The house-buying process can seem endless: Attending open houses. Separating your must-haves from nice-to-haves. Identifying your (sort of) dream home. Making an offer. Negotiating the final price. So when you get to inspection day, it’s tempting to heave a huge sigh of relief now that your work is basically done.
But not so fast. The home inspection is one of the most crucial steps for buying a home, and it shouldn't be overlooked or rushed. In fact, the inspection process has the potential to be just as nerve-racking for the buyer as it is for the seller. What if you've fallen in love with a beautiful home that has major problems lurking beneath the surface?
That's why it's extremely important to pay attention during this (sometimes confusing) process, and take steps to avoid common pitfalls. How can you possibly screw it up? We're here to tell you. Avoid these mistakes when you get an inspection on your dream home.
1. Forgoing an inspection in the first place
Sure, most people know they should get an inspection on a home they're buying from someone else. But Michael Marlow, Certified Master Inspector® and owner of Veteran Home Inspections in San Antonio, TX, finds that many buyers tend to skip an inspection when buying new construction. And that’s a mistake.
“I have yet to inspect a new-construction home that didn’t have issues,” he says, recommending that buyers be a little pushy if they're dealing with builders who are trying to dissuade them from the inspection.
2. Choosing the cheapest inspection option
There are a lot of inspectors who offer very low prices for home inspections, Marlow says, and that could indicate they're new and inexperienced, or that they’re having trouble finding clients.
Of course, we're not saying you should never opt for an affordable inspection, or that all affordable inspectors are dummies. But we aresaying you should do your research before defaulting to the cheapest option.
It's hard to know what kind of credentials you're looking for unless, well, you're in the home inspection biz. But there are some telltale signs, Marlow says. For example, you should probably avoid an inspector who doesn’t use the latest equipment (e.g., an inspector using chemical swabs rather than XRF technology on a lead paint test).
Your real estate agent should help point you to a competent professional, but you should also read online reviews before committing to an inspector.
3. Not being present for the inspection
Tempted to let the inspector just do her job and read the report later? Don’t do it, says Realtor® Bill Golden with Re/Max Metro Atlanta Citywide. Even a detailed report with pictures is not the same as being present, he says.
“An inspector must report on everything that’s found, no matter how minor," Golden says. "So hearing the inspector’s comments directly and being able to ask questions is extremely helpful in figuring out what items from the report are truly a concern.”
Since an inspection can last three or more hours, Golden recommends at least being there at the end to go over the findings. If you absolutely can’t make it at all, have your agent attend to learn firsthand what the inspector has found.
4. Not making the rounds with the inspector
And while you’re there, don’t squander the opportunity to learn more about your home, says John Mease, a home inspector in Atlanta.
“Buyers are welcome for any and all of the inspection as a chance to take a closer look at parts of the home you typically wouldn’t,” Mease says.
Spending your visit checking your email or choosing colors for your new living room while the inspector is working is a waste of time, he says.
5. Being overly involved in the inspection
On the other hand, it’s possible to be too present at an inspection, Golden acknowledges.
“It's great to follow the inspector around to see what he finds, but if you're in his way or spend too much time chatting him up, you may distract him from the work at hand and he could miss something,” Golden says.
And don’t try to do the inspector's job, either. It can be frustrating when a buyer is testing water flow or appliances while the inspector is working.
“If a buyer is operating a sink in the kitchen while the inspector is testing the shower in the master bathroom, it can alter the system response,” Mease says.
6. Expecting a perfect report—and overreacting if it’s not
An inspection is not a pass-fail test, and every home will have flaws, says Aaron Hendon with Keller Williams in Seattle. In fact, don’t be surprised if the inspection uncovers as many as 50 to 100 “deficiencies." Many of these may be relatively minor.
“Buyers who are unprepared for the depth and breadth of an inspection are often taken aback, and it can sour them on the home when many of these blemishes are to be expected,” he says.
The key is to ask questions so you understand the magnitude of each issue discovered, recommends Rob Nelson, real estate broker for Center Coast Realty in Chicago. Then you can separate "nice-to-repair" items from "must-repair" defects.
7. Focusing on the wrong things
As we noted above, not all infractions are equal. Remember that an inspection is the chance to find out about significant red flags with the property (e.g., issues with the roof, foundation, HVAC systems, or other costly problems).
Those faults are what you want to focus on when negotiating with the sellers, not nickel-and-diming them for every little thing the inspector reports, Nelson says.
“An inspection is not the time to worry about small details like a cracked electrical outlet cover," Nelson warns. "I've seen sellers back out of contracts when buyers give them a laundry list of minor things that could have been fixed with a trip to the hardware store.”
Sellers will be more receptive if they're presented with a reasonable list of demands, so do a little homework on estimated repair costs to help you decide what's worth mentioning.
8. Not getting negotiated repairs reinspected
Once the negotiated repairs have been completed, it’s wise to get a final signoff from your home inspector—even if there's an additional cost.
Marlow says he's rarely performed a reinspection where all of the negotiated repairs were actually completed. What's worse: He's even been given receipts for work that was not done.
Following up with a reinspection will give you peace of mind—and really, isn’t that the point of the inspection in the first place?