7 Things You Should Know about Home Inspections When Buying a House

Inspector inspecting

Unless you’re a real estate agent, you’ll probably only attend a home inspection a handful of times in your life, so you might be taken by surprise by a few things! While your inspector and agent will most likely explain any of these things to you, knowing about them in advance can help you avoid some panic or potential embarrassment.

Check out these 7 terms and insights that’ll have you looking and feeling like an old pro the next time you’re having a house inspected:

1. Follow the inspector… but not too closely!

Some home inspectors are glad to have you follow them around the house and ask any questions you have while they’re doing their inspection. Others would prefer if you let them do their thing and just go over what they found once they’re done. Before hiring one, ask which way they prefer to do things so you know what to expect on the day of inspection.

But no matter which way they prefer, make sure to give them some space. Nobody likes someone looking over their shoulder and breathing down their neck while they’re trying to do their job.

2. They can only inspect what they can see.

Home inspections are supposed to be a “non-invasive,” visual examination of the home. So don’t expect (or ask) your home inspector to pull up the carpeting to see what’s going on underneath it, or take down a light fixture to check on the wiring. While it may be your future home, it’s still somebody else’s, and a home inspector can’t be doing anything that may damage their house.

3. They’re not judging the decor. (Well at least not officially…)

You might think that the owner or their contractor did a horrible job painting, or installing tiles, but unless it’s a “material defect” that’ll affect the home or put you in danger, your inspector isn’t looking for issues with poor workmanship. They may totally agree with you, but don’t expect them to put down that “the paint color is awful and the walls could use a second coat” in their inspection report, hoping to use it as a bargaining chip with the owner.

4. They can’t predict the future.

Inspectors can only assess the house as of the date of the inspection. They might speculate about things that could happen in the future, but you can’t use that insight to ask the owner to repair or replace something, and you also can’t hold the inspector liable for something that does eventually happen a week, a month, or years after you’ve been living there.

5. They might recommend another inspection…

A home inspector is licensed to do a general, overall home inspection. They may even have experience in some specific trades — like electrical or plumbing, for example — but they might not. Even if they do, they may feel like you need to have someone who specializes in a particular trade come take a closer look at something they think might be an issue.

So it’s quite common for an inspector to recommend getting further inspection on a particular part of the house by a licensed electrical, plumbing, or chimney professional, to name a few. Don’t think that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing a thorough job; they’re doing their job by catching an issue and recommending you get a second, more qualified assessment from another person.

6. Things can sound so much worse than they actually are.

One of the scariest things for many buyers is seeing or hearing the inspector say that something in the house is near, at, or even beyond its “useful life.” You’ll most likely see the term used in regard to a roof, water heater, central air conditioning units, or furnaces. To most people that sounds like the item needs to be replaced ASAP. But that term doesn’t necessarily mean the item needs to even be replaced or repaired. It might… but it could also be functioning just fine, and is just on the older side.

Don’t get too upset right away. Instead, get clear on whether or not it actually needs to be replaced, or if it’s just the inspector making note of the fact that it’s still in good working order, and you just want to budget for future repair or replacement.

7. It’s not meant to be a “laundry list”…

Home inspectors often list every little thing they come across on their inspection report. In many ways this is because they don’t want somebody coming back to them saying they missed something, or failed to mention an issue. So you might look at the report and feel like there are a million things wrong with the house, and use it as a long list of things to ask the owner to repair, replace, or credit you some money.

Doing that is kind of a rookie move, and can actually hurt your cause more than help it. An owner faced with a lot of ridiculous little requests can easily get so turned off that they say no to fixing issues they otherwise would have! Review the report with your inspector and real estate agent, and discuss which items truly need to be addressed given your overall situation. Then come up with a strategy to get what you truly want and need the owner to do.