to get an idea of how much the repairs will cost, you should bring in a general contractor or handyman to get actual quotes. Even then, you’re only getting estimates of how much it will cost to fix; no guarantees. Why? They may run into hidden defects or unexpected issues that may further increase the price of repairs. Depending on what the issue is, it may be hard to tell the full scope of the problem until you get in there and start taking things apart.

Do Homes Pass Or Fail A Home Inspection?

No, there’s not an overall pass or fail grade given. Issues are merely documented and reported, then it’s up to the buyer to determine whether or not the condition of the property is satisfactory for their needs. However, individual aspects of the property may be given a pass or fail grade; depending on how the inspector prefers to convey their results. They may even rate the condition of each inspected item on a scale, allowing for further nuance.

Is It Really Necessary For New Construction Or A Completely Renovated Home?

Yes. I believe every residential real estate purchase should be subject to an inspection. Even with new construction, things will still come up that need to be addressed. Fortunately, most builders will simply add findings from the inspection to their punch list and have it all addressed before the final walk-through. As a buyer, you’ll feel comfortable that your new home was built properly and will stand the test of time.

When it comes to homes that have been renovated, or “flipped”, don’t even get me started. With all the wanna-be HGTV home flippers out there, you can only imagine how many poor rehab jobs I’ve seen in recent years. Amateur flippers and investors can quickly go over budget, forcing them to cut corners. They’ll often do whatever it takes to make things look like they were done properly to someone with an untrained eye. An experienced home inspector won’t be fooled; they’ll catch shoddy work that wasn’t done correctly, or isn’t up to code.

What Are The Biggest Red Flags Buyers Should Look For?

The most common red flags and “deal killers” I come across involve big ticket items like water damage, electrical issues and foundation problems. Water and moisture control problems are probably the most prevalent and common concern for buyers, due to the fact that the impact can be widespread. Everything from the roof and siding leaks, to broken pipes and water intrusion into basements and crawl spaces… All can create additional damage and incite health issues when not immediately addressed (wood rot, mold growth, Etc.).

Decks also tend to be a prominent issue here in Georgia because they’re rarely built right to begin with; and more importantly, they can pose a major safety hazard if they collapse or someone falls. The wood and fasteners are exposed to the elements, so they’ll naturally degrade over time, especially if they’re not well maintained. The cost to properly repair and secure a deck can quickly get expensive, so they’re often a point of contention between buyers and sellers.

Home Buyer Preparation Tips

As a buyer, it’s a good idea to do some homework in preparation for the inspection. Obviously, you’ll want to start by doing your research to ensure you hire the right person for the job. Confirm the appointment day and time with the homeowner to ensure the property will be available during that time frame. Verify that all the utilities are on and that the property is de-winterized before the inspection begins.

Make sure you have time in your schedule to attend a portion of the inspection, if possible. Bring your payment with you, or make arrangements to pay in advance to avoid any delays. Keep in mind, some inspectors won’t show up without advance payment, and most companies won’t release the final report until they’ve been paid in full.

You and/or your real estate agent, will also want to provide the inspector you hire with the seller’s property disclosures (when available) and a list of potential concerns (if you have any). Any past issues with the property should be investigated, even if you’ve been told the problem was already addressed. Gather any forms or documents the inspector will need to sign off on. This may include clearance letters (termite and pests, lead-based paint, septic, etc.) or certification letters for local municipalities. For example: Dekalb County’s low-flow plumbing fixture certificate of compliance.

Homeowner (Seller) Preparation Tips

Taking the time to properly prepare your home for sale and get it looking good for buyers is very important, but don't forget about the inspection. When done right, it can save you money and help you avoid the frustration of a negative/incomplete report. There are some basic things you should do to prevent delays and enable the inspection to be conducted in the first place. Start by removing or crating your animals, so they’re not in the way. Unless they’re available in the lockbox, leave the keys to storage sheds, garage doors, gates, crawl space doors, or any other portion of the home that is not freely accessible.

If the home is vacant, ensure the property has been de-winterized and that all utilities are on & pilot lights are lit (gas furnace, oven & hot water heater). You may also need to notify the inspector of anything in the home that is quirky to operate, that way they don’t list it as damaged or inoperable. Go ahead and prepare receipts, invoices, and warranty documentation showing any repairs that have been completed or coverage that is available.

You’ll want to address known issues if you can, especially if it’s a cheap and easy fix. Even those who aren’t handy around the house can tackle items such as: changing the HVAC filter, unclogging drains & gutters, replacing burnt out light bulbs, and trimming shrubs & tree branches away from the structure. Also, don’t forget to replace batteries in carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors and remote controls for ceiling fans/lights/Etc..

Want to avoid surprises by uncovering and tackling issues in advance? Well, a pre-listing home inspection may be the answer. A couple years ago, I created a YouTube video where detailed the many reasons why you should get one. However, there is also a good argument for why you shouldn’t get one, which I go over in a separate video. Ultimately, you’ll want to do some research to determine whether your home is a good candidate, or not.

What Is Covered In A Basic Home Inspection?

Most inspections are based on a standard of practice that serves as a guide for the home inspector. There are various professional trade organizations (ex: ASHI & InterNACHI) that produce these standards of practice, each with its own set of guidelines. The guidelines are designed to create a standard level of technical and ethical performance; which in turn, helps home buyers make an informed decision based on accurate and objective information. The requirements vary slightly, depending on which is being followed. Generally speaking, these are the major components that are commonly covered and reported on:

  • Air Conditioning: Central air conditioning system, operating controls and distribution systems, including: air filters, dampers, ducts & piping, fans, fan-coils, insulation, pumps, registers and supports. The system(s) will be tested using the normal operating controls (thermostats), if operable. A description of the energy source, cooling system location(s), and type will be reported. Note: If the outside air temperature is below 65 degrees at the time of inspection, damage to the system could occur from operating the A/C unit(s); therefore they may not be tested.

  • Electrical: Service drop, mast, cables, entrance conductors, raceways, electric meter/base and over-current protection devices. Grounding, bonding, drip loops, disconnects and attachment points. A “representative number” of installed lighting fixtures, receptacles and switches. Arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) and ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles. Documentation of system amperage rating, panel location & proper labeling, wiring type(s) & methods, and the presence of smoke & carbon monoxide detectors.

  • Exterior: Balconies, carports, decks, doors, driveways, eaves, fascia, flashing, garages, handrails, patios, porches, ramps, railing, retaining walls, soffits, stairs, steps, stoops, walkways and windows. Improper drainage, grading, landscaping and vegetation growth that could adversely impact the structure of the home, will be reported. Wall covering materials (siding types) are also described and documented.

  • Fireplace(s): Chimney, clean-out doors & frames, damper doors, fireplace, installed fireplace inserts, lintels and vent systems. The inspector will check the areas of the chimney and fireplace that are visible & accessible. A description of the system’s type and components will be noted. If a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector are not present in the same room as a fireplace, the need for correction will be reported.

  • Heating: Installed heating system(s), including their vent systems, flues, chimneys and distribution systems. The heating equipment must function properly using normal operating controls and be readily accessible. The energy source, heating method, and location of system/thermostats will be documented in the report.

  • Insulation & Ventilation: Assessment (type, depth, sufficient coverage) of insulation in the attic and other unfinished spaces of the home. Ventilation of the mechanical exhaust systems (bathroom fans, dryers, kitchen appliances, etc.) and unfinished spaces (attic, basement, crawl space, etc.). Vapor retarders (vapor barriers) in the crawl space and unfinished areas of the basement where the bare earth is exposed. Note: Insulation and vapor barriers will not be disturbed during their assessment, nor will the level of their effectiveness be reported.

  • Interior: Ceilings, cabinets, countertops, doors, floors, landings, ramps, railings, stairs, stairways, steps, walls and windows. Installed appliances, including: Cooktops, dishwasher, food waste grinder, microwave, oven, and range. The garage doors (manual & automatic) will be opened and tested using normal operating controls.

  • Plumbing: Main water supply shut-off valve, main fuel supply shut-off valve, sewage ejectors, sump pumps, vent systems, fuel storage & distribution systems, and the interior water supply & distribution system. Water heater: energy source, seismic bracing, temperature/pressure-relief (TPR) valves, venting connections and Watts 210 valves. All showers, sinks, toilets, and tubs are tested for proper operation and drainage. The water heating equipment & energy source, as well as the location of the main water & fuel shut-off valves, will be noted.

  • Roofing: Roof-covering materials, vents, flashing, skylights, gutters, chimneys, downspouts and any other roof penetrations. The general structure, as well as any active leaks resulting from the failure of the roof, shall be reported. Note: It is not required that the roof be walked, and many times it poses a safety issue. The roof may be inspected visually from the ground, at the eaves, or using binoculars, cameras, or drones.

  • Structural: A basic assessment of the home’s structural components, including the foundation and framing. A description of the following structures will be noted: ceiling, floor, foundation, roof and walls.

So, what kind of things are NOT covered in a standard home inspection? Unless otherwise stated, home inspectors generally will not report on: cosmetic defects, pools & spas, communication systems, presence of toxic mold spores, soil contaminants, lead-based paint, Radon, sewage & disposal systems, underground tanks, hazardous substances, water quality, air quality, noise, outbuildings, or any items that are not permanently installed. Keep in mind, issues must be observable, so anything that is hidden or inaccessible, may not be reported.

Generally speaking, inspectors are NOT required (but some do) to provide the following: life expectancy of systems, methods or costs of repair, zoning or regulatory compliance, building code compliance, notification of un-permitted construction, warranties or guarantees of any kind, the market value of the property or whether the buyer should or should not move forward with the purchase. They will also not test systems or components that are not working as they normally should, perform a procedure that may damage the property or cause potential harm the inspector, move items that are blocking access/visibility, or determine the effectiveness of systems that control hazardous substances.

Additional Home Inspection Services

Depending on their training, experience and tools available, some inspectors offer other essential services along with a standard home inspection (additional fees usually apply). You may be able to save some money by having the inspector complete these services (instead of hiring a separate company), since they’ll already be making a trip to the property.

  • Asbestos
  • Decks
  • EIFS (Synthetic Stucco)
  • FHA 203K Consultation
  • Foundation Inspection
  • Gas Lines
  • Hardcoat Stucco
  • Infrared Scan (Thermal Imaging)
  • Lead-based Paint/pipes
  • Mold Testing
  • Pest / Termites / Wood destroying insects
  • Pre-drywall Inspection (New construction or rehab)
  • Pools
  • Radon Testing
  • Septic Tank Inspection
  • Sewer Lines (Sewer Scope)
  • Sprinkler Systems Check
  • Water Quality

About Home Inspectors

Playing a crucial part in most real estate transactions, the insight from a home inspector can heavily influence a buyer’s decision to move forward with the purchase of a home. It’s important that an inspector has the proper training, experience and knowledge to deliver an accurate assessment of the property they’re evaluating. Someone with a solid background in construction related work often makes the ideal home inspector. They need to have a same general knowledge as those working in multiple trades, including: a deck builder, electrician, framer, HVAC technician, landscaper, mason, plumber, roofer and more.

Most home inspectors work for themselves once they’ve built up a clientele base and start getting steady appointments. However, some prefer to work for a company that handles most of the scheduling, billing and customer service. The really good ones typically stay booked up with appointments… Sometimes up to a week out. Unless you’ve got a longer than normal due diligence period, you’d better reach out to them ASAP once you’ve gone under contract. If you go to book an inspection and the inspector’s schedule is wide open, you may want to reconsider your choice.

No matter who you choose to do your inspection, be sure to read through their inspection agreement and scope of work before committing to hire them. You may also want to ask them some of the following questions: How many inspections have you completed? What standards of practice do you follow, if any? Do you enter crawlspaces and/or attics to inspect? Do you provide a written (digital) report? When should I get there? How long will it last?

Licensing & Certifications

The licensing, education and certification requirements for home inspectors are different in every state. To search your state’s requirements, visit homeinspector.org and click on the link for your state. Here in Georgia, there’s no real regulation of the trade, so there’s no training or experience required to get started. Basically, anyone can call themselves a home inspector in Georgia! However, the state did pass an Act in 1994 requiring that a scope of work be identified, a visual inspection be completed, and a written report be provided when performing the inspection for a fee.

There are two national trade organizations for home inspectors (ASHI & InterNACHI), each working diligently to build consumer awareness and enhance the level of professionalism in the business. They’ve both implemented their own strict code of ethics and standards of practice for their member communities to follow. These membership-based groups also offer specialized education, certification, and essential resources to help home inspectors grow their business.

There are also smaller organizations operating at the state level; providing their members with additional local resources and opportunities to network with others in the business.

Still Need More Information?

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