6 Home Inspection Tips for Buyers That Sellers Can Learn From, Too

In fact, 90% of homeowners believe that home inspections aren’t a luxury but a necessity, according to a poll from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).Realizing that each side ultimately wants the same thing—and that you can work together toward closing a deal—should set all parties more at ease. Start with these 6 home inspection tips for buyers that offer hidden lessons for sellers, too.

Papers outlining a home inspection contingency for buyers.
Source: (Kristine Isabedra/ Death to the Stock Photo)

Tip #1: Make the inspection official by writing it in as a contract contingency.

It’s not enough to tell the seller of a house verbally that you plan to get the house inspected before closing. You’ll need to work with your agent to make sure it’s written into the contract as a contingency clause, which “defines a condition or action that must be met for a real estate contract to become binding,” according to Investopedia.

The inspection contingency clause in particular allows a buyer to stipulate that they have a certain amount of time (typically 10-14 days) to inspect the property after both parties sign the purchase offer. This gives the buyer the chance to back out of the deal and get their earnest money back if they can’t come to an agreement on repair negotiations.

In the event that you’re buying the house from a friend or relative—or trying to compete in a hot market with fierce buyer competition—you might be tempted to waive the inspection.

Bad idea—says Frank Lesh, who also has inspected houses since 1989 and is the executive director ASHI. “Unfortunately, that could be a serious mistake,” he said.

Even if a seller isn’t deliberately hiding something, some maintenance issues aren’t apparent to an untrained eye.

Jesus Cardenas, a top-selling agent in Pembroke Pines, Florida, echoes that inspections are always part of the contract in the West Broward County area, where he works. “All properties are sold as is with the right to inspect within the first 10 days,” he said.

What that means for sellers:

95% of purchased homes go through an inspection before closing so there’s very little chance that you’ll wiggle out of this step. The only exception may be in a white-hot market where buyers are clamoring to compete, giving you all the power to sell “as is” for market value (but it’s rare).

Because the inspection is written in as a contingency, you should know your options when it comes to repair negotiations: agree to fix the issue, offer a credit to the buyer at closing, or refuse to take action with the risk that the buyer could walk away with their earnest money.

The upside of a home inspection is that it puts everything out in the open. Both sides know what a property’s problems are and can negotiate with all facts on the table. For more tips on what’s the right call in varying negotiation scenarios, check out HomeLight’s guide: “Fix it or Fight It?” which is all about how to handle repair requests before closing.

Many agents will suggest a pre-listing home inspection to either tackle maintenance issues early or give buyers a heads-up about certain issues, creating transparency. Cardenas, for instance, incorporates an inspection into his pre-listing routine because his area has a lot of 1990s homes with Spanish-tile roofs near the end of their life expectancy.

One such inspection found that a client’s roof had perhaps one or two years’ life left. Cardenas knew a roofing company that his client hired to perform about $6,000 worth of repairs, plus provide certification of another year on the life of the roof. “The seller was a nervous wreck, but you know what? The inspection went through completely fine,” he said. “We sold the place to the first buyer.”

He’d rather know of any problems upfront than have the buyer’s inspector unearth a surprise maintenance issue.

Tip #2: Temper your expectations for a perfect inspection.

Although a home inspection report is detailed, it doesn’t cover every nook, creak, and cranny.

“One expectation that first-time buyers have is that the inspector is going to find everything wrong with the house—and that’s not the case. We’re there as a guest of the owner, so we’re limited in our ability to inspect things,” Lesh said.

“We can’t tear behind the wall to see if there’s a leak behind the bathroom faucet or the bathtub. We can’t take things apart to see why the dishwasher is making a funny sound. Other than removing the electrical panel, we don’t move furniture or appliances.”

So if there’s a sectional sofa in front of the living room windows, for example, the inspector may not be able to reach all the windows to test if one sticks.

What that means for sellers:

The inspection report assesses a home’s condition. It’s not a report card on how good a homeowner you’ve been or a “pass or fail” test. You may be used to your home and its quirks, but a buyer isn’t, so try not to take anything in the report personally—and remember, minor things will always crop up.

“Listen, you’re buying a 30-year-old home … even a ten-year-old home or brand-new construction, you’re going to have issues. Every house has an issue,” Cardenas said.

Trust your agent to help weed through what’s minor and what’s a potential deal-breaker.

Buyers inspecting home before selling.
Source: (Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock)

Tip #3: Be prepared to attend the inspection and ask lots of questions.

When buyers pay for the home inspection, it’s fairly standard for them to watch the inspector at work. “The first thing I always do is I ask what their concerns are. Maybe they had an issue with a previous house, so they’re sensitive to that,” Lesh said.

Although he also explains that he needs elbow room—he might go into and out of the house several times, crouch down to examine something, and make sudden stops—he’s glad to answer any questions the buyer has.

“You’ll still get a report, but it’s easier to understand a problem when I can explain it to you, and you see what the issue is,” Lesh said.

What that means for sellers:

Although buyers need this opportunity, a seller already knows the home—and more often than not can get in the way.

Lesh and Cardenas both have had experiences with buyers clashing with sellers who became defensive or emotional during the inspection.

Let your agent supervise the inspection and tell you what the inspector found. (If you’ve had a pre-listing inspection or a maintenance inspection done recently, you’ll already know what’s in store.)

Tip #4: Know when to ask for a repair, take a credit, or leave it be.

The home inspection can trigger some delicate negotiations over a property’s flaws. For each, a buyer can request that the seller hire a contractor to fix it, obtain a credit (a reduction in the purchase price) toward fixing it themselves, or let it be. Sellers can opt for either or simply reject both and negotiate from there, although that puts the transaction at risk of the buyer walking away.

Sellers should repair major structural issues or safety problems, such as a dated roof or any requirements for a government-backed mortgage like an FHA loan, or offer credit if they don’t have the funds. Cosmetic imperfections, such as chipped paint or peeling wallpaper, can be left to the buyers to handle once they purchase the property.

“Most of the time, a seller will say, ‘No, I’m not going to give you a credit because the door doesn’t close properly,” Cardenas said.

What that means for sellers:

If your electrical system, appliances, or water heater are older, talk to your agent about offering a service contract to sweeten the deal. Cardenas said these cost about $300 a year and reassure sellers that any repairs that might arise after closing will be covered. “That takes away a lot of problems,” he said.

Tip #5: Request documentation to prove completed repairs.

While not essential, this can help verify any amenities the seller’s advertising, such as a new roof. “If the receipts are out, I’ll look at them,” Lesh said. “I think it’s a good thing for a seller to do if they actually did have work done.”

What that means for sellers:

You might already have your receipts handy for a home appraiser, so it doesn’t hurt to let a home inspector view them, too, as well as your agent. “If the buyer asked for the documents about the repairs, and it was recently [done], then it’s better to give them to me,” Cardenas said.

Source: (Fevziie/ Shutterstock)

Tip #6: Now’s your chance to get specialty inspections, too.

Although home inspectors are trained and certified to assess several parts of a home, they also can specialize in what are called “ancillary inspections,” or more detailed reviews focusing on individual components.

If they don’t have the right expertise themselves, general inspectors might refer the buyer to specialty inspectors who can more accurately assess components such as the home’s foundation or signs of termites. These types of specialty inspections are an additional fee.

Depending on where you live, radon inspections are a common one for home buyers to get, Lesh said. This colorless, odorless gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in rock, soil, and water, so any home can have a radon problem, the EPA says. However, people tend to think of radon testing more readily in homes that use well water or that have basements.

Other specialty inspections include termite or pest inspections, swimming pool inspections, and well or sewer scans, where they insert a special camera into the sewer line underground to make sure the pipe is functional.

If your home is older than 10-15 years, an electrical inspection can point out any repairs needed to bring the property up to code, such as replacing the electrical panel and any outdated wiring and receptacles.

What that means for sellers:

Be prepared for your home to be scrutinized and have patience throughout the various inspections—but do keep tabs on the deadlines of the contract and when the buyer is supposed to have each appointment scheduled by.

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