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Before You Finalize Your Home Purchase, Get a Home Inspection

Before you finalize your house purchase, be sure the house is in good condition. The best way is to have a professional inspection.

Inspecting the physical condition of a house is an important part of the home-buying process and should be included in your purchase contract as a condition of closing the sale.
One or more professional inspectors should look for defects or malfunctions in the building’s structure, such as the roof, plumbing, or foundation, and detect pest infestations or dry rot and similar damage. Even if the seller provides you an inspection report, it’s best not to rely on this alone — the seller may have chosen an inspector who’s not known for rooting out problems.

Be sure to ask for disclosures before you get an inspection.?In some states, such as Kentucky, sellers are required to disclose considerable information about the condition of the house itself and potential hazards to the property. ?But this is just the beginning — not all sellers know about problems with the house or honestly disclose them. (Sometimes they’ve lived with a problem for so long that they literally forget it’s there!) Nevertheless, the disclosures are useful to hand to your inspector for follow-up on known issues.

When to Have the Property Inspected

Most buyers get professional inspections only after they’re in contract to buy the property. The deal is commonly made contingent on the buyers’ approving the results of one or more inspections. The buyer arranges and schedules the inspections.

Before paying for a professional inspection, you can conduct your own informal inspection. Look for issues like sloping floors or bowing walls, signs of water damage, missing roof shingles or gutters coming loose, old or low-quality fixtures and appliances, and other signs of wear, tear, or needed repair. The best time to do this is before you make an offer, so that you can save yourself the trouble should you find serious problems.

Another – although less commonly used possibility – is to ask the seller to let you do a “preinspection”before submitting your offer. Why, given the cost of these inspections, would you do this?

  • Because if you’re in a situation where you’re competing against other buyers (which can happen in any market, if a house is particularly desirable), this can help you set your offer apart.
  • You’d most likely be able to submit an offer without an inspection contingency, thus reassuring the seller that your offer price is firm, not something you’re likely to whittle away at after you’re in contract, based on whatever a later inspection reveals.

But beware, some sellers will refuse to allow preinspections in any case, particularly because, if you alert them to problems with the house, they’re then obligated to divulge these to other potential buyers.

Hire a Professional Inspector

Hire a home inspector to inspect all major house systems, from top to bottom, including the roof, plumbing, electrical and heating systems, foundation, and drainage. This will take two or three hours and cost you from $200 to $500, depending on the size of the home. Accompany the inspector during the examination, so that you can learn more about the maintenance and preservation of the house, ask questions, and get a real sense of which problems are serious and which are relatively minor. The inspector will write everything down on the report, so reading it can be a bit scary if you hadn’t already seen that, for instance, “cellulose against the foundation” just meant a pile of old leaves that you could easily remove.

Get a Pest Report

In addition to the general inspector, it’s wise to hire a licensed structural pest control inspector, who will create a special pest report on the property (unless the seller has already commissioned one — pest inspectors, unlike general inspectors, traditionally accept work on properties they’ve inspected, so they have every interest in finding problems). The pest inspector will look for infestation by wood-boring insects such as termites and flying beetles, as well as evidence of dry rot and other fungal conditions. (For a rundown of all the critters that might munch on or otherwise damage your home, see Nolo’s article?Common House Pests.) Some general contractors are also licensed pest control inspectors, but they will normally charge extra for doing double duty. Be sure you get a written report of all inspections.

Consider Special Inspections

Depending on the property and your personal sensitivities, you may want to arrange specialized inspections for hazards from floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. The same goes for environmental health hazards such as mold, asbestos, and lead. And, if the general inspection revealed problems with the roof, foundation, or other areas that are hard to access or potentially expensive to repair, you may also want to hire a specialized inspector.

After the Inspections Are Completed

If the inspection reports show that the house is in good shape, you can proceed with the purchase, knowing that you’re getting what you paid for.

Next Steps

You’ll find a checklist and further instructions in?Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart.

Special thanks to NOLO for the information contained in this post.

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