What to know first
Understanding your home inspection should start with the question of why you would want one. The concise reason is that the home inspection is your opportunity to examine the property under contract before the contract is executed e.g. you own it and any problems that come along with it. This is the legal concept of "Caveat Emptor" or that it is the responsibility of the BUYER to know and understand what they are purchasing.
If you think about it, most home owners, unlike most sellers of goods or services, are not knowledgeable about the thing the home they are selling. There is a document called the "Sellers disclosure" where they list any issues that they have knowledge of and this satisfies the expectation that they are selling the property honestly to the best of their ability. You could accept this as good enough but you would have no recourse if a serious issue rears its ugly head further down the line. An inspector is typically the best option as you have one generalist examining the property in total and if there are issues that need further attention from say a structural engineer your inspector will be able to determine that and get you on the right track. This has been formalized in real estate law and is now the standard across the country.
What is a home inspection?
A visual examination of the property under contract. What does that mean? Every home inspection is governed by the Maryland or Delaware SOP or "Standards Of Practice". You will get directed to a copy of this before every inspection and I recommend that you read it. This will list the mandatory elements of a home inspection. This is the minimum standard and over the years, we have incorporated much more detail and use a variety of different tools to create a more thorough and useful inspection. More on that later.
This gets a bit into the legalese so I am required to say that we are not Lawyers and the only legal advice you should take is from someone who is a member of your state's BAR. We are not Lawyers and that's great because they live a unique kind of white collar office purgatory that seems just awful.
To understand where your inspection report comes in you have to understand the definition of a representation. The seller of a good "represents" that good to the best of their ability and in good faith whether that is a birdhouse or a real house. Your inspection report is your primary tool to determine if the representations made by the seller that are contained in your purchase agreement are being met. Its also an opportunity to have a competent person examine the real estate being put up for sale since a home owner may not necessarily be able to make a correct representation of their home or understand how to disclose problems because they are not experts in building science.
For instance, if the seller is representing that the home is move in ready with no defects and no issues are listed in the sellers disclosure, your inspection report is your means to bring issues we have discovered with the property to the sellers attention and between both parties and the parties agents, determine a fair outcome. You may also decide that a home does not meet your expectations and that the sellers are not willing to address your concerns which, unfortunately, sometimes happens. In these rare instances, your inspection clause will govern weather or not you are able to walk away form the purchase with no penalty. Remember, legally, it is always the BUYERS responsibility to know what they are buying (Caveat Emptor). In the case of real estate, this makes it especially important to have someone with knowledge and experience do a thorough inspection.
How to prepare for a home inspection
There are a few good rules of thumb to go by prior to inspection day.
1. Get a good point of contact for your agent and give that information to the inspector. This helps with coordination and access to the property as well as passing along information to the seller such as reminders to remove obstructions from inspect-able areas and to make sure that any animals are out of the house. Remember, sellers are going through the same marathon as you and may forget that they are obligated to make all areas accessible to the inspector. The terms of an inspection clause are typically worded as a "satisfactory" inspection. If all the moving boxes are stacked around the electrical panel and furnace, we won't be able to examine them and determine if they are in satisfactory working order.
2. Read the SOP and ask for a sample report so that you are familiar with what to expect in your inspection and forward a copy of the Sellers Disclosure to your inspector if available. Remember, a home owner may disclose only what are symptoms of a problem to an untrained eye. 3 hours is actually not a lot of time to go over all aspects of a home and having a copy of this document allows us to pay special attention to any areas where the disclosure lists symptoms of something that may need a closer look.
3. On inspection day, touch base with your inspector to determine when to show up. For most clients, I recommend showing up around 2 1/2 hours into the inspection. This does two things. It makes the best use of your time and allows the inspector to maximize his or her attention on the task at hand. There are clients who like to be there for the entire inspections, follow along and ask questions. This is perfectly fine but it may lengthen the time that it takes to get the inspection complete. Arriving towards the end allows the inspector to wrap up any major issues in one on site conference and at this point we are able to determine if one issue is being exacerbated or impacting another.
What will be on my report?
Your report will cover every major system, area and component that can be visually examined or accessed safely. These include:
Using Your Report
Once you have your report, what should you do? First, carefully read the report in its entirety. There is a lot of important information contained in it and it can be very beneficial to go over everything, not just the defects. Your report will list issues that we have found from simple deferred maintenance to serious safety defects. Its important to view the comments in context. Some issues are simple fixes or can be addressed at the home owner level. Where defects are concerned, consult carefully with your realtor to determine what is important to get addressed and what wear and tear is expected with the general condition of the home. This is your opportunity to get any of these addressed because once you walk away from the closing table you have bought the home and any issues that it contains. Do contact your inspector with any additional questions, concerns or if you would just like to follow up. We're always happy to help