For a long time, some buyers and sellers of homes have operated under the "as is" school of thought, leaving sellers free of the responsibility to modify their home before sale and leaving buyers at risk to discover potentially expensive and unsafe defects in a home after the deal has closed. Since homes are such a serious investment, it ought to be one of the buyer's top priorities to gather as much information as possible about a house before making the purchase. This is the purpose of home inspections. A home inspection is a thorough physical examination by a licensed professional to determine the structural integrity, the functionality, and the safety of a home. An inspector will search for defects in any of thousands of potential problem points in a home. The findings of an inspection are detailed in a report which is to be presented to the prospective buyer upon completion.
When selecting an inspector, there are a few qualifications to take into account; not all inspectors perform equally. The first and most important qualification is that the inspector be certified by one of the national or state level professional associations for home inspectors. Membership in these associations means that the inspector is required to maintain certain standards of practice and also attend regular training and education in the industry. The second qualification to examine is experience. Professional recommendations can be obtained through favors and connections, and do not necessarily signify that the recommended inspector is experienced. A proper inspector is distinct from construction contractors in the way that a criminal prosecutor is different from a legal consultant. The two professions occupy the same general pool of knowledge, but require a completely different set of skills. Make sure you hire a designated home inspector, not just a general contractor who does inspections on the side. You can also evaluate an inspector by asking for a sample report. The report produced by an inspection should be clear and concise, but also complete. Some reports can be as many as thirty-five pages or more. A thorough inspection is a better inspection. The report should also make clear which issues are immediate concerns (such as code or safety violations) and which are routine maintenance issues that are to be expected almost any house. When "shopping" for an inspector, don't let price be your deciding factor. Lower rates can be a red flag for inexperienced or incompetent inspectors, and the amount you save in the long run by hiring for experience will far outweigh the amount you save in the moment by hiring for price.
Many assume that a brand new home is free of defects and is therefore not in need of an inspection. This is unfortunately not true. As with any other product - cars, boats, computers - even the newest of homes have been subject to human error during construction, and the defects found therein can range from minor (such as a poorly sealed window) to major (such as an incorrectly laid foundation.) A new home will probably not have an exhaustive list of all possible major defects, but home inspectors across the country have found that every new home has defects to be discovered. Some defects are out of sight to the standard everyday use of an occupant, and some do not manifest themselves immediately. This means that even a homeowner of ten years who is confident in his or her familiarity with a house may be blissfully unaware of numerous defects lying just under the surface. It could even be that some defects won't be discovered until the one who confidently bought a new house today decides to turn around and sell it many years from now and the new prospective buyer hires a home investigator. (Bear in mind that some defects are beyond the reach of a standard home inspection. Defects that would require dismantling, deconstruction, or excavation to be discovered may not necessarily be found by an inspector. Be sure to read the report carefully to see the defined scope of an investigation.)
What is a buyer to do once the inspection is complete? The inspection report will contain information that the buyer should take into account to inform his or her decision to buy or not to buy. The buyer is free to proceed with the purchase as is, request that the seller make repairs, request a reduced price, or decline to purchase the house. It is important to remember that the seller is not necessarily under legal or contractual obligation to repair defects before selling, except where such defects are set forth by law as being violations of safety code in legal need of repair. If the buyer makes demands of the seller based on the inspection report, the seller is free to agree to all, some, or none of the demands, or to decline to sell altogether and find another buyer.
A detailed, thorough, proper home inspection is recognized by realtors today as a valuable buyer's safety measure. With the assurance of an inspection report, a buyer can confidently proceed with a purchase knowing they are less likely to be ambushed by an unanticipated defect in their home. Given the magnitude of a home investment, a home inspection is a small price to pay for assurance and security.