What To Expect From a Home Inspection…a DC Metro Area Focus

Now that we’re back to the days when purchasers can “safely” make a home inspection contingency part of their purchase offer, I find that first time buyers are curious about the inspection process and what to expect. I personally hated those days when buyers couldn’t compete without giving up a home inspection and often recommended “pre-inspections” in order to gain at least some knowledge about the house, so I’m thrilled that this basic contingency is again available to buyers.

In the Washington DC Metropolitan Area, buying a house is not a simple process. Buyers often think that the hardest part will be actually finding the home of their dreams, but agents know that when the buyer says “wow” the fun has only just begun!! And, although complicated, it CAN be fun. In our marketplace, we first have to get through a contract that consists of well over 50 pages. In our Addendum of Clauses is the Home Inspection Contingency which assures the purchaser an opportunity to have the home evaluated within a short time period (usually 5 to 7 days). After that time, the purchaser lets the seller know if they still want to buy the property and, if so, if there are things that the seller MUST fix (the contract defines certain systems that have to be in normal operating order) and/or things that the purchaser would LIKE fixed (which starts another negotiation on these items).

So, the home inspection is an extremely important part of the buyers’ decision making process. But how does a buyer know (1) who to hire to do the home inspection, (2) what to expect of the inspection and (3) how to react to what the inspector finds? This is usually something that I try to discuss with sellers before they actually have to face it. When we meet, or as we’re viewing properties, I like to talk about the process so that there’s some knowledge about what’s coming next. I let buyers know that, having been in the residential real estate business for over 20 years, I have a list of several good inspectors that I can recommend. All are licensed and all have similar fee structures.

I have been told that some books about buying a home warn buyers NOT to listen to their agent when it comes to a recommended home inspector. There is a “fear” that agents only give names of inspectors who will not “blow a deal.” My reaction is if you have an agent who you even think of putting in this category, you shouldn’t be working with that person. As a buyers’ agent, I feel that it is my responsibility to help you learn as much about your prospective purchase as possible. If the house has faults that are so severe that you might not want to buy it, now is the time to find that out. And, if that’s the case, we’ll move on to something else. The alternative is that I’ve helped you purchase a house that you end up being unhappy with…and then what good have I done for either of us?

Having said that, here’s the reality: Home inspectors are generalists and can’t find every little nuance in a house in the 3 to 5 hours that they’ll spend during a home inspection. So, there will be surprises after you move in, but hopefully they will be minor (or even positive!).

So, how do you know who to use to do your home inspection? I’d argue that you should listen to your agent, but also feel free to ask friends or colleagues who have recently purchased if they have a home inspector they could recommend. It’s also perfectly reasonable to ask your agent if they can give you names of past clients who have used the inspector that s/he is recommending.

What should you expect during the inspection? Your inspector should start by going over the scope of his/her inspection and let you know what kind of a report will be prepared for you. You should definitely attend the inspection, with pen and notepad in hand, and ask questions as they occur to you. Part of the inspector’s job should be to help you understand how the house functions and what you can do (as the prospective homeowner) to keep the systems in good working order. He is NOT there just to find fault with the property. When he does find a problem, ask if he knows the solution. This will help you determine what to ask of the sellers (if anything) and will also help you understand the scope of the problem.

...which leads nicely into the third question: What do you do with the information that the home inspector has provided? Again, this is something to go over with your agent to determine what is required of the seller and then it is up to the buyer to determine what else (if anything) he or she wants done. This decision will most likely be based on the negotiations to date (i.e., does the buyer feel that he got a good price for the house and is, therefore, willing to tackle a few projects?) and how strongly a buyer feels about the specific issues involved. A good home inspector will be available for discussion after the inspection…and for many months to come.

Thoughts or questions about the home inspection process?

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