39 Secrets Home Inspectors Won’t Tell You
Before you hire a home inspector, read some of their little-known secrets.
Don’t find a home inspector through your real estate agent.
It’s in the agent’s best interest to have the deal go through quickly, so some pitch inspectors who find few problems. (Here are some things that all smart homeowners do once a year.)
If you have to go through a real estate agent…
….don’t forget to seek homeowner testimonials to back up those referrals. Remember, some less-than-scrupulous agents may be tempted to refer inspectors who tend to let things slide.
If I don’t spend at least two hours at the house…
…I’m what we call a drive-by inspector, and you’re not getting your money’s worth. A thorough inspector checks the crawl space, opens the breaker box, and walks the roof. Most houses take me every bit of three hours. (Do you have a messy house? Here’s how it could be making you sick.)
I won’t tell you not to buy a house, because I’m not supposed to give real estate advice.
But if I keep telling you that the house has “a lot of issues” or has “a major issue,” read between the lines—or at least be prepared to spend big money to fix some problems. Keep these 22 things your real estate agent isn’t telling you in mind, too.
If you’re a seller…
…you should clean and prepare your house the same way you would for a showing. Most people leave a mess, and when the buyers arrive with me, their jaws hit the floor. (This is how often you should be cleaning everything in your house.)
Ask to see a sample report before you hire me.
It will give you a good idea of what kind of inspector I am. Do I include digital pictures and estimate repair costs or not? It’s a great way to compare two inspectors.
Even brand-new homes should be inspected.
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We find a ridiculous amount of stuff wrong in new construction: leaks, electrical issues, improperly installed washing machines, clogged pipes because the tile guy cleaned his tools in the sink. (You NEED to see these construction fails that you should definitely not try at home.)
Please, if you’re going to pay for my services, read my full report—not just the summary.
Many people don’t. In one report, I specifically noted that the fireplace damper didn’t work. The homeowner called me a few weeks later to complain about all the smoke in the house. Besides smoky fireplaces, here are some other reasons your house might be giving you anxiety.
If you want the sale of your home to go smoothly…
…have the house inspected before you put it on the market. Working with me can give you time to find a reasonably priced contractor or to make the repairs yourself.
If you have a lot of questions, don’t ask them as I’m walking through the house.
It will distract me, and I might miss something. Let’s go through them at the end. (Here are some pretty personal details your house reveals about you.)
I can’t see under the cement slab or inside the walls.
So if a dishonest seller wants to go out of his way to hide defects, I might not be able to find them. (Don’t even consider moving until you answer these important questions.)
Some of the worst homes are those owned by do-it-yourselfers.
I’ve seen toilets flushing with hot water, weird appliance hookups, and indoor electrical panels dangerously mounted outside in the elements. Hire a professional if you don’t know what you’re doing–and don’t try these 12 other DIY projects.
Roof and foundation issues can stop a sale fast.
If you’re selling and are not sure of their conditions, get a professional to evaluate them ahead of time—and make sure tree limbs are trimmed far away from the roof to prevent damage.
I’ve encountered every kind of hazard.
Once, I was crawling underneath a bathroom, and I felt something strange beneath me. I looked down and discovered I was on a huge pile of double-edged razor blades. I took a picture of it because I thought no one would believe me. (Here’s what you should know about keeping your house safe from burglars.)
A growing number of people are having us inspect condos, co-ops, and even apartments before they move in.
I can evaluate the space you’ll be responsible for, and if it’s a condo or co-op, I’ll inspect the roof and boiler and let you know if you’re likely to be hit with a capital charge in a year or two for the cost of a new one. (Moving into an apartment? Take a photo of these five things right now.)
You should be there during the inspection of a house you’re buying, so I can talk to you about what I find.
A good inspector will also show you how to change the furnace filter, and where to find the main plumbing trap, electrical disconnect and water shutoff valve. If your inspector doesn’t want you there for the inspection, that’s a red flag. (Don’t miss these surprising costs that every first-time homeowner should be aware of.)
Sellers: If you have a detached garage, leave me the keys.
And if you have an attic door in your closet, move your clothes out of the way. I’m not going to move your stuff, so if you don’t make it accessible, it may hold up your deal because I’ll have to come back another day.
Be especially careful if you’re buying from a home flipper.
Unfortunately, I’ve run into a lot of unethical flippers looking to make some quick money who intentionally hide problems. (Here’s how to have a stress-free move.)
Some simple steps sellers can take before the inspection to save time and trouble later:
Make sure every light fixture has a working bulb, test all electrical outlets, repair holes and cracks in drywall, have your carpets and air ducts cleaned, test your smoke detector, and have your HVAC system serviced. Watch out for these major signs your house is in trouble.
If you’re building a house…
…bring me in once before the drywall is put in, so I can look at the bones of the house as well as the plumbing and electrical work. If you wait until it’s finished, a lot of the defects will be hidden. (Here’s how to build trust with your new neighbors.)
Look for an inspector who is licensed (if your state has a licensing program) and belongs to a national home inspector organization.
The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) are the three big ones.
Always get a home inspector who will walk on the roof if conditions permit.
There are so many defects you can’t identify from the ground with binoculars including hail damage, chimney problems, and the condition of the shingles and flashing. (Did you know painting your house this color can make it worth $5,000 more?)
If my report includes ten or more recommendations…
Olivier Le Queinec/Shutterstock
…to have “further evaluation” by other professionals—a plumber to check the water heater, an engineer to look at the foundation, an electrician to look at the breaker box—I don’t blame you for wondering what you’re paying me for. Some inspectors do that to cover their butts because they don’t want to get sued.
A lot of buyers assume that the seller is required to fix problems or lower the price.
But in reality, the seller is under no obligation to fix anything, and it’s your decision whether you want to go ahead with the sale.
It drives me crazy when sellers stick around for the inspection.
They tend to get extremely defensive because their home is their castle, and I’m pointing out everything that’s wrong with it. (This should be your week-by-week schedule before moving day.)
If your realtor says not to hire me because I’m a “deal killer”…
…that might be a reason to hire me. If a house has a ton of problems, don’t you want to know before you buy?
Have a pre-inspection
For the seller, a home inspection is also a great opportunity, says Jim Dainty, owner of WIN Home Inspection in Cookeville, Tennessee. “Don’t underestimate the value of a pre-listing inspection. This process offers a seller an opportunity to address issues of concern prior to sale.” And in preparing for a home inspection, the homeowner can make obvious repairs, which will streamline the inspection process.
Declutter and put the pooch in daycare
“Too much furniture can make it difficult to access the attic, HVAC, boiler, and other less-visible areas,” says Ben Soreff, who organizes homes for home sales and home inspections and frequently works with home inspectors. So can having a pet underfoot. “You don’t want to end up with blank items on your inspection report. Here are some other home-selling tips you’ll want to consider.
Don’t be creepy
It took a bit of coaxing, but we got this secret out of Los Angeles Realtor Chantay Bridges, who spoke to Reader’s Digest minutes after being on-site with home inspector, Jim Stewart, of The Elite Group Inspection Professionals: Home inspectors (and Realtors) get scared of weird, strange, odd-looking stuff in your house. “You really can never be prepared for what you may encounter,” she says, and she and Stewart have seen it all, including skeletons of an animal family and an alarming attic beehive dripping honey down the house’s walls.
Look at home inspection as an education
Both buyers and sellers regard a home inspection with some level of dread. But for the buyer, the home inspection is a wonderful opportunity to become a more educated homeowner, Jeff Miller, co-founder of AE Home Group and Dependable Homebuyers, wants you to know. Don’t know how to maintain your heating system or how often you should clean your gutters? The inspection is the perfect the time to ask, Miller advises. Here are 35 things every homeowner should know before signing on the dotted line.
There’s no such thing as a bad question
Along the same lines, you as potential-buyer, should feel free to ask the home inspector any question. And make sure you understand the answer, advises Soreff. “Sometimes the technology jargon can be overwhelming, especially for the first time home buyer. Make sure you understand what is happening. A good home inspector won’t pass judgment. They’ll merely give you the facts.”
Inspections take time
Inspector Stewart isn’t sure why people think inspections go quickly when, in fact, a good inspection of most residential properties will take anywhere from between two and four hours. Things that affect the time taken include the size of the house, whether the property has a pool or a pond, and access. “If the inspector has access to attics, basements, crawl space, can go under house, they most likely will do so,” says Stewart—and that’s really in everyone’s best interest.
Listen to what I have to say
Be open to even the bad news. “The job is not to sugarcoat,” notes Bridges. “If you ask what that horrible smell is, and we think it’s from mold, you’re going to hear about it. You may not like it, but it’s time to check into reality. What you uncover in an inspection can save you tons of money as a buyer.” These are some creepy things that have been found in people’s homes.
I’m a generalist, not a specialist
While you should listen to your inspector, please understand they’re generalists, not specialists, as both Miller and McGonigle point out. So if your home inspector identifies an issue, it’s always a good idea to bring in a specialist in that sort of issue to get a more in-depth opinion.” These auxiliary specialists include structural engineers, chimney inspectors, termite inspectors, waterproofing experts, roofers, mold remediation experts, lead inspectors, and radon inspectors.
Know the scope of your inspection
“A home inspection does not address state or local code compliance,” McGonigle shares. “Always confirm what is included in your inspection,” Bridges advises. “If you have concerns outside that scope, engage a specialist.”
I don’t fix things
It’s the job of the inspector to point out issues with a home, and then it’s up to you to decide if you want to negotiate with the seller about repairs, or walk away from the deal, Bridges says. Thinking about DIYing those repairs? First consider these cringeworthy DIY home-repair fails.
I can’t predict the future
“A thorough home inspection will uncover current issues and make educated guesses about future maintenance. But it can’t provide a precise timeline,” Dainty says. Similarly, when it comes to repairs, it’s a bad idea to try to extract a quote from your inspector. “We can’t speak for a contractor who isn’t present, and you don’t want us to give you the wrong number.” And please don’t ask your inspector if the house is worth the price. “It’s not our area of expertise,” McGonigle says.
Our level of experience and expertise may vary
Not all states have laws regulating the home inspection industry, notes the American Society of Home Inspectors, and state laws can vary. In Miller’s home state of Maryland, for example, home inspectors are required to take a 72-hour class before getting licensed. In New York, licensing requires a 140-hour class. In some states, no license is required. Some states require a certain number of apprenticeship hours, but the quality of those hours may vary.
Before you hire, inquire…about insurance
If a home inspector misses a defect that ultimately costs you, you can always sue. However, if your state does not require that home inspectors carry liability insurance, then even if you won in court, you could potentially walk away with nothing. It’s unpleasant to envision things going that far afield, but before you hire a home inspector, it’s worthwhile to inquire as to their level of insurance coverage.
Next, check out 12 of the craziest things home inspectors have found during home inspections.