A home inspection is an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a home, from the roof to the foundation. Having a home inspected is like giving it a physical check-up. If problems or symptoms are found, the inspector may recommend further evaluation.
A home inspector is typically contacted by the listing agent soon after the listing agreement is signed so that the seller(s) can provide a thorough presale disclosure package. When the market gets busy, it may take two weeks or more to get the inspector out to the house.
Buyers may also hire an inspector (home/property or some subset such as foundation, roof, HVAC, etc.) but at this time that is not as common in Silicon Valley since many buyers accept the sellers’ inspections and write offers without a contingency for inspection. In some cases, there’s no contingency but home buyers want their own inspection so that they can attend it and ask questions of the inspector while he or she is there.
Before the property inspector visits the house, or begins the inspection, there’s usually a contract to be signed. (I have not found this to be the case with pool inspections or other types, just the general home inspection.)
The purchase of a home is probably the largest single investment you will ever make, or if you are selling, the largest asset you’ll ever sell. You should learn as much as you can about the condition of the property and the need for any major repairs before you buy or sell, so that you can minimize unpleasant surprises and difficulties afterwards. This is equally true for both sellers and buyers. Sellers want to sell for top dollar, and that comes with reassuring the buyer(s) that the home is in solid shape.
The standard home inspection report
This inspection report will review the condition of the home’s heating system, central air conditioning system (temperature permitting), interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic, and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; the foundation, basement, and visible structure. If a pool is present, the home inspector will need to note whether or not safety features are present to help protect against accidental drowning or damage from an unattended pool.
Often the inspector will note things that may have been correct at the time of construction, but for which there are new standards that would apply to new construction. Similarly, an electric panel may have been put in when the home was built that many years later seems to have an increased risk of fire, so the inspector may advise that it either be inspected by an electrician or that it be replaced.
Buyers: be present at the home inspection
It isn’t necessary for you to be present for home inspections, but I recommend that you are if you are buying the home. You will be able to observe the inspector, and ask questions directly, as you learn about the condition of the home, how its systems work, and how it’s maintained. You will also find the written report easier to understand if you’ve seen the property yourself. For home sellers, the inspection is primarily a disclosure so buyers know what they are getting.
No house is perfect.
If the inspector identifies problems, it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy the house, but you will know in advance exactly what to expect. A seller may adjust the purchase price, or contract terms, if the inspection reveals major problems. If your budget is tight, or if you don’t wish to become involved in future repair work, inspection reports will be extremely important to you.
Of course, a home inspection also points out the positive aspects of a home, as well as the maintenance that will be necessary to keep it in good shape. After the inspection, you will have a much clearer understanding of the property you are about to purchase.
Can I do a home inspection myself?
Even the most experienced homeowner lacks the knowledge and expertise of a professional home inspector who has inspected hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homes in his or her career. An inspector is familiar with the many elements of home construction, and their proper installation and maintenance. He or she understands how the home’s systems and components function together, as well as how and why they may fail.
Above all, most buyers find it very difficult to remain completely objective and unemotional about the house they really want, and this lack of objectivity may effect their judgment. In order to be sure you get the most accurate inspection information, it’s best to obtain an impartial third-party opinion by a home inspection expert.
The house is in good condition; did I really need an inspection?
Definitely. Now you can complete your home purchase in full confidence of your home’s condition. You will also have learned valuable things about your new home from the inspector’s written report, and will want to keep that information for future reference.
Related inspection articles by Mary Pope-Handy
Pre-sale inspections (article on this site for home sellers)
What happens when inspectors disagree about the property? (On SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com, the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)
Who is present at home inspections? (On SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com, the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)
How often should you get a termite or pest inspection? (On the Live in Los Gatos blog)