Home Inspection Tips for Purchasing Your First Home

Buying your first home is a life-changing experience. After all, you’ve likely fallen in love with the house, and it may be your biggest purchase ever.

That’s why a thorough home inspection is a must before you seal the deal. To help avoid pricey pitfalls and make a more informed investment decision, consider these tips for avoiding five common home inspection errors.

Error No. 1: Skipping a Professional Inspection

“Up to code” doesn’t necessarily mean up to snuff. After you make an offer on home and before you close, hire a professional home inspector to perform an inspection, and provide an inspection report to you in enough time for you to review it and ask questions and/or make requests from the seller. If you are purchasing a newly built home, the inspector may be able to help you determine whether your builder cut corners or masked poor construction. If you are purchasing an older home, the inspector may be able to help you identify which of the home’s systems, materials and other equipment will need extensive work and/or replacement in the near future.

Consider including an inspection clause in your sales contract so that your final purchase is contingent on the inspector’s findings. Many lenders will require an inspection before approving financing.

Error No. 2: Accepting Any Form of Credentials for a Home Inspector

You need an impartial, accredited, and experienced inspector to help you assess whether your home is safe and also a reasonable investment for you (i.e., will you incur significant additional expense preparing the house for your occupancy?). Don’t necessarily rely on your real estate agent’s recommendation for an inspector — he or she may have a vested interest in the sale going through.

Consider someone who is a residential specialist and licensed member of the National Association of Home Inspectors or the American Society of Home Inspectors, which are both recognized non-profit trade groups. Be cautious if an inspector holds different certifications, as some groups bestow credentials for no more than a fee.

Ask a potential inspector for customer referrals and samples of reports so you can see whether the inspector performs an exam that is detailed enough for your purposes. Find out how long the expert takes to provide a full report. Typically it should arrive within 24 hours of the inspection, which is important because you want enough time to address any concerns raised in the report with the seller.

Error No. 3: Moving too Quickly After the Home Inspection

Just as your annual physical takes longer as you get older, so does that of your dwelling. The older the home, the more vital and lengthy the exam may be.

Be suspicious of inspectors who claim they’ll complete their exam of a typical single-family home in fewer than two hours or charge less than the market rate in your area.

Don’t close on your house until you’ve studied the report and addressed any and all concerns that you have.

Error No. 4: Not Attending the Home Inspection

Consider it a red flag if the inspector refuses to allow you to attend the home inspection. By joining him or her, you’ll gain insight into the condition of the systems, materials, and equipment in your prospective home, ensure that the inspector walks the entire property and provides answers to your questions about repairs that may be in your future.

Keep tabs with a detailed list of potential problems at hot spots. (Consider bringing this list with you should you home-shop again, so you’ll be even wiser next time.)

Armed with a flashlight, binoculars, measuring tape, ladder, hand square, protractor (to measure angles) and any other appropriate tools, your home inspector should check exhaust fans, plumbing, visible wiring, electrical outlets, kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, attic insulation, steps, caulking, fireplace flues, and crawl spaces among other things. He or she may be able to uncover potential mold, fire risks, foundation problems, rotted or termite-damaged wood, and more.

Error No. 5: Failing to Ask Questions of Your Home Inspector

Continue a dialog with your home inspector. No house is perfect, but the professional should have perspective on which defects are of greatest concern. He or she also can tell you the average life of a roof, furnace or cooling system, which can help you predict future expenses.

Follow up further with additional professionals on problems such as mold, foundation, asbestos, radon gas, and lead paint exams if the inspector points these issues out as potential concerns. If repairs are needed, gather multiple bids before closing and review them with your home inspector.

At this point, consider him or her a valuable resource — and someone whose report may justify a reduction in the purchase price or even the cancellation of the purchase contract if sufficient problems exist. Inspectors have no vested interest in the sale; they’re there to deliver the truth with a seasoned, savvy perspective. And that’s invaluable as you make the most exciting purchase of your life.

To read more from our Moving Guide, checkout our Home Inspection Checklist, read What to Expect When Purchasing a Home, and review our Checklist for Closing vs. Prepaid Costs before you get the keys to your new home.