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Preparing for the Inspection

A Home Inspection, Performed by a Professional Home Inspector is a key component of most home resale transactions.  This article is intended to help the home inspection client obtain the most comprehensive home inspection possible.

The Home Inspector is typically retained by the buyer during the contract option period, although more and more savvy home sellers are opting to have professional home inspections performed, prior to placing their home on the market. While the article is written in the context of a buyer's home inspection, the content can be applied equally well to a seller's pre-listing home inspection.

In preparing for a home inspection, it's important that everyone involved understands the role of the home inspector, who they serve and what to expect from the home inspection report.

Before the Inspection

Role of the Home Inspector

To be effective, the home inspector must be knowledgeable across a broad range of subjects related to home construction and maintenance. Though many home inspectors have experience in a particular construction discipline, their role is that of a generalist. Compare the role of the Home Inspector to that of your family doctor or General Practitioner. You see your family doctor for a check-up or physical (you do get regular check-ups, right?). He/she can perform a thorough examination and assessment of your condition and may recommend advice to help improve your overall health. However, your doctor will likely refer you to an Orthopedic Surgeon (a specialist) if he/she suspect that that pain in your knee may be a torn cartilage. Similarly, a home inspector may advise you to consult with a specialist if they find certain conditions (e.g., an electrician to evaluate aluminum branch wiring in an older home).

A home inspector should never offer to make repairs as this introduces an inherent conflict of interest and raises concerns about the integrity of the home inspector (i.e., are the inspector's findings objective or are the engineered to to generate repair income). Many ethical home inspector's refrain from referring contractors or giving repair estimates for the same reason.

The home inspector's primary function is to learn as much as possible about the home and disclose that information to the client in an objective manner. The home inspector does not pass or fail a home, nor should the home inspector involve themselves in the negotiating process. Each prospective buyer needs to weigh the information disclosed on the report against their own criteria. Some prospective homebuyers may not balk at a roof that needs replacement and it may have already been taken into account in their initial offer, while it may be a significant issue for another prospective buyer if they did not anticipate that kind of expense. Your agent can provide advice as to what to negotiate and how to approach negotiations

Who the Home Inspector Works For

Regardless of how the home inspector becomes involved in the transaction, the inspector represents only one party of the transaction. The home inspector's client is the person who signs the inspection service agreement and pays the fee. In most cases that is the prospective home buyer. There should never be any doubt about whether the home inspector is working for the buyer or the agent. In fact, the inspector should not even share the client's inspection report with any third party, including their own agent, unless the client has authorized it!

The Buyer and Seller Can Influence the Home Inspection

There are a number of things that the buyer and seller can do that have a positive affect on the home inspection. These items generally fall into one of three categories:

  1. Actions that enable the inspector to perform a more thorough and accurate inspection (e.g., ensuring equipment is accessible);
  2. Actions that reduce the number of minor items cited in the report (e.g., replacing burned out light bulbs);
  3. Activities that are not directly related to the home inspection, but still provide valuable information for the prospective buyer (e.g., obtaining warranty/service information).

Getting the most value possible out of a home inspection requires teamwork between buyer, seller and their agents. Assuming that all parties, except for the inspector, have a vested interest and share a common goal of completing the real estate transaction and avoiding post-sale issues, a thorough inspection is in everyone's best interest.

We have prepared the following list of suggestions that will help ensure that your Home Inspector is able to perform the best inspection possible. You can download a printer friendly version in a checklist format

Buyer's Preparation

  1. Ensure that the seller has adequate warning as to when the inspection will be and how long it may take;
  2. Make sure that the listing agent has the Seller’s Preparation Checklist and gets it to the seller;
  3. Review your inspection agreement and get answers to any questions;
  4. Review a sample of your inspector's report to ensure that it is written in a style that you can understand and contains the right amount of detail for you;
  5. Notify the inspector of any specific concerns you have about the house;
  6. Notify the inspector if there is anyone that you want them to discuss findings with or deliver a report to. Your inspector will not disclose findings to anyone (even your agent) without your express approval;
  7. Ask whether the seller has any ongoing service contracts for major systems (e.g., HVAC, septic, pool, termite, etc.) especially if they include warranties. Ask for copies of the documents and find out if/how they can be transferred to you after closing;
  8. Review the seller's disclosure closely. If major repairs have been made (e.g., foundation repairs), find out if they are covered by a warranty and whether it's transferable to you after the sale.

Seller's Preparation

During the home inspection, the inspector will be operating and examining almost everything in the home, garage and attic. By following the items in this checklist, you can help ensure a more positive home inspection.

What to Do:

  1. Ensure that all utility services, valves, connections (e.g., electric, gas, water, etc.) are turned on and any pilot lights are lit;
  2. If there are any children at home make sure that a responsible adult is present. The inspector may decline to perform the inspection if juveniles are present without an adult;
  3. Disable the security system. Unlock or provide keys to areas that the inspector will need to access, including garage doors;
  4. Try to position personal belongings and storage items so that they do not hinder access to any wall, ceiling or floor areas, including in attics, closets and under-sink cabinets;
  5. Ensure that access to open and enter attic stairways and entrances is clear so that the inspector can enter these areas (don’t forget garage attic openings). Same for crawlspace access in pier and beam homes;
  6. Make sure that there is nothing blocking access to, or preventing operation of HVAC systems, electric service panels, water heaters, appliances, plumbing access panels, etc;
  7. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace old batteries;
  8. Replace dirty HVAC air filters. Make sure that they fit properly;
  9. Remove any debris, wood, stored items, etc. from around the home and garage foundation to avoid these items from being reported as conducive to termite infestation;
  10. Trim bushes back from the foundation and walls;
  11. Provide copies of receipts and warranty information for repairs and service performed on major components and systems (e.g., roof, foundation, heat or air conditioning, etc.);
  12. Ensure that pets won't interfere with the inspection. Ideally, they should be crated or otherwise secured;
  13. You can help reduce the number of incidental findings that are reported by addressing any other maintenance and repair items that are within your ability to do. These may include: replace burned out light bulbs; fix leaking faucets, clogged aerators and leaking drain stoppers; recaulk tub and shower joints; replace leaking toilet flappers; clean range hood filters; reattach downspouts and replace broken or missing splash blocks; replace missing or broken outlet covers and switch plates; replace broken windows, latches and missing screens; Install anti-siphon devices on outside spigots; etc.

What Not to Do:

  1. Don’t attempt to conceal known issues or problems. Not only is this dishonest, but if the home inspector suspects that someone has attempted to conceal defects, he/she will scrutinize everything that much more closely;
  2. Don’t perform quick-and-dirty repairs or attempt to repair items if you are unsure of the proper method. Home inspectors can often spot improper repairs and do report them. Also, it frequently costs substantially more money to undo a bad repair than it does to repair the item properly in the first place.

During the Inspection

Buyer

Try to be present for at least the last half hour of the inspection. This is a great opportunity to learn a great deal about the house and while photographs in reports are great, it’s much better to have the inspector point items out to you “live”, before you see them in the report.

Seller

On a buyer's home inspection, the buyer is the home inspector's client and will often be in attendance with the inspector. As is the case with a showing, it's considered good manners for the seller to either leave or remain in other areas of the house during the home inspection.

After the Inspection

Earlier we mentioned that the home inspector does not get involved in the buyer/seller negotiation process, that this is the role of the agent. However, we will offer one point to consider. If you are negotiating with the seller for repairs, make sure that you know which repairs you want to control. For instance, if a house needs a new air conditioning compressor, a seller might reasonably elect to replace it with a contractor grade unit. However, if the buyer plans to be in the home for some time, he/she might prefer a high efficiency unit. This is a repair item that the buyer may want to have done after taking ownership so that they can select the contractor and equipment. The buyer's agent can assist in making these decisions.

A few last words: You may have looked at a great many houses and evaluated them based on the criteria that's important to you, whether it's curb appeal, floor plan, amenities, neighborhood, price, etc. House hunting is fun and exciting and you have probably begun to develop an emotional attachment to the home, or you wouldn't have made a purchase offer. Likewise, the current owner will most likely have an emotional attachment to their home. Then along comes the inspector who won't consider any of these things...

Remember that you hired the home inspector to perform a critical, objective assessment of the condition of the property and it's systems, not to tell you why it's a good or bad house to buy. New or old, no house is perfect. A good inspector will invariably come back with a list of defects for any house (even the home inspector's own home). Many of these may be things that you consider minor. Don't be discouraged to receive a report with long list of findings. Review the findings and decide if any are truly significant to you in your purchase decision and discuss them with your agent.

The home inspector's goal is to help you be as knowledgeable as possible about your new home.