Why You Need a Home Inspection


A hot seller’s market and a dream kitchen easily combine to make a recipe for a quick home offer with no contingencies. Do not, however, waive your right to a home inspection unless you’re purchasing a home for a rock bottom price that’ll afford you sufficient capital reserves to at least replace all of the electric, plumbing, and roofing systems and still come in under budget. 

Home offers should be placed contingent on the inspection because beneath that façade of elegant, contemporary wallpaper may lurk deep cracks signifying a foundational issue. That little "water spot" your real estate agent breezily dismissed? That’s likely a plumbing issue, but it could also signify a mold issue that may require you to completely strip the room and replace all of the dry wall. Still want to skip the few hundred dollars for the inspection fee and the extra day or two it may take for closing? 

This article will give you an introduction to home inspections, but make sure to check back with MilitaryByOwner’s blog to learn more about this topic. For instance, you may be surprised to learn things such as how military-heavy states such as California and Virginia do not require home inspectors to have a license, whereas states that otherwise have fewer regulations, such as South Carolina, have far more stringent licensing and credentialing requirements!

This example helps clarify the importance of completing a home inspection before you seal the deal on a property. For further discussion, take a look at why having a home inspection gives you a level of insight on the investment in real estate that you're about to make.

What Is a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is neither an insurance policy nor a comprehensive analysis of every flawed feature in a home. Unlike a car, prospective home buyers cannot request a CarFax history report. Instead, they must rely on personal inspection, the seller’s disclosure, and a home inspection. A home inspection only provides buyers with a report on a visual inspection of the home and its accessible features. 

This means that if rot or black mold exists beneath the drywall, then your home inspection report will not address these matters; you don’t want your home inspector pulling out all of your drywall now, do you? If indicators of black mold did exist, though, then a home inspector would customarily make a note to mention its possibility to you based entirely on circumspection. 

The level of training and certification to become a home inspector varies from state to state. Before hiring a home inspection company, inquire about their licensing and credentials.

What is Not Covered With a Home Inspection?

There are a number of crucial home issues that most home inspectors do not address because they do not have the requisite certifications to do so, such as:   

  • Asbestos
  • Lead Paint
  • Infestation
  • Radon Gas
  • Toxic Mold

There are, however, a few key items that every home inspector should check for, so make sure to ask about the following six categories, because a failure to do so could potentially cost you thousands of dollars in repairs not covered by home insurance.   

1. Plumbing 

Most home shoppers know the simple plumbing check tricks, such as turning on the shower and then flushing the toilet to see if it causes any change in water temperature or pressure. Unfortunately, as with most of the key items on this list, the real plumbing issues are concealed behind the bathroom tile work, making it challenging to identify problems. A home inspector should check for even minute leaks or any evidence of seepage.

If a crawl space exists, then request that the inspector go beneath the property to check the subflooring for signs of damage. Take it from this military spouse: After leaving a home in the hands of tenants for two years, a tiny and seemingly inconsequential but consistent leak in one bathroom required the gutting and replacing of both that bathroom and the adjacent bathroom. This is definitely one issue that you don’t want to have to deal with during PCS season.

2. Electricity 

If you’re buying a distressed property, then the damage to the electric wiring systems may be quite visible, particularly if the property was a foreclosure with a forced eviction. Homes throughout the country had wires cut by vacating homeowners, their disgruntled and displaced tenants, or vandals taking advantage of the opportunity to have a little fun in an empty house. 

If you’re not purchasing a distressed property, then know that just because the lights turn on, it doesn’t mean that fire hazards do not exist. The inspector will look for dangling wires in electrical closets, garages, or even outside the home that reflect obvious signs of DIY electrical work. If the previous homeowners have lived in the property for at least a couple of decades, then make sure to mention this point to your inspector so that he knows the electrical wiring may no longer be up to current building codes. This key fact may help him better identify problem areas that could cost you thousands of dollars to rewire. 

3. Roofing 

This is yet another a big ticket item, so you want to make sure that you’re prepared for when you’ll need to replace the roof. A home inspection report will let you know if the roof has not been replaced since the home was built and also give you the current condition of the roof. Home inspectors are not required to get up on the roof to inspect it, but they often do. A close-up inspection makes a difference, so inquire as to whether the home inspector you’re considering working with will do this for you. 

If the roof has five or more years left on it, then you can request a replacement estimate and budget for its replacement; you’ll have very little chance of reselling the home after a three-year duty station tour without replacing the roof. If the roof is in a considerable state of disrepair, then you may have wiggle room to negotiate either a roof replacement or partial roof credit from the seller at closing.

4. Foundation 

One young service member who left the military to move to Washington was excited to purchase a quaint, historic bungalow in a downtown district for approximately $200,000. As he was purchasing in a highly competitive buyer’s market where houses sold almost the minute they hit the market, he chose to forego the inspection contingency. Many online resources suggest that this action is smart because it makes a buyer’s offer look more attractive, but let the buyer beware, as nothing in the seller’s disclosure hinted at the $100,000 repair bill that this young man would have to pay within a year of moving into his new home. 

When he went to create a man cave in his unfinished basement, a local contractor informed him that his foundation was in such poor condition that it was literally unsafe to not only be in the basement, but also in the house itself. Given that he had this information from a contractor, the former service member would now be legally bound to provide this information in his seller’s disclosure when he went to sell. Stuck in this situation that no homeowner’s insurance would cover, he borrowed money to make the repairs. When the time came to sell his home about five years later, he sold it for just a little more than what he paid for it initially, meaning that he learned a $100,000 lesson.

Make sure your inspector thoroughly inspects the cause of any cracks that are visible in walls, the roof, the exterior, and especially in the basement. If his report does not address the cracks, make sure to ask about the cause. Do not accept "house settling" as a sufficient response for large cracks. Your inspector will also note if a floor crack extends under a wall and other signs of foundational issues, such as sloped floors, bowed walls, and doors that don’t fit frames. 

5. Drainage

One thing you don’t want in your new home or yard is run-off water. Don’t wear your cute shoes to walk through your new home, instead, make sure you trample through the entire yard to test for large squelchy spots that may indicate poor drainage. Drainage is related to land gradations, which a builder’s report may contain for a newer home, but the best way to inspect for this is to visit the home on a rainy day. 

Again, this is not necessarily realistic in a seller’s market, but given the foundational issues that drainage and standing water can cause, if you have any reason to doubt the quality of drainage on a property, then check back on our house listings to find another option for your family. Your home inspector will not likely inspect a home during the rain as it will impede his ability to check the exterior of the property and the roof, but he should be able to tell you if there are indications of regular standing water in any area of the property.

6. Appliances and Heating/Air Conditioning (HVAC) 

Your inspector will note ages and functioning of major appliances such as the water heater, oven, and HVAC system, and will note if any should be replaced, repaired, or have rust or other damage. The inspector will check whether the unit operates well, when the unit was last serviced, and issues, such as if a larger home only has one A/C unit which could be a concern for higher energy costs. 

Keep in mind the purpose of a home inspection is to find out if there are severe structural or mechanical defects. In our post, What Repairs Can I Ask the Home Seller to Make?, buyers are reminded to make your home insurance policy will cover the home you plan to buy. For example, an issue like old electrical wiring might be a red flag that prevents you from being able to insure the house, and you’d be unable to close on your home sale if you don’t have insurance coverage.
As our ebook, Making an Offer and Closing on Your New Home, describes, with an experienced buyer’s agent at your side, you’ll be able to negotiate with the seller on any prominent issues. 

It’s important to think about what you're getting into when you're ready to purchase a house. Having a home inspection can help make clear the list of responsibilities that go along with owning your own place. 

Original article by Karina Gafford, updated 2018 by Mary Ann Eckberg.