Home inspector explaining damage and repairs to homeowner.

Home inspections are most valuable if buyers stay the whole time, which is usually two to four hours. (Getty Images)

Before you buy a home, it’s always a good idea to get a professional home inspection. In most cases, you can make your purchase contract contingent on a satisfactory inspection. That means if you don’t like the inspection results, you can cancel the contract, get your deposit back and walk away from the deal. Or you can negotiate with the seller to cut the price or make repairs to problem areas uncovered during the inspection.

Even if the results of the inspection mean you agree to accept the house as-is at the contract price, a good home inspection can give you valuable insights into the property you’re buying and help you plan for future maintenance and repairs.

“One thing the inspector won’t tell you is whether you should buy the house or not,” says Reuben Saltzman, co-owner and president of Structure Tech Home Inspections in Minneapolis. But a good inspection should give you enough information that you can make an educated decision on your own.

To get the most from your home inspection, plan to be present the entire time, which usually lasts two to four hours, depending on the size of the home, its condition and how many questions you ask.

“There are a lot of things you want to ask at the time of the inspection,” says Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. “If you get bored, you can always measure the windows for curtains.”

A home inspector is unlikely to give you specific estimates for repairs, but he or she can usually give you advice on whether a needed repair will be a large or a small job.

In most areas, a home inspection costs $300 to $600, which varies by individual pricing as well as the size and age of the house. And that doesn’t include specialized inspections. Depending on the house and where you live, you may also need inspections for radon, mold, septic systems, foundations, wood-destroying organisms or hurricane readiness. Those are likely to cost extra. Sometimes a home inspector can do those inspections for an additional fee, but other times he or she will recommend you hire a specialized inspector.

Before you hire an inspector, ask how long after the inspection it will take to get the report. Some inspectors give you the report on the spot, though that could require hanging around while the inspector writes it up, and others email it within a day or two. The timing is important because most contracts include an inspection deadline.

Your real estate agent is likely to give you the names of one or more home inspectors, and that’s a good place to start. Call and interview those inspectors, look at their websites and check out their reviews on Angie’s List, Yelp and Google. Mortgage professionals and friends and colleagues who recently bought homes are other good sources of recommendations.

The American Society of Home Inspectors, which has training requirements for its members and a professional code of ethics, lets you search for an inspector by geography on its website. Members of the nonprofit organization have to pass an exam and do continuing education to retain their membership. The National Association of Home Inspectors has similar requirements and an online search function.

InterNACHI, whose members also have to pass an exam and adhere to professional standards, provides free online continuing education courses for inspectors, several helpful booklets for homeowners and operates an online forum where consumers can ask questions. The organization also provides online referrals to member inspectors.

Here are eight ways to find the best inspector, plus get the most out of your home inspection:

Choose an inspector who wants you around during the entire inspection. “We recommend bringing the clients there during the inspection every single time from start to finish,” Saltzman says, rather than just showing up for the report at the end. “I don’t think the clients get as much out of the inspection if they do it that way.”

Ask for a sample report. “Any great home inspector should have their home inspection reports displayed on a website,” Saltzman says. See if the reports are clearly written and how they are formatted. Saltzman says a good report should identify the defect, explain why it matters and suggest what should be done to fix it. All good reports also include photos.

Read reviews on Angie’s List, Yelp and Google. You can ask inspectors for references and call past clients. But you should also read online reviews that the inspector doesn’t control to ensure accuracy.

Ask if the inspector is a member of ASHI, NAHI, InterNACHI or any other professional inspectors group. Choosing an inspector who belongs to a professional organization isn’t a guarantee of quality, but it does indicate a degree of professionalism and training.

Ask about experience and certifications. How long has the inspector been in business? How many inspections has he or she done? Has he or she taken specialized courses? Make sure you hire someone who does inspections full time rather than as a side job.

Ask what won’t be included and how to find out the condition of those items. In colder climates, for example, the roof, deck, patio, driveway and other exterior features can’t be inspected when they are covered with snow.

Get copies of license and insurance documents. Many, though not all, states require home inspectors to be licensed. Some municipalities may also require licensing. A qualified home inspector will provide copies of his or her license and proof of insurance.

Ask if the inspector can do ancillary inspections. If your home has a septic system, for example, or if foundation problems are common in your area, ask ahead of time if the inspector can do those inspections and if there will be an extra fee.

Tags: real estate, home improvements, money, housing


Teresa Mears writes about personal finance, real estate and retirement for U.S. News and other publications. She was previously the real estate blogger for MSN Money and worked as the Home & Design editor for The Miami Herald. During her journalism career, she worked on coverage of immigration, religion, national and international news and local news, serving on the staffs of The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times and the St. Petersburg Times. She has also been a contributor for The New York Times and The Boston Globe, among other publications. She publishes Living on the Cheap and Miami on the Cheap. Follow her on Twitter @TeresaMears.

Recommended Articles

What to Know About Moving to California

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 15, 2020

No other state offers such a variety of places to live and job opportunities, but expect to pay more.

Which Home Is the Best Layout for You?

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 10, 2020

Before you buy or build a home, consider how the footprint and floor plan fit with your lifestyle.

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2020

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 8, 2020

The housing market may not be as hot as in previous years, but selling now could be your best bet.

What to Know Before Renovating a Garage

Deanna Haas | Jan. 6, 2020

A garage renovation can add value to your home – here's what you should keep in mind before starting the project.

Best Interior Design Instagram Accounts

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 3, 2020

These interior design Instagram accounts offer advice, inspiration and resources to elevate your home design.

Is an Open House Necessary?

Wendy Arriz | Jan. 3, 2020

The traditional open house format is still popular, but whether it's effective in helping sell your home may depend on the type of property.

Hygge Decor Ideas for Your Home

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 27, 2019

Achieve the cozy feeling that embodies Danish hygge in your home design.

What to Know About Moving to Dallas

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 26, 2019

Before you decide to move to Dallas, explore all your options in this expansive metro area.

Options When You Can't Pay Your Mortgage

Lisa Larson | Dec. 24, 2019

Financial difficulty can leave you unable to pay your mortgage, but that doesn't always mean you're facing foreclosure.

What to Know Before Moving to Colorado

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 20, 2019

Get your hiking boots – and your wallet – ready for a new life in Colorado.

What Is the Cost of Living in Boston?

Dima Williams | Dec. 20, 2019

Here is what it takes to afford to buy, rent and live in the capital of Massachusetts.

Best Places to Live With Climate Change

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 18, 2019

See which metro areas are more resilient to changing climate conditions.

Housing Market Expectations in 2020

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 13, 2019

Low mortgage rates will help homebuyers afford property, while sellers won't see much reason to move.

Best and Worst Design Trends of the '10s

Robin Kencel | Dec. 13, 2019

Take a look at the 2010s fads that have transformed into staples, and others that are best left in the past.

What Is the Cost of Living in Seattle?

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 11, 2019

Here's a breakdown of what you need to be able to afford living in and around Seattle.

Is a Condo, Townhouse or Co-Op Best?

Steven Gottlieb | Dec. 11, 2019

Different forms of ownership have pros and cons, depending on how you plan to use the property.

Design Trends to Look Out for in 2020

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 6, 2019

Which design trends are on their way in, and which ones should you ditch in 2020?

What to Know About Moving to Nashville

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 4, 2019

Examine the details that can help you decide if you should move to Nashville, and what to expect when you get there.

Issues to Spot in a Final Walk-Through

Deanna Haas | Nov. 25, 2019

Both buyers and sellers should be aware of the issues that can arise during a final home walk-through.

Should You Buy a House With Cash?

Devon Thorsby | Nov. 22, 2019

Before you go all-in with your money, consider these caveats to paying for a home with cash.