The home inspection is the most important step of the home-buying process

By George Morse

AAA World Article

It’s hard to think of a step in the home-buying process more important than the home inspection. Like figuring out what you can afford and getting preapproved for a mortgage, a home inspection can alert you to any potential issues, saving you from headaches and heartbreak down the road. Here are answers to some common home inspection questions.

  • Why is it so important?
    It can be hard to spot many issues during an open house or a showing. Some problems—like radon gas—are invisible. Even if you did have an extended period of time to look through a house, it’s unlikely you could match the experience of a professional home inspector. Getting a home inspected before you close your mortgage can help you identify problems that may alter your interest in a property.
  • How do I pick an inspector?
    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends asking 10 questions before choosing a home inspector, including what the inspection covers, how many inspections he or she has completed, and if the inspector has experience with residential properties.
  • My inspector found a problem. Can I ask the seller to fix it?
    Yes. Navigating post-inspection negotiations is one reason buyers hire real estate agents. Agents—on your behalf—can ask sellers to address issues or offer credits to fix issues after closing.
  • Is there anything an inspector won’t check?
    Pest problems can fall outside an inspector’s purview, as can septic issues, according to the National Association of Realtors. Buyers should consider hiring these specialized professionals before finalizing the purchase.
  • What kind of problem is so great that I shouldn’t buy a home?
    Safety concerns should be at the top of your list. High levels of radon can contribute to lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. If a home has high radon levels and the seller refuses to remediate the issue, you should consider walking away if you aren’t prepared for additional expenses and risk.
  • Can I finance repairs for the home if the seller won’t make them?
    Yes. The Fannie Mae HomeStyle Renovation program is one option, especially for buyers looking to address common issues like roof repairs or heating system upgrades. Qualified buyers can get into the program for as little as 3% down.

Problems You Can Spot Yourself
Hiring a home inspector is almost always a good investment when buying a home. That said, there are a few things an average Joe can look for that may spell trouble.

  • Look Before You Leak
    Warped or missing roof shingles can be a bad sign. A leaky roof can lead to big problems and costly repairs.
  • You Smell That?
    Noxious odors are never a good thing. Take a whiff in each room, especially the basement, to see if anything catches your nose. A musty smell in the cellar may indicate water issues. Be wary of suspiciously placed fans, which may be masking unwanted aromas.
  • Water, Water, Everywhere
    Water damage inside walls can be hard to see, but you can spot signs of damage if you look closely. Bring discolored or warped drop ceiling tiles or floorboards to your inspector’s attention.
  • All Cracked Up
    Take a good look at the ceiling in every room and take note of any cracks. They could be serious structural issues—or just harmless cosmetic imperfections. Either way, it’s worth passing along to your home inspector.
  • Loosey-Goosey
    Loose handrails and cracked steps aren’t just safety concerns—they can be liabilities. Take a good look at every step inside and outside the house. Use the handrails as you go to see if they wobble.