When real estate markets are moving quickly, sellers sometimes become uncompromising. Why make concessions if your home is leading the neighborhood’s Ms. Popularity contest? This may lead buyers, caught in the frenzy of a bidding war, to become reckless, yielding one of the most important aspects of the purchase process: the home inspection.
What an Inspection Won’t Do
Let’s face it: We don’t buy homes frequently, so the process can be a bit confusing. The home inspection is one of the most commonly misunderstood processes in the real estate transaction.
Just as a home appraisal won’t tell you that the heater is about to go kaput, a home inspection won’t tell you what the home is worth. These are two different processes, initiated by two different parties. The appraisal is bank-ordered. The lender uses the appraisal to ensure that the home is worth what you’ve promised to pay for it.
While a large home inspector training institute likes to claim that the inspection is “all-encompassing,” it is far from that. That’s not to diminish the value of the process – it is extremely important. But it can’t tell you, for instance, what might be growing or breeding behind the walls or if there is a dangerous radon level in the home.
The home inspection is also not a guarantee that the home will be in the same condition when you take possession as it was when the inspection was performed.
The typical investigation by a home inspector is a visual one. He or she will look at the home’s roof, structure and major systems, such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC and ventilation. If an inspector can’t see an area for whatever reason – access is blocked by the owner’s belongings or it’s locked – she can’t investigate it and therefore won’t include it in the report.
What a Home Inspection Provides
Since a home is such a huge investment, it only makes sense to be concerned about its condition. A home inspection may just save you thousands of dollars. More than anything else, a home inspection by a licensed professional provides peace of mind.
The inspector will run the heating and cooling system and investigate the water heater. While in most cases an inspector doesn’t have access to the heat exchanger in the furnace, he can tell you the condition of the filter. He has no way of knowing the condition of the wiring behind the walls, but he can test the system for shorts.
The best home inspectors will recommend further inspection by an appropriate contractor. For instance, if he feels there may be a structural problem, he may recommend that you contact an engineer. If he notices evidence of wood-destroying pests, he may recommend that you have the home looked at by a pest inspector.
Should You Waive the Inspection Contingency?
In a multiple-offer situation, a buyer who waives the inspection contingency is most likely going to prevail. What seller wouldn’t relish the thought of a quicker close and fewer headaches, not to mention saving a ton of money if something happens to be wrong with the house?
But, by the same token, cash-strapped buyers need to know if the house they are about to buy has bad wiring, a leaky roof, a heating system on its last legs or anything else that may cost thousands of dollars to repair.
Buying a home without having it professionally inspected is the same as buying it as-is. If you’ve ever purchased a used car from a private party, you understand that you may be buying someone else’s headaches. Even knowing that, the feeling that you may end up on the side of the road with a broken-down car is hard to shake.
Transfer that feeling to what will probably be the largest investment you make in your lifetime, and it’s easy to understand why the home inspection has become a routine and vital part of the home-purchase process.
Make it Easy on the Inspector
As a buyer, you have no control over whether or not the seller will clear access to the areas of the home that the inspector needs to see. Ask your agent to add an addendum to the purchase agreement requesting that the seller provide the following:
Clear access to the attic – Inspectors are not allowed to touch or move personal items. If she can’t get to the attic access without moving things out of the way, the attic won’t be inspected.
An empty dishwasher – Home inspectors run through each cycle but will not do so unless the appliance is empty.
Access to the electric panel – Ask the seller to move boxes or anything else that may be blocking the electric panel.
Clear access to the furnace and water heater.
Plumbing – The water service should be left on. If it is turned off at the main, the inspector will need written permission to turn it on.
A home inspector can’t possibly tell you everything that might be wrong with the home you’re about to purchase, but you will be reassured that the major systems are in good working order. And that peace-of-mind is something you should never compromise on.