Buyers: What to Expect from a Home Inspection

It’s important to work with the right person for your home and needs.

From finding the right realtor to negotiating an offer price, home buying can be extremely stressful at times and a daunting undertaking. And once you've found your dream home, it can be nail-biting to think about the problems that may surface from a home inspection.

To eliminate some of that unnecessary stress, it's important to do your research and find a company that's reliable, thorough and has a good reputation. Joshua Westlund, president and founder of Westlund Inspection Team and chairperson of the Great Lakes Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors, says that there are several different routes a buyer can go depending on the what they'd like the inspection to encompass.

"A thorough inspection takes more time and costs more. It also finds more problems. Sellers often get mad at us because we found a $2,000 problem that their inspector did not find years ago when they originally bought the house," says Westlund. "I always point out that they’re lucky that fire hazard didn’t actually cause a fire. But if they had hired an experienced inspector, they would have found it. Most inspectors ‘inspect’ the same things but that doesn’t mean they’ll find the same defects."

A typical home inspection report should be extensive, detailed and delivered at latest one week after the inspection. Out of many items on the checklist, buyers should expect to see feedback on key components like the structural integrity of the home, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, electrical issues, ventilation, fireplaces and more.

Many buyers assume that home inspections are required by law, but they're actually optional. When purchasing a condo, fix-ups and maintenance can be covered by a condo association, but it still may be a good idea to do a basic home inspection. The American Society of Home Inspectors is also a good resource when looking for a company because they have a large database of home inspectors throughout the country. But it’s important to pay attention to your inspector’s professional experience—Westlund says that inspectors typically only need about 60 hours of classroom training to get certified and that this minimal training and experience can lead to a severe lack of attention to detail.

"In my experience, most inspectors simply don’t know what they’re doing. And that means they don’t find serious problems. They miss water intrusion issues, fire hazards and safety issues. They miss expensive problems with major systems like roofs, electrical and plumbing," says Westlund.

There are many checklist items that buyers think would be covered in an inspection but are not since industry guidelines are quite minimal. For example, inspectors are not required to walk on roofs or check all windows and outlets in the house; they must only check one window and one outlet in each room. Customers also often assume that a home inspection includes a guarantee that used appliances such as a stove, refrigerator or cooling and heating systems like air conditioners and water heaters will last for several years. However, that's not the case. There's no way to determine when exactly they will fail, but Westlund says that a good home inspector can provide input on certain systems and when they may need to be repaired or replaced.

Common problems that the Westlund Inspection Team has found in homes in the Chicago area include improperly installed ventilation systems that can pose a fire hazard or drainage problems that can lead to water damage in the basement. In addition, a home that was built before 1970 may need its plumbing and electrical wiring replaced soon. More so, buyers should always order a radon test and only invest in mold testing if there are signs of mold in the home. For lead paint, which is prevalent in older Chicago area homes, Westlund says that it's best to hire a specialist as most inspectors don't have the equipment necessary to conduct a thorough inspection.

Working with the right home inspector has the potential to save you thousands or dollars down the line. That’s why it’s important to do your research, come up with a list of questions ahead of time and don't be afraid to accompany the inspector around the home during your next inspection.