Home Inspection – Do Your Really Need One?

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The first time a realtor explained the home inspection process to me, I thought, “What a load of crap! I can test the dishwasher and make sure all the outlets work myself! Why would I pay someone else $450 to do those things?” If you, like me, aren’t sure why you’d want to pay someone else to inspect your home before your purchase it, read on.

It’s true that the purpose of a home inspection is only to inspect the quality, safety, and overall condition of things that are readily visible — that is, components of a home that don’t involve dismantling anything or opening up walls and ceilings. While this may sound like something anyone with a good eye could do, here are some examples of things a home inspector will look for that you probably can’t identify yourself.

  • Do you know how to identify a toilet that needs replacement?
  • Can you identify faulty wiring on a garbage disposal?
  • Do you know how to tell if the dryer vents properly?
  • Can you identify a fireplace that is not in safe, usable condition?
  • If you live in an area subject to earthquakes, do you know how to make sure your water heater is properly strapped?
  • Do you know how to tell if the vent above the kitchen range hood is a fire hazard?

In order to avoid feeling ripped off and help you understand the fine print in the contract you’ll need to sign, keep in mind that a home inspection does not typically cover the following:

  • Termites and pests. Law mandates that pest inspections must be done by a licensed pest control operator.
  • Engineering issues. Geologic stability, lot lines, environmental hazards, zoning designations, and code compliance are not within the scope of a home inspection.
  • Concealed conditions. It’s true that some problematic conditions will only be apparent by looking behind walls, but putting holes in walls and patching them up can’t be within the scope of a home inspection because you can’t make alterations to someone else’s property.
  • Appliances not included in the property sale (unattached appliances) such as refrigerators. If you happen to be buying the seller’s existing fridge and you want it inspected, make sure to ask about this before you sign the contract.
  • Environmental health hazards like radon gas, lead paint, or asbestos.
  • Swimming pools and hot tubs.
  • Value appraisal. This is a separate inspection requiring different skills. In order to secure your mortgage, this is another job you’ll have to pay for.
  • Repair cost estimates. These take extra time to calculate and costs can vary widely depending on the contractor used and the type of replacement components purchased.
  • Gas appliances. The gas company is specially trained to handle these inspections and will do the job for free.
  • Cosmetic defects. These do not present a danger to you, and if they’re significant, you will have already noticed them anyway. It doesn’t take specialized training to see that the paint on the walls is chipping, so why would you pay someone to point this out to you?
  • Latent defects. Even the best home inspector can’t predict the future. The best you can hope for is that the present condition of the home has some relationship to its potential for future problems.

If you’re buying a condo or a co-op, there are additional considerations. Keep in mind that the home inspection will not test for noise transmission between units — that is, how much your neighbors’ habits will affect you. If this is a concern, you should try to spend as much time in the building as possible to observe noise conditions before you purchase, and minimize your chances of getting a noisy unit in the first place by choosing a top floor corner unit with double paned windows. Common areas that do not have a direct impact on your unit, like a community fitness center, are also not included in the inspection.

Surprisingly, the job also may not include the inspection of common areas that do have a direct impact on your unit, but you would be unwise to work with such a short-sighted inspector. While it certainly costs more to have someone look at the entire building and not just the unit you’re considering, by looking only at the small picture and ignoring the big one you won’t know what you’re really getting into. If an older building doesn’t have proper seismic retrofitting and you park your beautiful new Acura (because you’re a savvy luxury shopper, after all) in the subterranean garage, guess whose car will get crushed in an earthquake, and guess whose insurance won’t cover it? By the same token, if the roof is in need of repair and you live on the top floor, you’ll certainly notice a downpour in the middle of the night when you wake up to water dripping on your head.

Also, be aware that just because a home is new doesn’t mean it you shouldn’t have it inspected. Even an extremely expensive new home does not equate to an extremely well-constructed home. Just as you can purchase a brand-new car that is a lemon, be it an F-150 or a Corvette, you can purchase a brand-new home with significant defects.

If you’re still looking to save money on a home inspection, what about having a friend in the construction, engineering, or real estate business do the inspection for you? You may save money, but you won’t be getting expertise. Believe it or not, home inspection involves specialized training that any of these professionals are unlikely to have. Also, if you go ahead and purchase the home that your friend inspected and discover a costly defect later that you think the inspector should not have missed, wouldn’t you rather be angry with (and possibly sue) an inspector you don’t know than a good friend?

What about taking a home inspection course and learning how to do it yourself? This route is better than forgoing the home inspection altogether, but you’ll need to do some advance planning. If you want to take the official classes offered by Inspection Training Associates, the introductory class alone will cost you $89 and last six hours. It also may be located out of town, even if you live in a major city. At the end of the class and the long drive, you still won’t have the experience in identifying problems that someone who has been in the business for years will have. Taking a class, official or otherwise, still might be a wise investment, though: as a new homeowner, it can’t hurt you to have a basic knowledge of how to identify potentially dangerous and/or expensive problems in and around your home.

When it comes down to it, you just shouldn’t let the cost of a home inspection trouble you (if you can’t afford it, you’re not ready to buy, anyway). While a home inspection will cost several hundred dollars, it can easily pay for itself and then some. The home inspection helps you determine if you are paying a fair price for the home — if it has several repairs that need to be made, you may be able to negotiate with the seller and get him to replace the broken air conditioner before you move in or provide a cash credit for you to take care of the work yourself once you’re the new owner. When you consider how expensive it can be to replace an air conditioner or furnace (say, $2,000) or even a dishwasher, the cost of a home inspection really seems nominal.

Don’t expect to find a new home that is flawless — your goal is to make sure the home you’re interested in doesn’t have any existing costly defects and that you go into the purchase knowing what shortcomings the home may have and what repairs need to be made.

To become even more informed about the home inspection process and why it’s a wise investment, check out the book I read: The Consumer Advocate’s Guide to Home Inspection by Barry Stone, author of the nationally syndicated column, “Ask the Inspector.”

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12 Responses to Home Inspection – Do Your Really Need One?

  1. William says:

    Don’t think of not having a home inspection done. I purchased a house with a home inspection. I thought everything was fine. Because of a job change I needed to sell 18 months later. The buyers used Criterium Engineers who found multiple problems that my previous home inspection did not find. Don’t use just eny home inspection outfit.

  2. Matthew Jabs says:

    I’m in the process of purchasing my second home (and selling my first). My new home is brand new, so I am going through the home with the builder to do a “spot check”. This is where i point out anything needing to be fixed and then report it to the builder. The builder then fixes anything before I take up occupancy.

    I am not getting a home inspection done, but I am getting a radon test done. In Michigan, we have full basements in most homes and radon is a common problem. If found the builder will also have to install a radon ventilation system prior to occupancy.

    Don’t worry, I’m going to go through the home with painter’s tape and mark every problem BEFORE I go through with the builder. I want to be prepared, not discovering things as they’re there with me! I will go through it with some buddies of mine who work in home construction.

    What’s your advice. Do you think I need a home inspection? Personally, I don’t think so.

    Thank you.

  3. Matthew Jabs says:

    I do however see what you’re saying about brand new homes still having problems, and also do acknowledge your point about friends helping with sensitive circumstances such as these.

    I will rethink this and possibly read that guide and maybe even take the course you mentioned.

    I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Debbie says:

    I’ve heard that even after you buy a house it’s a good idea to get it inspected occasionally. Inspectors can notice problems before they get out of control and give you time to make plans. And they are not biased to sell you services because they don’t actually fix things themselves.

    I once decided I would get my house inspected every five years, but it’s been eleven years and I still haven’t done it! I do think it’s an excellent idea, though.

    (The same is true for cars–I like to bring my car in for an “annual physical.” If I didn’t trust my mechanic I’d probably use a Lemon-Busters type service once every few years.)

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  7. Julia M. Wei says:

    This is a really comprehensive article! I also find that home inspection reports are riddled with innocuous language like, “not uncommon for a home of this age and in this region.” Well, what exactly does that mean?

  8. Lisa says:

    I believe this is more of a question…. I purchased an existing 23 yr old home in Round Rock, Texas two weeks ago. Since then, I have had a plumber come out twice to snake the plumbing. This morning I was informed that my PVC pipe on my property needs to replaced for $2000.00. At the same time the plumber was nice enough to look at the toilets and found that the toilet was not put onto the floor properly as wellas not sealed properly. Hence the two bathroom floods in two weeks.

    lease help… is there a Lemon Busters for homes??? Or do I need to start onwe in Austin / Round Rock Texas?


  9. Lori says:

    What do you do if you had a home inspection and after 2 months later you start to find major water damage and leaks? The floor beam under the bathroom is rotten,and the floor is damaged, the roof is leaking in the garage and in the attic. There is an interior wall soaked. I have requested the inspector come back to look at the problems and the inspector offers to give me back my money.

  10. greenday says:


    The inspector should not only refund your money, but also pay for the repairs. It is his job to find those problems and if he missed them, it is his responsibility to pay them. If he refuses, take him to small claims court.

  11. Cooper says:

    Did not like the part about a friend looking at the property, “wouldn’t you rather sue a home inspector than your friend for missing something” Look, lets not go there. We are a sue happy society anyway. The pre conceived notion that “you can sue” is wrong to plant in a buyers mind. Kind of like insurance. If the inspector screws up, you can sue and get it fixed or replaced. This is the wrong approach to inform a client “don’t worry, you can sue if something is missed. Look,there are good inspectors and not so good ones. We all are human and occasionally some things can be overlooked. But on the whole, the one thing you want to make sure of is that the property is a good structure and the roof is in good shape. Overall home management is the responsibility of the purchaser. It is so important to attend and be involved in the inspection. You can pick up good advice and helpful tips on corrective measures. THERE IS NO PERFECT HOME. Use a reliable, well established inspection firm. This will only build confidence is your purchase.

  12. Cooper says:

    Heading off problems before they raise their ugly heads is always a great idea. Also, a pre list inspection for those contemplating selling their home is a fantastic idea due to the fact that you can get the house ready and have minimal “dings” during the purchase negotiation process.

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