Home Inspection Facts
Most buyers know that it is recommended that they get a home inspection done when purchasing a property. They also know the inspection is their cost, not the sellers'. Beyond that knowledge, many buyers don't really understand the inspection process and the purchase contract meaning of an inspection.
Timing Of the Inspection
Every real estate purchase contract will have a timing factor involved with getting an inspection done. In the Chicago suburb area, a buyer has 5 business days to get the inspection completed and supply the seller with any requests brought up by the inspection. Most foreclosures give up to 10 days. Keep in mind, if the deal is going to fall apart because of an inspection, the seller does not want to keep their property off the market for any length of time. During this process, the property is actually off the market for further showings.
How to Choose a Home Inspector
Beware of an agent that only gives you one inspection company to call. I always give 3 different licensed inspectors to my buyers so they can make the choice. They can use any one of the inspectors I give them or use their own. Some buyers have received referrals from friends or family who used an inspector that they liked. This choice is entirely up to you, the buyer. As mentioned, it is also your expense, not the sellers. You may only use a certified inspector, not just a knowledgeable friend or family member, although you might want them present during the inspection.
Attending The Inspection
You will need to work fast to set the inspection appointment within the contract time frame. You will need to clear your schedule to attend the inspection. I believe your real estate agent should accompany you during the inspection but not all agents agree on this. Sellers should accommodate an inspection request because they are aware you are working with a service company that needs to set a specific appointment.
A good inspector should be able to complete the inspection within a reasonable time frame, depending on the size of the property. Although we can't force the sellers to be out of their home during an inspection, most agents convince them that they shouldn't be there.
What the Inspector Does
The inspector usually starts on the exterior of the property, checking for problems such as the need for tuckpointing or siding repair, windows and trim, gutters, roof, chimney and any visible foundation problems. Of course, any stairways, decks and exterior porches will be checked. A good inspector will bring a ladder to get up on the roof as long as the weather isn't bad.
On the inside, the inspector will check windows, storms and screens. Electrical outlets and switches will be checked to make sure they are all working. A visual inspection will be made of ceilings, walls, and foundations for any cracks. Visual plumbing/pipes will be checked for leaks and corrosion.
Major mechanical items will be checked such as the furnace, air conditioning units, hot water heater and electrical box. Depending on the season, the furnace or central air conditioning will only have a visual inspection done as you can't turn on the furnace on a 90-degree day, nor can you test the central A/C on cold days, or it could break the system. The electrical box will be inspected by removing the entire front panel. The seller should be aware of this.
Many inspectors will run water throughout the home to check for water pressure, leaks and to test the hot water heater. I've seen some inspectors leave the water running for a very long time which has angered some sellers. Again, I feel there is a line between making a good inspection without causing too much grief for the buyers or sellers. Every inspector is different.
If there are appliances included in the purchase the inspector will test each of these appliances out by at least turning them on (such as a stove) and running them (dishwasher, clothes washer) for at least a short time period, just to make sure they function.
Inspectors will also climb into attics to view the interior of the roof and the surrounding wood structure and they'll crawl into crawl spaces as long as they can fit. However, an inspector cannot create access to something that is not readily available. They cannot cause any damage to the property they're inspecting so they can only inspect visible items.
An inspector should not simply scare a buyer. They should point out normal wear and tear items and I've seen good inspectors explain normal maintenance for many things. Good inspectors know that if an item is in working condition and does not cause a health hazard that the item is deemed to be acceptable, no matter what the age.
When the inspection is finished, some inspectors will give you a report right then and there. You will make your payment to the inspector. Some companies provide the written report later via e-mail and give you a summary page.
What To Do Next
You need to understand the contract meaning of an inspection and the purpose of it. If this is not a new construction property, then many items have gone through normal wear and tear and you cannot expect the property to be brought to like-new condition.
In order to request that an item is to be repaired or replaced, that item must be a major mechanical item as described in the contract and must be broken or be deemed a health hazard. Age is not a factor as long as the item is still functioning.
If the inspector told you the furnace was old that does not mean you can request a new one to be installed. Only if that furnace does not work or is working but is a potential health hazard can you make your request. The same goes for the roof or any other major item on the property.
You will need to find out if your agent will handle any inspection requests or you can deal with your attorney directly. You will need to be very specific with your repair request and will need to provide a copy of the page(s) and/or summary of the repair report on the items you want fixed. We take care of all of this for you and will contact your attorney with your requests.
This will need to be done within the time frame on the contract. If you wait too long the sellers do not have to comply and you will be in default if you back out of the contract and could lose your earnest money.
The Real Reason For a Home Inspection
Many buyers and agents do not follow the true meaning of the inspection portion of the purchase contract. An inspection is truly so a buyer is not hit with a catastrophic financial problem soon after they close on the property. No buyer should purchase a home and expect to have to put a new roof on it the first year they move in (or replace a furnace, etc.).
That is the true reason for an inspection; to prevent a large expenditure of money in repairs when you first move into your new home. It is not to allow a buyer to demand new appliances or a new roof or furnace just because what is currently present is old. Yet many deals are broken because of this fact.
I have seen buyers (especially first timers) panic during an inspection, even if nothing really needs to be repaired or replaced. It is usually because the inspector is a "panic" inducing inspector that scares instead of teaches. I have seen some buyers walk away from a home because of a bad inspection and then not even use an inspector for their next property. They just think that an inspector will also scare them away from this one, too, so they don't want to take that chance.
That is too bad. Even though the first property didn't actually need any major repairs, maybe the second property did. But because the buyers chose not to use an inspector again they won't know until the faulty item needs to be replaced, possibly soon after they move in. And there's not much they can do since they made the decision not to use an inspector for this purchase.
Your agent should explain to you that other inspections, such as lead-based paint and radon are separate, additional inspections that can be made at an additional cost to you. Many inspection companies provide a normal home inspection plus offer other inspections with additional fees.
Sometimes an inspector will question a certain mechanical item to the point that they suggest a special certification is needed. There are inspectors trained to certify roofs, furnaces, etc. This is a more thorough inspection of the particular item that the regular inspector finds questionable but is unsure of. A certification is usually paid by the seller although that is still a negotiable item and the buyer can certainly pay for it if a seller balks. However, sellers usually pay for a certification of a particular item.
Inspections On Condos
Some buyers do not use inspectors for a condo purchase and some do. An inspector can make a visual exterior inspection but will usually not climb the roof of a condo. Remember, most condominium complexes take care of exterior maintenance out of your monthly fees and the reserve they have built, or will charge an additional assessment down the road for certain large expenditures.
An inspector can also inspect any mechanical items as long as they can view the item. In the matter of a shared water heater, furnace, etc., the inspector can only inspect the item(s) if there is easy access. You normally cannot require a locked maintenance door to be opened for such an inspection unless there is an on-site manager that will opt to be present and do this for the buyer. Most of a condo inspection will be done in the interior of the unit being purchased.
Home Inspection Summary
An inspection is more of an assurance to the buyer that they will not be facing a huge expenditure shortly after purchasing a property. It is not to simply get new items or to have cosmetic features changed.
Sellers do not have to accommodate the buyer's request and it is then up to the buyer whether to continue with the contract or find another home. The inspector can actually make or break a purchase depending on how they handle things.
An inspector can only inspect visible items. They can't always tell if a basement is still leaking just because there are visible water signs, which may be many years old. There is a disclaimer on every inspector's contract explaining exactly what the consequences are if an item they said was acceptable turns out to be faulty and should explain the inspector's liability.
A real estate agent is not an inspector and should not give you advice on the working condition of mechanical items in the property. We will point visible things out like cracks or discoloration which could be moisture or mildew or leaky pipes, etc., during property viewings. But that is all we can do; is to point certain obvious things out to bring them to your attention.
If you are aware of what an inspection really is and how your contract explains how it should be handled, you will have a secure knowledge that the property you're purchasing should not cause any major surprises soon after you move in. And that is what an inspection is truly for.
If you have any questions or comments regarding home inspections, please Contact Me or give me a call at 708-536-8200.