Whether you’re thinking about buying or selling a home, you’ve probably heard about home inspections. Home inspections are an important part of the real estate transaction, but many people have unanswered questions or just plain don’t know where to start.

Keep reading for the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about home inspections.

What is a Home Inspection?

The exact definition of a home inspection may vary from state to state, but a broad definition generally includes a few common points. Home inspections are a visual and non-invasive inspection of a combination of factors, such as the mechanical systems (heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing, etc.) of a house, along with the structural components (roof, foundation, walls, floors, etc.) with the purpose of identifying material, safety, or maintenance defects in those items. This inspection is done in preparation for a real estate transfer from one owner to another.

Home inspections are conducted by individuals who have been certified or licensed to perform the type of inspection they are performing. The qualifications vary by state and not all states license inspectors. In some states, home inspectors are required to be certified, have completed a certain number of hours under supervision, or maintain Continuing Education training to keep their certifications valid. Other states may have looser or stricter requirements. In general, home inspectors typically are required to belong to a professional association of home inspectors.   

Why Do I Need a Home Inspection?

Home inspections are frequently requested as part of the transfer (sale and purchase) of real estate.

In an agreement of sale, the inspection contingency period is the time the buyer has to perform any due diligence on the property to determine if the home as it was presented by the seller and represented by the seller’s disclosure documents, has any unseen or unknown issues that may make the buyers question the condition of the home from their initial observations.

An inspection is the process used to look at as many aspects of the home, as defined by the agreement, to determine that condition.

You need an inspection because this is an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the condition of the home, understand how the home functions and should be maintained, and see if there are any defects that need to be addressed prior to the settlement of the property.

In many contracts, there may be opportunities during this time to terminate the agreement based on the results of the inspections. Whether your state is ‘buyer friendly’ or ‘seller friendly’ may determine what constitutes a termination condition. Your agent will be the one to guide you through this process.

Buyers should know:

You’ll definitely want to consider having an inspection completed. This may seem like an inconvenient extra expense, but the benefit can massively outweigh the expense. Home inspections are designed to protect you from making a large, expensive purchase on a “lemon” without knowing it.

While an inspection in no way guarantees you won’t come into problems on a home, it does help shed light onto what condition the home is in, allowing you to make an educated and informed purchasing decision.

Waiving the inspections are ill-advised unless you FULLY understand the ramifications of buying a home with unknown defects. Your agent will caution you regarding purchasing a home without doing inspections.

Sellers should know:

When you receive an offer from a buyer, it may contain provisions language that allows the buyer to conduct the inspections as well as terminate the agreement after receiving the inspection report. This means that the inspection report is a vital part of moving the offer forward.

The inspection report will be reviewed by the buyer and their agent. Frequently, they will draw up a set of requests to be sent over to the seller’s agent. These requests can be for repairs to be completed prior to closing or for cash concessions that will allow the buyer to have the repairs done by the contractor of their choice. Leverage your real estate agent to guide you through the post-inspection negotiations once you receive this list. This part of the selling process can make a difference of thousands of dollars, so you’ll want a skilled agent negotiating on your behalf.

While many sellers may dispute the repair requests, sellers need to keep in mind two major factors. If a buyer terminates, your home will probably go from ‘under contract’ on the MLS back to active status. The marketplace will see this and your home automatically becomes tainted by the change in status. The likelihood of you receiving an offer of a similar or better price than the first one is greatly reduced. Secondly, all those inspection reports will become disclosable to the buying community. They will know all of the defects that were observed and at some point, you will probably have to correct them anyway.

The message here is – Keep the deal alive as best as possible if the downside of a fall-through is greater. 

What Kinds of Inspections are There?

There are a variety of home inspection options available, so it can be difficult to know which one you should get. First, you’ll likely want a home inspection, which will vary in what it includes depending on the inspection company’s services offered. 

Here’s a quick overview of the different inspection options available (there may be others depending on the results of the initial inspection report and the type and purpose of the property:

  • Standard Home: standard inspection of two or more systems with the purpose of determining defects prior to transfer of real estate. This inspection should be from the basement to the roof and everything in-between. Ask if the report breaks down defects into categories such as material, safety, and maintenance.
  • Wood-Destroying Insects: this inspection determines the presence or absence of wood destroying insects, such as termites, carpenter ants, etc.
  • Radon: this inspection determines the presence and levels of radon in the home.
  • Mold & Air Quality: these inspections check for the presence and levels of mold, asbestos, and other airborne pollutants
  • Stucco: This is often an invasive inspection to look for moisture levels behind the stucco that may lead to wood rot, mold, and termites.
  • Septic: a septic inspection will determine the location, fullness, flow, and structural integrity of the tank. This will also include an inspection of the drain field as well as any other related components.
  • Well/Water: Homes that get their water from a private well may need a well water inspection, which will check the structural integrity of the well and its hardware, treatment systems, as well as sampling the water to ensure it has not been contaminated with bacteria, parasites, etc..
  • Survey: this inspection focuses on the land itself, and is especially valuable for people buying large lots or acreage, i.e. to build a home.
  • Deed or Zoning Restrictions: this helps you understand what the local zoning and deed restrictions may be on your property, to make sure that you don’t purchase a home that you can’t actually use in the manner you intended.
  • Lead-Based Paint: depending on the age of the house and the area it is in, you may elect to have a lead-based paint inspection. This determines the presence or absence of lead-based paint.
  • Asbestos: Depending on the age of your house, you may elect to have an asbestos inspection. This will determine the presence or absence of asbestos.

What Happens After the Inspection?

After the inspectors have come and gone, the real action begins! Once the inspection reports have been completed, it will be submitted to the buyers and the buyer’s agent. The agent and the buyers will get together, discuss the findings, and determine a list of potential repairs and/or credits they would like the seller to perform.

The seller and seller’s agent will receive the reports and repair requests and determine which items, if any will be addressed. Negotiations then take place to identify agreeable terms for the repairs which will allow for the sale to continue.

If terms cannot be agreed upon, then the agreement may be in jeopardy of being terminated. Your agent will advise you on the best course of action. 

Sellers should know:

You will wait to receive a copy of the report and a list of requests from the buyer. This part of the home selling process is simple – do nothing until you receive the requests from the buyer. The buyer can ask for things like repairs or concessions. Buyers can ask for anything they want, but you aren’t obligated to agree to everything. You can agree to everything, nothing, or some things and not others. In this case, trust your real estate agent to advise you. The goal is to keep the buyer happy without giving away the farm in the process.

Buyers should know:

When you receive the inspection report, you’ll want to review it item by item with your agent. If you have any questions about what the report means or how serious an item is, ASK! The average person simply isn’t well-versed in inspection report lingo, and it’s okay to be unsure or to have a lot of questions.

Ask for repairs or concessions with the understanding that just because you request it, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If there is something in the report that is a deal breaker for you, talk to your agent about how best to proceed or not proceed with the deal.

Keep This in Mind:

The purpose of the inspection report is to find and notate a huge variety of things. This means that the report can seem overwhelming at first glance. Many items on the report will be so small that you never noticed it in the years you’ve lived in a house. Other items may have incredible significance. Even brand-new houses will typically come back with items on the inspection report, but not every inspection will yield anything of substance. This means that the buyer might not need to ask for anything at all.

Trust your real estate agent to help you interpret the report, advise you on expectations, and recommend the appropriate next steps.

How Do I Find a Trusted Home Inspector?

The Cyr Team works with a network of professionals for all stages of the home buying and selling processes. We can recommend and introduce the right contractor for the job, whether it is home inspectors, electricians, pre-listing preparers, or renovation contractors.

Buying & Selling With The Cyr Team

The Cyr Team delivers superior clientcare to those looking to buy or sell real estate. We educate, advise, and guideour clients through one of the biggest transactions of their lives by bringinga structured, process-driven methodology to build consistency and clarity in areal estate transaction. Located in SE Pennsylvania, we are licensed in PA, DE,and NJ to better serve the tri-state area. We also help our clients improve their home buying and ownership experience with our network of experienced professionals. Not only do we help our clients with their real estate needs, wealso help them enjoy the home they have created – or would like to create.

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.