Rarely does a home buyer today close escrow without hearing about the need for the all-important home inspection. But what does a home inspection report really disclose and can it keep you from making a bad home-buying decision? Obviously, most home buyers are not experts in matters relating to home construction and its components, and so have difficulty deciphering home inspection reports. Many don't know how to figure out which types of defects are serious or whether their home inspector checked all the essentials. Most of them simply check off the item on their ‘To Do’ list instructing them to get a home inspection and believe they’ve got their bases covered. But a home inspection can only do so much.
Home Inspection Checklist Comparisons
All home inspections are different and can vary dramatically from state to state, as well as across counties and cities. Much depends on the home inspector and which association, if any, to which the home inspector belongs. The information below is based on the standards of practice established by the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI):
Checklist of Items Not Inspected in Most Home Inspections
It’s important to understand that California home inspectors are not licensed, nor are they licensed in many states. However, a home inspector's standard practice typically does not include the following, for which a specific license to inspect and identify is required:
- Radon, Methane, Radiation and Formaldehyde
- Wood-Destroying Organisms
- Mold, Mildew and Fungi
Checklist Items Included in Most General Home Inspections
- Structural Elements: Construction of walls, ceilings, floors, roof and foundation.
- Exterior Evaluation: Wall covering, landscaping, grading, elevation, drainage, driveways, fences, sidewalks, fascia, trim, doors, windows, lights and exterior receptacles.
- Roof and Attic: Framing, ventilation, type of roof construction, flashing and gutters. It does not include a guarantee of roof condition nor a roof certification.
- Plumbing: Identification of pipe materials used for potable, drain, waste and vent pipes. including condition. Toilets, showers, sinks, faucets and traps. It does not include a sewer inspection.
- Systems and Components: Water heaters, furnaces, air conditioning, duct work, chimney, fireplace and sprinklers.
- Electrical: Main panel, circuit breakers, types of wiring, grounding, exhaust fans, receptacles, ceiling fans and light fixtures.
- Appliances: Dishwasher, range and oven, built-in microwaves, garbage disposal and, yes, even smoke detectors.
- Garage: Slab, walls, ceiling, vents, entry, firewall, garage door, openers, lights, receptacles, exterior, windows and roof.
Look for Home Inspection Checklist Items Needing Service
Home inspection reports do not describe the condition of every component if it's in excellent shape, but should note every item that is defective or needing service. The serious problems are:
- Health and safety issues
- Roofs with a short life expectancy
- Furnace / A/C malfunctions
- Foundation deficiencies
- Moisture / drainage issues
Home Inspection Checklist Items Sellers Should Fix
If you have a choice, it is smarter to hire your own contractors and supervise repairs. Before issuing a formal request to repair, remember that the seller has a big incentive to hire the cheapest contractor and to replace appliances with the least expensive brands.
Although home inspectors are reluctant to and, in many cases, refuse to disclose repair costs, call a contractor to determine the scope and expense to fix minor problems yourself. No home is perfect. Every home will have issues on a home inspection. Even new homes.
Knowledge is power—a repair issue that could be a deal breaker for a first-time home buyer and cause the buyer to cancel the contract, will not faze a home buyer versed in home repair. Talk to your agent, family, friends and call a few contractors to discuss which types of defects are minor. Perhaps a simple solution is available such as replacing a $1.99 receptacle, which can resolve many outlet problems.
In the end, in spite of its limitations, it is important to get a solid home inspection. Some buyers feel a home inspection is unnecessary, especially if they are buying new construction—which can be a costly mistake. If a light switch doesn't work or the air conditioner blows out hot air, those are problems you can see and test. The problems that aren't readily identifiable to you such as code violations, a furnace that leaks carbon monoxide or a failing chimney, are the types of defects a home inspector could identify in a new home. Don’t forget, builders' contractors make mistakes, too.