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What to Ask a Home Inspector Before, During and After a Home Inspection

Home Inspector

When you buy a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it’s in decent shape. But if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you also should be sure and ask your inspector plenty of questions.

But take note: When you ask the home inspector questions is as important as what you ask. To ensure you get the most out of your home inspection, here’s a timeline of questions to address before the inspection even begins, during the actual home inspection and once it’s been completed.

What do you check?

Many people don’t know exactly what a home inspector is going to do. The answer is the home inspector will look for 1,600 features on a home, to be exact, from the roof to the foundation and everything in-between. Going into the inspection with a clear understanding of what the inspector can and can’t do will ensure that you walk away from the inspection happy.

What don’t you check?

There are limits. For instance, home inspectors are restricted to a visual inspection. That means they can’t cut a hole in somebody’s wall. As a result, an inspector often will flag potential problems in the report, and you will have to get another expert (such as a roofer, HVAC person, builder, electrician or plumber) to come back and do a more detailed examination.

What do you charge for a home inspection?

A home inspection ranges from $300 to $600, although it will depend on the market, size of the house, and actual inspector. You usually will pay the inspector the day of the inspection, so you’ll want to know in advance how much and what forms of payment are accepted. Be wary of going with an inspector who quotes a very low price, as that can be a sign that they’re having trouble getting customers. Spending money on a good inspector will more than pay for itself in the long run.

How long have you been doing this?

Or perhaps more importantly, how many inspections have you done? A newer inspector doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality, but the experience can mean a lot—especially if you’re considering an older home or something with unusual features.

Can I come along during the inspection?

The answer to this definitely should be yes. Any good inspector will want prospective owners to be present at the inspection. Seeing somebody explain your house’s systems and how they work always will be more valuable than reading a report, and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications in the moment. If an inspector requests that you not join him or her, walk away.

How long will the inspection take?

Inspections often take place during the workweek, when the seller is less likely to be around. Knowing how much time you’ll need to block out will keep you from having to rush through the inspection. You’ll get only a ballpark figure, because much will depend on the condition of the house. But if you are quoted something that seems way off—such as a half-day for a two-bedroom condo, or just an hour for a large, historic house—that could be a red flag that the inspector doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Is it possible to see a sample report?

If you’re buying your first home, it can be helpful to see someone else’s report before you see your own. Every house has problems, usually lots of them, but most generally aren’t that big of a deal. A sample report will keep you from panicking when you see your own report, and it will give you a sense of how your inspector communicates. It’s another chance to ensure that you and your inspector are on the same page.

What should I ask a home inspector during a home inspection?

• What does that mean? During the inspection, your home inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem. He’ll point out things to you that aren’t as they should be, or may need repairs.

Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what the home inspector is telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters. For example, if the inspector says something like, “Looks like you have some rotten boards here,” it’s smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house, including how difficult it is to repair and how much it will cost.

Is this a big deal or a minor issue? It’s normal to panic if an inspector tells you the house you’re considering buying has a foundation problem, a roof or water heater in need of repair, or electrical, heating systems or an HVAC system that isn’t up to code. Don’t freak out—just ask the inspector whether they think the issue is a big deal.

You’ll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they’re not deal breakers, even if the fixes or repairs sound major. And if it is major? Well, that’s why you’re having the home inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.

• What’s that water spot on the ceiling, and does it need a repair? Don’t be shy about asking questions and pointing out things that look off to you during the home inspection and checking if they’re OK, real estate–wise. Odds are, if there’s something strange, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there’s a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it’s an issue.

Ideally, your inspector will ask you if there’s anything you’re specifically concerned about before beginning the inspection. Make sure to tell him if this is your first real estate purchase, or if you’re worried about the house’s age or anything at all that strikes you, the buyer, as a possible negative.

• I’ve never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement; how do I maintain this thing? Flaws aside, a home inspection is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house. Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have an inspection question, ask it.

• What are your biggest concerns about the property? At the end of the inspection, the inspector should provide you with a summary of what he found. You’ll get a written report later, but this is the ideal time to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house’s biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation. It often is a good idea to call in another home inspection expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged. You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert. In some states, there’s a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running.

Questions to ask a home inspector after the inspection is done

• I don’t understand [such and such], can you clarify? A day or two after the inspection, you should receive the inspector’s report. It will be a detailed list of every flaw in the house, often along with pictures of some of the problem areas and more elaboration. Hopefully, you also attended the actual inspection and could ask questions then; if so, the report should contain no surprises.

It should include what you talked about at the inspection, with pictures and perhaps a bit more detail. If there’s anything major you don’t remember from the inspection in the report, don’t be afraid to ask about it.

• Is there any problem in this house that concerns you, and about how much would it cost to fix? Keep in mind that most problems in likely will be minor rather than deal breakers. Still, you’ll want your home inspector to point out any doozies. So, ask if there are any problems serious enough to keep you from moving forward with the house.

• Should I call in another expert for a follow-up inspection? Expect to have to call in other experts at this point to look over major issues and assign a dollar figure to fix them. If your inspector flags your electrical box as suspect, for example, you may need to have an electrician come to take a look and tell you what exactly is wrong and what the cost would be to repair it.

The same goes for any apparent problems with the heating or air-conditioning, roof or foundation. An HVAC repair person, roofer, or engineer will need to examine your house and provide a bid to repair the problem. Why is this so important? This bid is what your real estate agent will take to the seller if you decide to ask for a concession instead of having the seller do the fix for you.