Home Inspection Tips for First-Time Buyers

What To Expect With a Home Inspection

An inspector talks with a prospective homebuyer.
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Once you’ve found your dream home, you’ll need to address what to do about a professional inspection as you craft an offer to the seller.

A home inspection is a professional review of the property’s condition that can identify issues you may want the seller to address. Inspectors review many aspects of the physical structure, from the foundation to the roof.

For most homebuyers, the cost of getting a professional inspection is worth the peace of mind it brings. Let’s review the benefits of a home inspection, what it covers and doesn’t cover, when it’s required, as well as the associated costs. That way, you can determine whether an inspection is worth it for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Home inspections aren’t always mandatory, but they can help buyers avoid major home repair expenses in the future.
  • You’ll need to arrange and pay for the home inspection, which costs about $300 to $500.
  • A home inspector provides an unbiased, detailed report of the property’s condition.
  • Some lenders require a home inspection before they’ll provide a mortgage.

What Is a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is an examination of your property that is completed by a qualified inspector. Inspectors scrutinize the physical structure of the house and provide you with a detailed report on its condition.

Home inspections can shed light on a range of potential issues, from cracks in the foundation to dead electric sockets. A home inspection is not a “pass” or “fail” test. Instead, it gives you the information you need about the property to make confident decisions during the buying process.

You aren’t required to attend a home inspection, but it can provide a valuable educational opportunity. You’ll be able to see firsthand what the inspector reviews, as well as ask questions during the process.

A home inspection is not the same as an appraisal, which is a professional estimate of the value of the property. If you’re hiring a home inspector, be sure to check reviews and their qualifications.

Why You Need a Home Inspection

A home is a major investment, perhaps the largest investment you’ll make. You’ll want a detailed understanding of the property’s condition so you can anticipate future repair costs and factor them into your buying decision.

A home inspection can alert you to critical issues with the home, such as rotting roof beams or aging HVAC systems, that will need to be addressed.

Some loans, such as FHA, USDA, and VA loans, may require that a home inspection be completed before funds are granted.

If the home inspection report reveals significant issues with the home, you and the seller can negotiate a solution. For example, you may require the seller to make certain repairs.

In a seller’s market, where buyers are competing for homes, you may be tempted to exclude a contingency for a home inspection in your offer.

While you may want your offer to be more attractive to sellers, you should also consider the potential financial impacts of forgoing an inspection. Skipping a home inspection leaves you open to costly repairs that you may not know about just by walking through the home.

Even if you don’t require a home inspection from the seller, you can still have the property professionally inspected so you’ll understand its condition. That way, you can budget for future repairs accordingly.

In most cases, it’s in the buyers best interest to complete a home inspection, whether you include it as a contingency or not. However, in some situations, you might not need a home inspection. For example, if you’re already aware a home is in poor condition and you’re planning on demolishing it, a home inspection wouldn’t be worth the cost.

What Does a Home Inspection Cover?

Home inspection reports can vary from company to company, but they generally check the same major items and systems. A standard home inspection will typically review the condition of these features:

  • Home's heating system
  • Central air conditioning system (temperature permitting)
  • Interior plumbing system
  • Electrical system
  • Roof
  • Attic
  • Visible insulation
  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Floors
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Foundation
  • Basement
  • Structural components

What Isn’t Always Included 

Home inspections aim to cover all aspects of the physical structure of the home, but they’re not necessarily exhaustive.

The inspector can’t investigate parts of the home that they can’t access. For example, they won’t be able to review features behind a locked door, in hazardous conditions, or if a pile of belongings is in the way. In these cases, the inspector will note where they were unable to access.

Standard home inspections also don’t include certain outdoor property reviews or tests for some issues in the home that can affect your health. However, many inspectors will offer these as optional add-on services. They include:

  • Testing for radon, asbestos, formaldehyde, lead paint, and lead plumbing
  • Pool inspections
  • Sewer scope inspections
  • Pre-listing inspections
  • Mold and air testing

How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?

Generally, the cost of a home inspection will run $300 to $500. However, the range can vary based on factors such as location and square footage. As the buyer, you’ll be responsible for hiring and paying for the home inspector.

Additional services will increase the cost of the home inspection, but by how much will depend on the add-ons you choose. Expect to pay about $25-$200 or more for these services. You’ll usually have to request a quote for specific costs of these add-ons.

What Happens If the Inspection Finds Faults?

A home inspector will likely find some faults with the property because no property is perfect. Homes need maintenance, and if the previous homeowner has failed to maintain the home property, a home inspection can shed light on where you’ll need to compensate.

As the buyer, you can address faults found in the home in one of several ways. First, if a home inspection was included as a contingency in your offer to your seller, you can walk away from the purchase agreement.

You can also negotiate with the seller on which fixes they will complete and which issues you’re willing to accept, or you could negotiate with the seller for a discount on the purchase price. Typically, this means deducting the costs of the repair, or a portion of the costs, from the sales price.

You can also simply move forward with the contract with the home as-is. If the seller isn’t obligated to repair the home for you, if you’re facing stiff competition from other buyers, or if the issues are minor, you may choose to accept issues rather than risk negotiating.

Which Fixes Are Optional?

Not all damage to a property needs to be repaired. For example, cosmetic damage doesn’t threaten the overall structural soundness of the home and is often accepted by buyers and their lenders.

Unless a lender requires certain repairs, the responsibility for the property issues found in a home inspection report can be negotiated by buyers and sellers. Other examples of issues that are often optional include burnt-out lightbulbs, peeling paint, and termite damage.

Which Fixes Are Mandatory?

Depending on your loan, some repairs may be mandatory. An FHA loan, for example, has minimum property standards that must be met in order for you to secure funding. Those standards include no damage to the foundation, exterior and roof, and be free of health and safety hazards, among many other requirements.

When the home inspector finds issues with the property that fall below minimum standards, either you or the seller must fix these before the FHA loan can close. Other lenders may have similar terms that dictate which repairs will be mandatory.

The Bottom Line

Although a home inspection isn’t always required when purchasing a property, it’s in the buyer’s best interest to have one. A qualified home inspector provides an objective evaluation on the home's condition with a detailed list of any issues they find.

In seller’s markets, you may be tempted to waive this contingency in your offer. But a home inspection can give you a better picture of the condition of the property and reveal hidden costs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does a home inspection take?

The average onsite inspection takes two to three hours. The length of time an inspection takes will depend on the size of the house and property as well as whether you’ve requested additional inspections outside the standard inspection, such as a pool inspection.

Who verifies repairs after a home inspection?

Once your inspector has identified issues with the home and you have had them addressed, you can hire the same inspector to verify the repairs were completed properly.  The inspector may offer a discounted second inspection within a certain time frame.

How do you know when to walk away from a purchase after the home inspection?

If you’ve included a home inspection as a contingency in your offer, you may walk away from the purchase agreement if it doesn’t meet your standards. Buyers can walk away when they believe the repairs needed will be too costly. You’ll have to weigh the estimated cost of required repairs for your home against what you are willing to spend.

Article Sources

  1. American Society of Home Inspectors. “FAQs About Home Inspection.”

  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Ten Important Questions To Ask Your Home Inspector.”

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). "Chapter 12: Property And Appraisal Requirements," Page Six.

  4. The Office of the Minnesota Attorney General. “The Perfect Place - Home Buyer's Handbook.”

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Schedule a Home Inspection.”