Find Out What Home Inspectors Look For

Illustration of home inspector at work

The Balance / Dingding Hu 

Homebuyers typically hire professional home inspectors to identify any problems with a new house before closing. As a seller, assessing the condition of your home and making necessary repairs before putting your house on the market can boost your home's value and prevent delays in the closing process. Such repairs often are necessary to make your home appealing to would-be buyers. Focus on the hot spots that concern buyers the most when they review their home inspection reports.

Basements and Crawlspaces

Mildew stains and odors scare buyers, especially if there is evidence of black mold. You likely won't get an acceptable offer if mold and mildew are present. Even if the mold in your house is not dangerous, treat it and address the source of the problem.

If it comes up in a home inspection, a buyer might demand professional mold remediation, and that can cost thousands of dollars.

Mildew odors signal that a basement is too moist. Buyers and home inspectors look closely at the walls and floors for patches of mildew and signs of dampness. Inspectors might use a meter to determine how much moisture is present in these spaces because moisture deteriorates building materials and attracts insects. Cover exposed earth in basements and crawl spaces with plastic to help reduce moisture levels. Most foundation leaks are a result of poor drainage that funnels water toward the foundation. To address this issue:

  • Make sure gutters are clean so rainwater flows toward downspouts instead of spilling over gutter sides along the foundation.
  • Point drainage downspouts away from the house.
  • Check water flow through buried drainage lines by flooding them with water from a hose. If water comes back toward you, the line is plugged and should be cleared.

If foundation problems do exist and you cannot make repairs, you might need to lower the price of the house upfront with the understanding that the price reflects the problem. Another option is to give the buyers an allowance to make repairs after closing.

Roof and Chimneys

Deteriorated shingles or other roof coverings are one of the first things home buyers and home inspectors notice. Moist or rotted elements beneath the shingles are likely to draw requests for repairs.

Some states require a separate roof inspection. Make sure that flashing around the base of the chimney is watertight and that mortar and bricks are in good condition. Inspect the fireplace to make sure it is functioning properly.

Plumbing

Fix leaks long before a home inspection takes place. Inspectors check water pressure by turning on multiple faucets, flushing toilets, and running the dishwasher at the same time. Inspectors also assess the health of the septic system.

Plumbing problems are important to address quickly because they can lead to water damage that exacerbates a home's loss of value.

Electrical Systems

Your electrical panel and circuit breaker configuration should be adequate for the needs of your house. Depending on the code, these systems change over the years, especially with older homes. It's a good idea to review current codes before putting your house on the market and see if there might be any issues.

Inspectors will look for receptacles with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFI) in bathrooms and kitchens. These receptacles contain mini-circuit breakers that click off during a short circuit or overload. Inspectors ensure the receptacles are what they appear to be and not dummies that aren't wired correctly. They will test a portion of the remaining receptacles in the house.

Other Important Areas to Check

Home inspections will be thorough and cover all parts of a house. While basements, roofs, plumbing, and wiring are primary areas for concern, they are not the only areas worth attention.

Inspectors will check heating and cooling systems, making sure they work and commenting on their efficiency. They will take a close look at the structure and foundation. Appliances that remain with the house, including smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, also are expected to be in good working order.

Before the Home Inspection

Do everything you can to get the house in good condition before you attempt to sell it, but don't be discouraged if the inspection report contains a few negative statements. Home inspectors make a note of everything they see, and all homes have defects to some extent.

Remember that the home inspection report is not a wish-list for buyers. Read your contract carefully; it dictates which systems should be in good working order at closing.

If the roof is older but doesn't leak, it's in good working condition. The same is true for older appliances.

Your contract also may state that you are under no obligation to make any repairs at all, although the buyers can then likely withdraw from the contract. Don't feel you must comply with unreasonable demands for repairs.