You’ve just put in an offer on your dream home and you’re already planning where to put your furniture.
But, before you mentally move in, there’s one important step that you don’t want to ignore — the home inspection.
This step in the homebuying process is especially important if you purchase an older, resale home.
With an older home, an inspector will look at all of the major components of the home to ascertain their remaining life expectancy and the cost (if needed) to replace or update them. He or she also will be looking to determine which items have defects and could be dangerous if not fixed. Or the inspector could discover evidence of renovations done by former owners that perhaps aren’t up to code.
A home inspection, especially when purchasing an older home, helps you make an informed decision about one of the largest and most important purchases you’ll ever make. You can use this information to consider adjusting or withdrawing your offer, which should be made contingent upon an inspection.
“Knowing the condition of the purchase just makes good sense,” said Frank Lesh, interim executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). “It could prevent, at best, inconvenience; at worst, a catastrophic disaster.”
Third-Party Inspections of New Homes
While having a resale home inspected prior to purchase is considered pretty much a necessity, what if you are building a new home, either with a custom or production homebuilder?
The good news is that whether or not you hire a third-party inspector to check the home prior to closing, you can rest assured that your brand-new home has already undergone a series of rigorous inspections during the building process to ensure it meets the builder’s high standards and today’s tighter building codes. Typically, a new home is inspected at key points during construction by both the builder and a local city or county building inspector.
The comprehensive inspection process that Northern Kentucky-based Drees Homes has its homes undergo during the building process is indicative of what you can expect when choosing to build a new home. While different regions of the country may require other specific inspections, the most common inspections include the following:
- foundation wall and slab;
- underground plumbing and exterior underground plumbing;
- upper plumbing rough-in;
- electrical rough-in;
- framing and insulation;
- final plumbing and final electrical; and
- certificate of occupancy inspection.
Drees Homes provides a Whole House Inspection addendum in its purchasing contract to have a private inspection prior to closing. The addendum lays out the purchaser’s obligations when obtaining a third-party inspection, including coordinating the inspection date with the Drees builder, completing the inspection within five days of the home’s completion as determined by the builder and meeting with the builder after the inspection to review the inspector’s report.
“Most private inspections happen at the end of construction before the close of the home,” said Sara Hensley, director of communications and social media for Drees Homes. “If the purchaser does elect to have an inspector, they must follow all safety standards.”
In addition, the Drees builder will be on hand on the date of the third-party inspection to meet the inspector at the home to view his or her credentials, Hensley said.
While the opportunity for a third-party inspection exists for purchasers of a Drees home, the number of instances of such inspections has been infrequent, Hensley added.
If you are building a new home, you should make sure you understand any builder requirements for bringing in a third-party inspector. It’s important to remember that you don’t own the home yet.Dirck Bartlett, director of business development with ILEX Construction & Wordworking, a custom homebuilder based in Easton, Md., has found the same to be true with ILEX’s clients.
“It is rare for our clients to get a third-party inspection, but it does happen,” he said, adding that ILEX works hand-in-hand with each project’s architect and homeowner to ensure the home is built according to the project specs and adheres to the appropriate codes.
“We are very traditional in the way we do things,” Bartlett added. “Our goal is to do what’s right for our client. Our builders are skilled in knowing when to say that this is the right way to do something to avoid a problem.”
Are Home Inspections of New Homes Necessary?
The beauty of buying new is that you know who built your home, you can keep track of the building process and you know that it has been built to the most recent (and most stringent) building codes. But, while a third-party inspection might not be necessary, another set of eyes can’t hurt, either.
“Some clients don’t want it [a third-party inspection], but I think it’s a good idea,” said Aaron Michael, president of TimberCreek Homes Inc., a custom homebuilder in Salt Lake City, Utah.
He explained: “The inspection process is set up by each city to guide and regulate contractors’ work throughout the different stages of the build process. This does not mean that every problem on a job site can or will be caught by the inspection official. … Oftentimes, items that are overlooked by the subcontractors performing the work, or even the building inspector, can be caught by the builder.
“I take pride in the homes that I build and I want the structures to hold their integrity for many years to come,” Michael said.” I value the feedback I receive from the inspectors, as that feedback assists me in building quality homes.”
If one of Michael’s clients decides to bring in a third-party inspector, the client usually asks him for input. “I’m really involved in the vetting process,” he said.
Inspecting an older home before purchase (and making your purchase offer contingent upon a successful inspection) is always a smart idea. Some buyers may wish to hire a licensed inspector to review a newly built home, as well, for additional peace of mind — even with the inspections and warranties already in place.
If you do elect to hire a home inspector, it’s important to do your own due diligence to find a qualified inspector who is fully licensed (where required), bonded and insured. In addition, if you’re buying new, your builder may ask to review the inspector’s credentials and insurance. Your builder will also typically set an appointment for a third-party inspector and may be present at the time. Keep in mind that the builder still owns the home and is responsible for safety on the job site before closing, so these steps protect all parties.
How to Find a Home Inspector
So, how does one get started? National groups such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI) offer “find an inspector” or “inspector search” features where you can search for inspectors in your area.
Once you have some names to work with, check out their professional experience and education. You can begin by asking friends and family for referrals, or get recommendations from your real estate agent. You can visit sites such as Yelp, Better Business Bureau, or Angie’s List to check consumer reviews of inspectors in your area.
Again, this is your big purchase, so it’s up to you to be comfortable with your decision. Most inspectors should have a bio on their company website listing their experience and qualifications, including any state licenses or certifications.
“It’s important to look for certified and licensed third-party inspectors if you are going to spend the money to have a third set of eyes review the project,” said Aaron Michael, president of TimberCreek Homes Inc., a custom homebuilder in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Utah does not currently have any formal licensing requirements for a home inspector. Because of this, it is important here to look for inspectors that are approved through nonprofit organizations like NAHI that require strict licensing and certification requirements be met to list a company or person as a home inspector through the organization.”
Are They Licensed?
If you are not sure if your state has licensing requirements, you can check the ASHI and NAHI websites for information on which states do and the appropriate state contact information to check to see if an inspector is licensed or has any complaints listed against him or her.
“State licensing requirements are the minimum necessary to practice home inspections,” said Frank Lesh, ASHI interim executive director. To help you find a qualified inspector, check to see if he or she belongs to a national organization or a state or local chapter.
These organizations require members to obtain a certain number of continuing education hours each year and offer certification programs that go above and beyond state requirements. “Good inspectors will join an organization that exceeds what’s necessary to get a license,” Lesh added.
The national associations also have Standards of Practice and a Code of Ethics that outline the scope of an inspection (what an inspector is and is not required to inspect) and the professional guidelines their members should follow during an inspection. The Code of Ethics defines the role of an inspector as an independent, third-party consultant and his or her interaction with clients.
“Ask what Standards of Practice the inspector uses,” said NAHI Executive Director Claude McGavic, who inspected homes for 18 years in Florida. “If he or she doesn’t have an answer, that’s a red flag.”
According to McGavic, other questions you should ask a prospective inspector include how many inspections he or she has completed as an indicator of experience and if the inspector will provide several references, such as the last three houses the person inspected, especially if he or she is relatively new on the job.
In addition, you should ask if the inspector carries liability insurance (in case an inspector accidentally causes damage to your property) and errors and omissions insurance, which covers the costs associated with an inspector missing a major problem. Some states require inspectors to have this insurance as part of licensing, so be sure to check your state’s requirements.
The Inspection Process
As part of the process of hiring an inspector, home buyers need to understand what an inspection includes — and what it doesn’t. The latter is perhaps more important.
“There are two classes of things that an inspector doesn’t do on an inspection: the ‘don’t look at’ and ‘can’t go there’ items,” McGavic said. The first, he explained, are items that are not included in a typical inspection, such as specialty structures not attached to the house. The other class includes those places that have physical or safety constraints or limitations, such as lack of attic access or a small crawlspace under the house. However, the inspector should inform the buyer why a specific space could not be inspected.
Inspectors also can’t tell you about things they can’t see, such as wires behind walls or pipes under the floor, and some may not inspect appliances.
“What we do is generally considered a visual inspection,” said Joseph P. Serino, who has been inspecting homes since 1993 as owner of JSerino Home Inspections in Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J. “Our hands are tied by what we can see and what is readily accessible.”
What Does a Typical Inspection Look Like?
It’s important to look for certified and licensed third-party inspectors if you are going to spend the money to have a third set of eyes review the project. — Aaron Michael, president, TimberCreek HomesA typical inspection should take from about two to three hours, depending on the size of the house. (Serino estimated about 2.5 hours for a 2,000-sq. ft. house.) According to McGavic, inspecting new construction is done the same way as inspecting older homes, but usually takes less time because there are fewer defects that have to be listed.
What Should Be Examined
Your inspector should examine the following items: the roof coverings and support structure; the attic and visible insulation; gutters; exterior walls; grading; windows; the garage; visible interior and exterior plumbing; electrical system; central heating and cooling systems; interior condition of walls, ceilings, doors and floors; and foundation and basement.
Your inspector should bring all of the necessary tools and equipment to thoroughly evaluate your house, e.g., a ladder and safety harness to get on the roof or access your attic, a camera for taking reference shots and a notebook or tablet for taking notes.
Should You Be Present?
Good inspectors won’t mind your being present for the inspection, as it allows them to point out items of concern as they go along and to go over the findings in greater detail at the end of the inspection. In the case of new construction, the builder will often be present, as well.
“The buyer should definitely attend the inspection,” Lesh said. “Being able to see, hear and interact with the inspector is extremely important. Remember, this is the most important transaction you’ll ever make. Why take a chance on missing something important?”
Be sure to ask what kind of report you’ll receive (and get it in writing): a narrative report or a checklist. A narrative report is best. If you have brought in a third-party inspector for a newly built home, your inspector will, in most cases, be expected to provide the builder with a copy of the report, so the builder can review it with you.
“You want an inspector who can back up an analysis with details in the report,” said Serino. But just as important for you, as the buyer, is to actually read the report and make sure you understand everything that is included. If you have questions, give your inspector a call.
“This is not just a business. We are serving people,” Serino said. “My approach is that when I inspect a home, I inspect it like it’s my own home.”
Judy Marchman is an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer and editor who, during her 20+-year career, has written on a diverse number of topics, from horses to lawyers to home building and design, including for NewHomeSource.com. Judy is the proud owner of a new construction home and has gained plenty of story inspiration from her home ownership experiences.
A horse racing aficionado, she also has written on lifestyle, personality, and business topics for Keeneland magazine and Kentucky Monthly, as well as sports features for BloodHorse, a weekly Thoroughbred racing publication, and the Official Kentucky Derby Souvenir Magazine. When she’s not in front of her laptop, Judy can usually be found enjoying a good book and a cup of tea, or baking something to go with said cuppa.