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What to Expect in an Inspection: The Pros and the Shortfalls

So you found the house. You've made an offer, it was accepted and you are feeling both extremely excited and extremely nervous. Now what?

Well, now comes the inspection, assuming you aren't an idiot.

A home inspection gives you a chance to actually figure out what you just agreed to purchase. You thought you just went under contract for a 3 bed cape with a cute back porch but what if instead you went under contract on an unmitigated termite and carpenter ant disaster!? Wouldn't you want to know?

Sure you would.

So you get an inspection.

Congratulations, you aren't an idiot.

But even people who elect to get an inspection rarely know what to expect from one. Often, people expect more from their property inspections than what the reality is. So here are a few pros to a home inspection - the positive things you should expect to receive - and, not the cons (there really are none for you, the buyer) but the shortfalls of a home inspections.


1) The first item here should be obvious. You get a home inspection in order to learn more about what might be going wrong with the house. The great thing about most home inspections, particularly if you elect to do things like get a wood-destroying insect report or test for radon, is that they test or inspect all of the major facets of your home. Inspectors run your furnace and central air (if temperatures allow), walk-on and inspect the roof for potential water intrusion or damage, test all the homes plumbing fixtures, make sure windows open and close like they should, scope the foundation for signs of moisture intrusion and even investigate your home's electrical box and each outlet.
This means that a lot of obvious issues will get picked up during the inspector's review. For a few hundred dollars and a couple hours of your time, you can learn a lot about your future home.

2) Lets say something does come up on the inspection. A water line is rusted through or you find out the roof is in worse shape than you thought, its best to gather that information during the inspection so don't overpay for a house with issues. Issues found on a home that the seller did not alert you to before hand can inform future negotiations on the home - whether its a drop in sales price, a seller's assist or the seller repairing items of issue.

3) Last, but not least, your home inspection is an invaluable learning experience into the nature of your home. Following an inspector though, you can learn where important items are in your home, such as the main water valve and electrical panel, and how things work. No idea what makes an outlet "grounded" or how your whole-house fan works? Well, your inspector should, and learning about system after system with a licensed professional is of the biggest payoffs of a home inspection.


1) While the inspection covers a lot of your home, it doesn't cover everything. Most people assume that the inspector, while combing over the house for several hours will find any and all lurking issues. But some problems aren't detectable, or are hidden from an inspector.

Some of the most common items here include items behind or underneath furniture. Unless the home is vacant, the inspection is going to be limited to the areas the inspector can get to. They won't be moving all the heavy furniture out of the way so issues might only get noticed at your final walk through or after settlement.
Further, there are some other areas of the home that simply can't be seen. Sewer laterals (the sewer pipe that runs from your home to the street) are rarely included in the average home inspection and thus you will likely not know of an issue, if there is one, until you are the owner of the problem. Similarly, if a water leak isn't obvious during a dry season or you don't do a mold test in a damp basement, you won't know about it.

2) If you find something after settlement, your immediate reaction is to feel conned - that there was an issue with the home someone should have alerted you to and didn't. Often, buyers who are unlucky enough to have this happen to them will not only point fingers at the seller but at the inspector as well.

However, buyers have to remember that not only is an inspection limited to the few hours of the inspection and visible areas, its also not a warranty. Besides areas that can't be, or are agreed to not be, inspected, some items that work during the inspection may simply fail after you move-in. Often, homes that sit vacant on the market for a while may have plumbing or electrical issues that don't pop up until the home actually gets used for several days. Your home inspection is not a guarantee that things won't break. Unless you are buying new construction that actually DOES come with a warranty, you are buying a used and likely somewhat-unknown product and you have to accept that as a gamble.

3) Finally, and similar to #2, no amount of inspection is going to demonstrate real living. Items that test fine for a few hours during one season is not demonstrative of their entire use. An inspection can only see what the house and its systems are like in a short period of time under certain conditions. Its not necessarily real life. Buyers have to realize not everything can be caught under such a short time frame.


Buyers purchasing homes without a warranty have to realize that a home inspection isn't an entire briefing on what has happened or a psychic's vision into what will happen. Its not a guarantee and its limited to what an inspector can do and see in certain time frame.

However, that shouldn't stop home buyers from spending the money to get them. A home inspection catches a large amount of potential issues before the issues are yours and yours alone. It gives you a glimpse, if nothing more, into the strengths and weaknesses of the major components of a home and, as an additional bonus, gives homeowners an invaluable education in the inner workings of their future home.


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