For many first-time buyers, buying a home can be a scary experience. They know they'll be maintaining or improving a home with little to no maintenance experience, so the solution is to buy a home in perfect condition. So they hire a home inspector to point out all the flaws.
The problem is -- no perfect home exists. Air conditioners break, plumbing pipes leak, and roof tiles blow off in the wind.
If you're buying a home, start with a reasonable expectation of what home inspectors can do. Their job is to inform you about the integrity and condition of what you're buying, good and bad.
A home inspection should take several hours, long enough to cover all built-in appliances, all mechanical, electrical, gas and plumbing systems, the roof, foundation, gutters, exterior skins, windows and doors.
An inspector doesn't test for pests or sample the septic tank. For those, you need industry-specific inspectors.
Here's what else you need to do.
1. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed. The responsibilities of home inspectors vary according to state law and their areas of expertise.
2. Ask what the inspection covers. Some inspection companies have extensive divisions that can provide environmental for radon and lead paint. Be prepared to hire and schedule several inspectors according to your lender's requirements and to pay several hundred dollars for each type of inspection.
3. Some inspection reports only cover the main house, not other buildings on the property. For specialty inspections such as termites, make sure the inspection covers all buildings on the property including guest houses, detached garages, storage buildings, etc.
4. Attend the inspection and follow along with the inspectors. Seeing problems for yourself will help you understand what's serious, what needs replacement now or later, and what's not important.
5. Don't expect the seller to repair or replace every negative found on the report. If you're getting a VA or FHA-guaranteed loan, some items aren't negotiable. The seller must address them, but otherwise, pick your battles with the seller carefully.
A home inspection points out problems, they also point out what's working well. It can help you make your final decision about the home - to ask the seller to make repairs or to offer a little less, to buy as is or not to buy at all.