Purchasing a home is one of the biggest investments most people will make in their lifetime. When you’re about to put down a large sum of money on a property, it’s crucial to have as much information as possible about its condition before signing on the dotted line. This is where a home inspection comes in.
A home inspection provides an objective, unbiased assessment of the physical condition of the home. The inspection report summarizes the findings and identifies any issues or defects found with the property. As a buyer, carefully reviewing this report is essential to make an informed decision about moving forward with the purchase. However, it’s equally important to understand what the report does NOT tell you. You have to learn to read between the lines.
Don’t Rely Solely on the Summary Page
Most home inspection reports start with a summary page highlighting any significant defects or recommendations from the inspector. While this page is useful, don’t let it be the only thing you read. Thoroughly review the entire report. Oftentimes, critical clues are buried in the details of each section. The summary won’t highlight minor issues that may turn into bigger problems down the road.
Consider the Age and History of the Home
No house is perfect. The older a home, the more wear and tear it will have. An 80-year old house with original plumbing and electricity will likely have more problems than a 5-year old home. However, an older home isn’t necessarily worse. Inspectors expect more defects in older properties. Minor settling cracks or other signs of aging may be marked in the report but pose no real concern. Always view the issues relative to the home’s age and history.
Differentiate Between Cosmetic and Functional Issues
Home inspection report note both cosmetic and functional defects. Cosmetic issues affect the home’s appearance but aren’t structural or safety concerns. For example, the inspector may mark chipped paint, worn flooring, or an outdated light fixture. These blemishes don’t compromise livability. On the other hand, functional issues impact usability. Watch for electrical, plumbing, roofing, heating/cooling, structural problems. These require repairs for proper home operation. Know the difference.
Pay Special Attention to Water Intrusion Problems
Moisture intrusion issues merit extra scrutiny. Signs of water infiltration like damp crawl spaces, basement seepage, or roof leaks can spiral into mold, decay, and other hazards if left unchecked. Thoroughly research any water penetration noted in the inspection before purchasing the home. Verify if the moisture is from a maintenance issue like a clogged gutter, or a larger systemic problem requiring costly repairs.
Consider the Inspector’s Recommendations
Most inspectors will make repair recommendations in the report. Some may be critical to address before occupying the home. Others may suggest upgrades for improved energy efficiency and utility cost savings. Review these recommendations carefully. Get cost estimates on the more substantial suggestions to negotiate credits or repairs from the seller.
Realize Some Items May Not Have Been Inspected
Home inspectors have limitations on what they can access and test. Items concealed behind walls, underground, or behind furnishings often cannot be inspected. Storage areas and personal belongings in the home frequently aren’t inspected either. The report may call out these limitations. Don’t assume everything received a full examination.
Know What Isn’t Covered in the Inspection
Certain elements are beyond the scope of a standard home inspection. Inspectors don’t test for mold, air quality, asbestos, or pests like wood-destroying insects. Systems like fire sprinklers, central vacuums, and built-in appliances also aren’t inspected. Understand that more evaluations by qualified professionals may be needed if those areas are a concern.
Watch For Common Key Phrases
Inspectors use certain phrases repeatedly in reports. “Further evaluation by a specialist” indicates additional assessment is needed. Areas “not fully visible” or “not accessible” couldn’t be fully inspected. “Nearing end of useful life” means replacement is likely needed soon. Make note if those terms appear for major systems or expensive repairs.
Ask Your Inspector About Unclear or Vague Areas
Sometimes inspection reports contain unclear abbreviations, technical jargon, or vague comments. Don’t hesitate to ask your inspector to clarify any sections of the report you find confusing. They can explain specialized terminology and provide any additional context needed to properly interpret their findings. This will help avoid misinterpretations.
Compare Multiple Reports If Possible
If acquiring a home that’s been previously inspected for other buyers, try to obtain copies of those past reports. Comparing multiple inspections on the same property can provide greater insight. You may discover recurring issues indicative of larger problems. Or find defects identified in the past but not noted in your new report. Viewing only the latest report gives incomplete information.
Don’t Let the Report Deter You from a Home You Love
Use the home inspection report as an educational tool, not a decision maker. The goal is gaining a deeper understanding of the property’s condition to make an informed purchase, not looking for perfection. Even a report showing some needed repairs or upgrades doesn’t necessarily mean you should walk away from an otherwise ideal home. Weigh the overall costs against the home’s benefits.
Consult Professionals About Any Concerns
If the inspection reveals issues you want to better understand, consult relevant professionals. A roofer can advise you more accurately on a roofing problem for example. Professionals also give you a second opinion to verify the severity of any major defect called out. Don’t rely solely on the inspector’s recommendations.
Negotiate Repairs or Credits Based on Report Findings
Use concerns raised in the inspection report as justification when negotiating with the seller. Present repair cost estimates and request either the issues be fixed pre-closing or credits provided at closing to cover the work. Most sellers are willing to compromise in these situations.
By learning to read between the lines of the home inspection report and understanding its insights and limitations, you’ll be well equipped to make an informed home buying decision. Don’t let the report overwhelm you. Seek clarity on unclear issues. View defects in their proper context relative to the home’s age and history. Determine which problems truly require action. With the right approach, the report will serve as a useful guide, not a roadblock, in purchasing your dream home.