Home inspection checklist: What to expect on inspection day

Peter Warden
The Mortgage Reports contributor

In this article:

Here’s what to expect during a home inspection:

  • A home inspector will look at a house’s HVAC system, interior plumbing and electrical systems, roof, attic, floors. windows and doors, foundation, basement and structural components. The inspector will provide a written report with the inspection results.
  • A home inspection generally takes two to four hours, but may take more time depending on the size of the house.
  • By attending the inspection, you’ll have a chance to explore your new home further and ask your inspector questions as you go. This process can be much more informative than the report on its own, and it can give you some perspective on how major or minor each issue is.

Don’t be concerned with the quantity of defects listed on your report — many will be so minor you won’t bother fixing them. Instead, pay attention to the seriousness of the home’s issues. Some can be deal-breakers. Talk to your home inspector and real estate agent about your best ways forward.

No home is perfect

A home inspection checklist can be a valuable tool when you’re selling a property. If you know what an inspector’s going to be looking for, you can sort out minor issues in advance.

Of course, nobody’s expecting perfection. Blemish-free reports are rarer that Trump/Obama sleepovers. And it may be that you’ve already negotiated over some known issues and they’ve been reflected in the price.

However, cherry-picking small problems that are quick, easy and inexpensive to fix can drastically reduce the list of defects a report shows up. And the shorter that list, the better the chances of your sale closing without quibbles.

Verify your new rate (Jan 18th, 2019)

Home inspection checklist: the components

The Mortgage Reports recently published the American Society of Home Inspectors’ (ASHI) list of items that should be inspected:

  1. Heating system
  2. Central air conditioning system (temperature permitting)
  3. Interior plumbing and electrical systems
  4. Roof
  5. Attic, including visible insulation
  6. Walls
  7. Ceilings
  8. Floors
  9. Windows and doors
  10. Foundation,
  11. Basement
  12. Structural components

Clearly, the inspector isn’t going to tear your home apart to see every inch of piping in your plumbing and cable in your wiring. But the more things she can look at, the cleaner the bill of health she can provide for your home.

Related: What to look for in a home inspection: Recognizing the deal-breakers

Sellers can help

This means it’s in your interests as a seller to provide quick and easy access to all the things on that home inspection checklist. Here are some ways you can help:

  1. If you lock things up (including your electrical panel), label keys clearly and leave them where they’ll quickly be found
  2. Make sure all pilot lights are on, even in summer — so the inspector can check heating and other appliances
  3. Tidy your basement — There needs to be an unobstructed path down the steps and through to your furnace/HVAC unit/water heater and anything else that needs inspecting
  4. Tidy your attic same as your basement
  5. Clean up key areas in your yard so the inspector won’t need a machete to get to your crawl space, drainage access points or septic tank
  6. If the home is vacant and the utilities have been shut off, have them reconnected

In theory, being helpful won’t buy you a better report. In practice, even professionals appreciate thoughtfulness.

How to get a better report

Inspectors are people, too. And, just like everyone else, they associate a clean, sweet-smelling home with owners who care about — and for — their property. It will do you no harm if the inspection starts off from that perspective.

Chances are, you recently prepared your home for showing and it’s already in close-to-perfect condition. But look around for new defects. If a tile’s slipped from the roof or a pane of glass has cracked, get them fixed in advance. Similarly, if your furnace or HVAC is temperamental or is overdue for maintenance, get it professionally serviced.

Related: Should I bail after a really bad home inspection?

Obviously, this is not the time to carry out expensive or extensive works. But you might as well go for any quick wins that are available. After all, your buyer’s likely to try to leverage any black marks in the inspection report to get you to reduce the agreed price. Who knows? You might even save a few bucks.

Who pays for a home inspection?

The buyer usually pays for the home inspection. However, on making an offer, some insist the seller pays. So that’s an item for negotiation.

Sometimes, sellers commission a home inspection before they first offer the home. That can reassure potential purchasers. And it can provide the owner with a chance to fix issues ahead of the marketing of the property.

However, not all buyers are willing to accept a report paid for by the seller. In fact, experts recommend that buyers choose their own inspector, someone without ties to either the seller or the selling agent.

Related: Making an offer on a home without seeing it first

How much is a home inspection?

HomeAdvisor regularly publishes nationwide average costs for home inspections. It reckons that, in 2018, those range from $277-$388, though you may pay below $200 or well over $400, depending on where you live and how big the home is.

As with most things in life, the cheapest isn’t always the best. Especially if your state doesn’t license home inspectors, make sure yours is sufficiently qualified and experienced to do a good job — and doesn’t cut corners. Choosing an ASHI member may add some reassurance about your pick’s competence and ethical standards.

Might there be follow-up costs?

Careful buyers — or ones alerted to potential problems by the inspector — may want to commission further reports from specialists concerning the possible presence of:

  • Radon
  • Termites
  • Asbestos
  • Lead piping or paint
  • Mold

Lead and asbestos were commonly used in the construction of older homes but are banned from those recently built. Some buyers also require a check on sewage pipes, using a camera service.

How long does a home inspection take?

The duration of an inspection varies hugely, mostly depending on four factors:

  1. How big the home is
  2. How many defects it has
  3. The thoroughness of the inspector
  4. The helpfulness of the owner when preparing for the inspection

Having said that, expect somewhere between two and four hours unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Should buyers or sellers attend an inspection?

Why not? Ask your inspector if she’d mind your coming along. Few object.

You’ll have a chance to explore your new home further and ask your inspector questions as you go. It can be much more informative than the report on its own. And it can give you some perspective on how major or minor each issue is.

My report lists dozens of defects! What should I do?

Most reports list dozens of defects. Some run into three figures. That’s because there’s no such thing as a perfect home.

What should concern you is not the quantity but the seriousness of the home’s issues. Many will be so minor you won’t bother fixing them, even though you know they’re there. The last owner didn’t.

But some can be deal-breakers. Talk to your home inspector and real estate agent about your best ways forward.

Verify your new rate (Jan 18th, 2019)