A home inspection is the most important thing you can do during a real estate transaction to protect yourself and your investment. If you have never seen the 1980’s movie The Money Pit, staring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, do not watch it while going through the home buyer process, trust me!
An experienced realtor will have a list of home inspectors from which to choose and will be able to recommend those they prefer and explain why. For instance, my favorite home inspector in town has been doing home inspections for nearly 10 years and his background is engineering and general contractor. Because of his background, he is very detail oriented and is able to give a rough estimate of what something may cost to fix. There is nothing worse than a home inspector causing worry, only to find out that the fix for the problem costs $5 and takes 5 minutes. Once you have the recommended names of Home Inspectors, search the web for reviews and bios. A good inspector will likely have an online presence. Feel free to call them with any questions you may have prior to the inspection. I have had clients interview multiple home inspectors beforehand, just to make sure they felt comfortable with the one they chose. This is a good idea, although not necessary.
Your realtor should also advise you as to what different inspections you will need. You should expect to pay between $250 and $850 for all inspections depending on what items need to be inspected and the size of the house. Here are the tests you would need in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.
Whole House Inspection: A whole house inspection should be performed on all homes, both existing homes and NEW CONSTRUCTION. A whole house inspection will include the inspector doing a visual inspection of every surface of the house, both interior and exterior. For example, he will walk the roof, go into the attic and crawl space, inspect the structure and check all systems, plumbing, electrical, windows, etc. The home inspection to take between 2 1/2 to 5 hours depending on if there are additional inspections he must administer and the size of the home. I always recommend a whole house inspection.
Wood Destroying Insects: This test is pretty standard now with most whole house inspections, however, be sure your inspector includes this. Here in Indiana we do have termites, they are nasty, and you want to make sure they aren’t in your house, foundation or garage.
Well Water Test and Septic Inspection: A well water test and septic inspection could cost over $100 each, but are well worth it (pun intended). Just be prepared for that added cost if the house is on well and septic. Some inspectors do not do septic testing, so you may have to hire a septic company to inspect. If the house is on city water and sewer you do not need a water test and septic inspection.
Radon Test: Radon is radioactive gas that is naturally emitted from the earth. It is only a problem if the house has high levels, above 4pCi/L. The inspection cost is around $125, and if radon is detected a radon mitigation unit (essentially a ventilation system) is installed by a professional radon specialist for around $900. Since Radon is a carcinogen, this is an important test. The general school of thought is that a Radon test only needs to be administered if the house is on a basement, however, some people feel a radon test is important even if the house is on a slab. To those with concerns, I recommend you speak to your inspector about that.
Lead Based Paint Testing: Most paint made before 1978 has traces of lead. If the house has been painted since then and the lead based paint is encapsulated (not chipping), it should be fine. It is only worth getting a lead-based paint test if you are going to do home renovations that would include tearing down walls that may contain lead based paint or if you see chipping paint. A home in good condition should not need lead-based paint testing. If you want to get this test, only a surface test will be permitted by the seller, because a chip test will do damage to the house. If you are REALLY concerned about lead based paint, I recommend you steer clear of homes built before 1978.
Pool: You must hire a pool company to administer a pool inspection. A traditional home inspector will not inspect a pool.
Fireplace: A home inspector will give a fireplace a visual inspection. He will not light a wood fire, nor will he stick his head up the chimney to see if it needs to be cleaned. If it is gas he will attempt to turn it on, but if it doesn’t he will recommend you hire an expert. Most buyers hire a fireplace company after closing.
A home inspection can protect you from buying a home that has structural defects and safety hazards. If defects and hazards are found, the buyer may ask the seller to correct these problems. If the seller is unwilling or unable to make the corrections needed to make the buyer feel safe and secure with their purchase, then the buyer can walk away from the transaction, losing only the money they invested in the home inspection.
What a home inspection cannot protect you from is things breaking after closing. Unfortunately, things are going to break, that is homeownership folks. What a home inspection does is protects you from structural hazards and safety defects. They are not 100% perfect but done by a professional, they could save you a lot of time, money, and headaches.
If you are concerned about things breaking or going wrong after closing, consider asking the seller to purchase you a home warranty. Home Warranties range in price from $400-700, depending on what they cover and the size of the home. If the seller declines buying you a home warranty, you can always purchase a home warranty on your own. There are arguments both for and against home warranties, but that’s for another blog post…