Inspections and Reports When Buying a Home & Potential Legal Concerns
Before closing on your new home, you should make sure to have it inspected by a professional. This will reveal any issues that your agent or you lacked the knowledge to identify when you visited the property. If your inspection uncovers a serious issue, you likely will be able to back out of the deal or revisit your negotiations with the seller. However, you should be aware that a general inspection may not cover everything that you need. You may need to arrange for a specialized inspection to follow up on specific issues.
There are no specific legal requirements for inspections, but most buyers arrange for an inspection of the structural features of the home and an inspection related to pests. A lender usually will require these inspections as well before financing the deal.
General Home Inspections
A general inspection can be conducted by a licensed professional in states where inspectors are licensed. Even if the inspector is not licensed, they likely come from a background as a contractor, builder, or engineer. An inspector will be familiar with a diverse range of areas, such as plumbing, ventilation, and roofing. You should look into the qualifications of your inspector before retaining them, and you should have a written agreement regarding what will be inspected and what will be left out. In some situations, inspectors and their clients may agree to add certain components to the inspection for an extra fee.
Buyers should ask sellers to disclose any potential problems with the property so that the home inspection may address them. In many states, certain disclosures are required by law.
While these inspections should be reasonably comprehensive, there are some areas that an inspector usually will not investigate. They are not required to endanger their safety during the inspection. Nor are they required to make holes in walls or floors, remove carpeting, or swim in swimming pools. Complications can arise if the personal property of the seller blocks the view of certain areas, but you can ask the seller to remove these obstacles. Certain unusual features like security systems may be outside the scope of the inspector’s knowledge. You can ask for a specialized inspection of these if you see the need.
You may benefit from attending your general inspection. This can give you a sense of which issues you may need to address in maintaining or possibly remodeling your home. You can bring a camera or a video recorder to capture evidence of problems, and you can check things that the inspector might skip, assuming that it is safe and you are sufficiently knowledgeable about them.
Reading the Inspection Report
Your agent and you will receive a report from the inspector, which may contain some technical language that is hard to understand. While some reports are in narrative form, others come as checklists. The report will not give you a clear “pass” or “fail” verdict and will not give you a precise estimate of the cost that you will need to incur in repairing these issues. You should be aware that the report will err on the side of being overly detailed and comprehensive, and not every issue may require urgent attention. If the problems are significant and appear to require substantial costs, however, you will need to decide whether you would prefer to back out of the deal or ask the seller to bear the cost of repairs. You can consult other professionals and possibly your real estate agent for advice on what the cost might be.
The most common type of inspection beyond the general inspection is an inspection for pests and termites. You should schedule your own inspection even if the seller has already arranged for an inspection. (Your lender also may request an inspection if some time has passed since the last inspection.) Your general inspector may point out some issues that they notice, but you should still get a specialized inspection.
Sometimes a general inspector will advise a prospective buyer to arrange for additional inspections in certain areas. You might need another look at retaining walls, drainage, the possible presence of lead or asbestos, or problems with a foundation. If you have specific sensitivities to issues that may not affect everyone, or if you see a problem that the inspector misses, you may want to follow up with a specialized inspection. In some cases, a seller will have disclosed certain problems unrelated to the areas addressed by the general inspection. You may want to find out more details through a specialized inspection.
Defects in Newly Constructed Homes
Hiring an inspector is just as important for a newly constructed home.
If you are buying a new home, you may understandably assume that the property is in excellent condition. However, problems with poor workmanship occur all too often, and a developer selling a newly constructed home may not be candid about them or responsive to communications raising these issues. You should keep an eye on the process while the home is being built, organizing general inspections and interim inspections. You should not rely on the developer’s inspectors or on third-party inspectors, even though hiring your own inspector will involve some additional cost.
Your purchase contract should allow you to arrange for these inspections. The developer may try to discourage you from conducting them, but you should persist. You should also get information on the contractors that worked on the property and on the companies that made components such as appliances, in case you identify a defect later.