Whether you are a buyer, seller, or agent preparing for a purchase or sale, or even a homeowner trying to stay ahead of repairs and maintenance, hiring a professional to perform a general inspection is the most reliable way to assess a home’s condition. An inspector’s report reflects a careful evaluation of the interior, exterior, and systems of a property and summarizes his or her findings, including potential repair and maintenance issues.
There are many areas to address in the course of a typical home inspection, and though the specific steps an inspector takes may vary with the features of the property and the services you select, there are standards that each pro should adhere to in order to make a thorough assessment. There is no substitute for an objective evaluation by a pro, but our home inspection checklist can help you prepare for an inspection and know what to expect from the inspector’s report.
Table of Contents
- Systems and Mechanicals
- What to Expect
- Know the Limitations
- Specialized Inspections
Your inspector should walk around the perimeter of the home to examine the outdoor elements on each side of the structure as well as the condition of the grounds and outbuildings. The type and general condition of elements will be noted, as well as specific areas of damage or concern.
The overall condition of shingles or other roof coverings will be examined, as well as roof vents, flashing, and other protrusions, such as skylights. An inspector will also check for signs of a sagging ridge or roof deck and for deteriorated roof sheathing. This phase of the inspection may be conducted from the ground or a ladder; some general inspections do not include examining the roof from its surface.
2. Chimney and Vents
The type and number of chimneys will be noted, and they will be checked for the presence of caps and for the condition of masonry elements and flashing. If the inspection takes place from the roof, the cleanliness and condition of the flues will be noted as well. Wall and soffit vents will be checked for condition, obstructions, and safety.
3. Gutters, Soffit, and Fascia
Gutters will be checked for proper slope, downspout and extension orientation, secure connections and fastening, as well as overall condition. The soffit and fascia in the area will be examined for signs of rot and other damage, as well as the type and condition of the materials and whether any sections are loose or missing.
4. Siding and Trim Elements
An inspector will record the type of siding on the home and note conditions like warping, buckling, cracks, paint deterioration, missing mortar, and loose material. The walls will be examined for signs of leaning or bowing.
5. Windows and Doors
The material, approximate age, and condition of windows and doors will be checked, as well as the trim, flashing, and caulking around them. Screens and storm windows and doors that are in place will be checked, as well as the general function and security of doors and windows that are accessible.
6. Decks, Porches, and Patios
While outside, an inspector will check the condition of decks and porches for stability and condition and for issues with railings, decking, roofing, drainage, wood rot, deteriorated masonry, and separation from the main structure, when applicable.
An inspection of the foundation that is visible above grade may reveal cracks, water infiltration, deterioration, structural concerns, and drainage issues.
8. Grounds and Grading
The yard will be checked for evidence of drainage issues, such as low areas and improper grading. The type and condition of driveways and walkways will be noted, as well as outbuildings, fences, and landscape features.
When your inspector moves on to the interior of the home, the process will likely resume in the basement or utility area, then proceed upward through the living levels. As with the exterior elements, an inspector will report the overall condition of various features and indicate potential trouble spots.
1. Foundation and Basement
An inspector will make a thorough check for evidence of water infiltration and structural issues, as well as taking a look at the mechanical systems located in the basement and checking posts and framing for rot, weakness, and inadequacy.
2. Floors and Flooring
Problems with floor coverings will be addressed, such as loose, damaged, or stained materials, as well as structural concerns like sloping or weakness.
3. Walls, Windows, and Doors
The type of wall and trim material will be noted, and the inspector will check for finish flaws, leaning or bowing, cracks, or damage and will indicate if the cause is cosmetic or potentially due to structural inadequacies. Windows and doors will be evaluated from the inside for proper function and evidence of air or water infiltration.
Ceilings will be checked for material, general condition, sagging, and evidence of leaks, such as water stains or crumbling plaster or drywall.
5. Kitchens and Baths
In addition to the standard checks done in every room, the plumbing fixtures will be checked for condition and operation, cabinetry, tile, caulking, and counters will be examined, and areas exposed to water will be inspected for evidence of current or past water damage and leaks.
If it is accessible, the attic will be evaluated for evidence of roof leaks and damage, adequate ventilation and insulation, and the presence of pests or moisture.
Systems and Mechanicals
Throughout your inspector’s tour of the interior and exterior of the house, he or she will evaluate various components of the plumbing, electrical, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as major and built-in appliances.
1. Heating and Cooling
The home’s thermostat(s), heating system, and central air conditioning or cooling equipment will be checked for basic function and evidence of last service. The type and approximate age of all equipment will be noted, and chimney flues and ventilation ducts may be inspected from the interior. Fireplaces and secondary heating appliances will be evaluated and tested when possible.
The water source, sewer or septic system, and type of water, drain, and ventilation pipes will be noted. The presence and apparent condition of related equipment, such as pressure tanks, filters, and pumps, will be reported, as well as evidence of leaks or deterioration in any components, valves, or pipes.
The type, size, and age of the electrical service will be identified, as well as whether proper grounding is in place, the apparent condition of wiring that is visible, and the function of receptacles, switches, light fixtures, and hardwired devices, such as smoke detectors and door bells, throughout the home.
An inspector will check the age and type of major and integrated appliances throughout the home and check their basic function, including kitchen appliances, water heater, water softener, garage door opener, garbage disposal, and laundry machines.
What to Expect
A general home inspection report is based on a visual assessment of the property, and is not designed to measure the quality of a home, but rather to summarize its current condition and identify aspects of the property that may need repair or maintenance or that are not in compliance with local codes.
The report serves as documentation of the features, components, and systems of a property and, while it indicates potential problem areas, it is not generally designed to assign a pass or fail assessment of a home.
Most inspection reports summarize defects of various types, and while no damage or malfunction should be ignored, the most pressing and potentially expensive repairs to address are those that relate to the stability of the foundation or structure, the longevity of the roof, the proper function of major systems, problems with water infiltration and moisture, or that threaten the health and safety of the occupants.
Know the Limitations
In general, the scope of a home inspector’s examination is based on his or her discretion and range of services, so there may be some variation in what is covered between providers and properties. In many cases, the scope of a home inspection is limited by accessibility; if an inspector cannot safely or conveniently access some areas of a home or property, they cannot be properly assessed without a specialized inspection.
This is often an issue with roofs, attics, and crawlspaces, but can also be the case in a garage, basement, or any area in which access is blocked by a locked door, furniture, debris, or other material. Since the nature of the inspection is visual, it is not typically possible to assess wall insulation and hidden plumbing, wiring, and ductwork.
It is common for inspectors to include photos and repair recommendations for issues they report, but they cannot provide estimates for the work required to correct existing and potential problems. In fact, in order to ensure you receive an objective assessment, it is advisable to hire an inspector who is not affiliated with any home repair business.
Although a general inspection covers all aspects of a home, it may not include an in-depth examination of HVAC equipment, appliances, out buildings, roofs, wells, or septic systems, an energy audit, or a survey of property lines. If addressing these areas is not possible for your inspector or is not part of his standard scope of services, you may need to call in a specialized pro or pay for a higher level of service.
Some specific inspections and related tests are not included with a standard home inspection and may have to be carried out by a licensed provider, such as those for asbestos, lead, toxic mold, insect infestations, and radon.
Your home inspector may recommend additional tests or inspections based on preliminary findings, so be sure to know what your general inspection includes and what it doesn’t, so you can line up additional professionals if needed.