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

Housing Market Expectations in 2020

Devon Thorsby | April 2, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has reduced homebuying and selling activity. Here’s how it could impact the housing market for the rest of 2020.

What Take Off Your Must-Have Home List

Steven Gottlieb | April 1, 2020

Don't let your vision of your dream house cloud your judgment on which details you really need in a home.

All About Tenant Rights in New Jersey

Devon Thorsby | March 31, 2020

Here are the basics you should know if you find yourself disagreeing with your landlord.

What to Do If You Can't Pay Rent

Devon Thorsby | March 27, 2020

Orders to close businesses have left many people without income. Here's what to know about making rent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

DIY Projects That Add Value to Your Home

Mady Dahlstrom, Devon Thorsby | March 26, 2020

While you're spending extra time at home, add value to your house with these easy do-it-yourself projects.

How to Set Up a Home Gym

Devon Thorsby | March 25, 2020

Create a home gym setup that will encourage you to stay active as you shelter in place.

What's the Cost of Living in New York?

Lisa Larson | March 24, 2020

What does it take to afford one of the most expensive cities in the world? Here is a breakdown of the cost of living in the Big Apple.

'For Sale by Owner' the Right Way

Maryalene LaPonsie | March 23, 2020

Selling your house without an agent can save you thousands, but you could lose money if you don't do it correctly.

10 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Teresa Mears, Devon Thorsby | March 20, 2020

Consider these low-cost ways to sell a home fast by attracting buyers with great photos, fresh curb appeal and social media buzz.

How to Disinfect Your Home

Devon Thorsby, Melissa Shin | March 20, 2020

Pay attention to high-touch areas of your home – especially those you don't normally disinfect.

Can Virtual Staging Help Sell Your Home?

Dima Williams | March 20, 2020

Any staging is better than none, a stager says, but virtual versus physical staging is a decision with sale and profit implications.

How Do I Find My Property Lines?

Devon Thorsby | March 19, 2020

Determining property lines can provide you with information for needed legal changes to your home and backyard.

Virtual Tools for Homebuyers

Devon Thorsby | March 18, 2020

Social distancing doesn't have to prohibit your ability to buy a home. These virtual tools can aid in the deal.

What to Know If Buying New Construction

Wendy Arriz | March 17, 2020

You have the chance to avoid the headache and hassle of construction and move into your brand-new dream home.

Coronavirus Leads to Low Mortgage Rates

Devon Thorsby | March 16, 2020

Economic uncertainty in the wake of COVID-19 sends mortgage rates historically low, and it might be the right time to buy or refinance.

States With the Lowest Property Taxes

Devon Thorsby | March 11, 2020

Median property taxes in these states are the lowest in the U.S.

What to Know About Moving to Hawaii

Devon Thorsby | March 6, 2020

Get ready for sun, sand and a high cost of living if you're considering a move to Hawaii.

5 Reasons You’re Still Renting

Steven Gottlieb | March 6, 2020

Financial, personal and professional factors may lead you to put off homeownership. Should you remain a renter indefinitely?

The Best Places in Florida for Families

Devon Thorsby | March 4, 2020

We rank 11 Florida metro areas for how they’ll appeal to families based on the details that matter most.

Small Bathroom Storage Ideas

Deanna Haas | March 3, 2020

Make the most out of your small bathroom space with these sensible storage and organization solutions.