A home inspection is an objective, visual examination of a home's structure and operating systems, and should result in a report describing the overall condition of the home.
Why do I need a home inspection?
The main goal of a professional home inspection is to educate yourself about the home you intend to purchase, so that you can make a wise decision and help ensure that there will be fewer surprises later on.
Tell me more...
The true cost of a home is the purchase price plus whatever it takes to restore or maintain the home in serviceable condition. Without a professional home inspection you may not be aware of the total cost of the home you are considering. It is essential to have an idea of what to expect - which defects are major, which are minor and the approximate cost of repair, before you commit yourself. Of course, a fair home inspection should also point out the positive aspects of a house, as well as whether or not the existing systems and structure are capable of providing for any changes or renovations you may have in mind.
In short, a home inspection provides you with the knowledge you need to make more informed and confident decisions.
What should a home inspection include?
A professional home inspection should include an examination of the home, inside and out, from top to bottom. The resulting report should cover topics including the roof, exterior, structure, interior, plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical. Insulation, ventilation, the lot grading and any potential for basement dampness should also be addressed... practically, everything that can be seen without emptying or dismantling the house.
Couldn't I do it myself?
You may have extensive knowledge and may have been involved in repairs or renovations - you might even be a building trades person, however most people do not have the kind of knowledge and experience required to effectively perform an inspection and analysis of a complete building.
Moreover, the excitement and the processes involved in buying a home do not usually afford the the opportunity to make a calm and objective assessment of the property.
Who should I hire?
The fact is, the best way to learn how to do inspections and write reports, is by doing them and writing them - so try to find an reputable inspection company or individual with a strong combination of education and experience in home inspections.
Look for someone who offers a clearly written, understandable report that you can use to learn about your house and how to look after it in the most cost-effective manner - as well as assisting you in making decisions at the time of purchase.
Ask if you have access to your inspector after you move in, in case you have questions about the house or your report, or questions about home improvements.
How much should it cost?
You can get referrals from your Realtor, your mortgage or insurance broker or your lawyer, and you can call prospective home inspectors to ask about their fees as well as references. If you are unsure, compare the different fees with the services offered, and ask your other professionals what they think. Be wary of inspectors with very low fees, as well as inspection services that seem to be "too good to be true."
What kind of guarantee will I get?
An inspection in Ontario is described as, "...an opinion of the present condition of the property, based on a visual inspection of the readily accessible features of the building."
An inspection is not a guarantee, warranty or insurance policy. Without dismantling a house or it's systems, and not having built or assembled the house, there are limitations. We can substantially reduce your risk, but we cannot eliminate it, nor do we assume it.
When do I call in the home inspector?
You can make your offer to purchase conditional upon the findings of a home inspection, and most inspections are booked immediately after acceptance of the conditional offer, although the inspection could be booked at any time. Inspections can, and often are booked with very little notice, however it is always better to call as soon as possible to be better assured of having an appointment time you prefer.
Do I have to be there?
Attendance is not necessarily required, but we recommend that you do attend. In fact, most inspectors encourage you to attend the inspection. It represents an excellent opportunity to familiarize yourself with the property's technical features, and the opportunity to ask questions and learn all kinds of things first-hand, from your inspector. In short, there's nothing quite like being there!
Of course, due to unavoidable circumstances inspections are sometimes conducted without the buyers present. In this case you should call your inspector at the end of the inspection, or after you've reviewed your report to discuss the findings. Most inspectors are equipped to transmit your report electronically, either by email or by providing you with a download link. You should be able to fetch the report from anywhere that you can get on the internet.
Your inspector could also forward the report to your Realtor, your lawyer or another person who will download it for you. Electronic home inspection reports can typically be printed, and are often accompanied by a home reference manual of one kind or another.
What if my inspection report reveals problems?
Almost every report reveals some minor repair and maintenance concerns, even if the property has been well maintained, but these flaws should not normally affect your purchase decision. If however major defects are revealed, you may decide to re-negotiate your offer. And it is possible that you may decide that the nature of the work required is beyond your means or ability, and that the house is not for you. The choice is yours.
However, if you can hold that any problems or defects are not necessarily something "terribly wrong" with the property and look at them simply from "how much will it cost to have it work properly", then you will have a better, more objective understanding of the true nature of the situation. Frequently, apparent shortcomings in homes are 'part in parcel' with an area or item which you would like to change or renovate, and unless an item is of immediate concern to your comfort or safety, correction is therefore a redundant consideration.
If the report is OK, did I really need an inspection?
Sure, why not? Aside from the obvious point that we didn't know everything was OK until we did the inspection, the inspection has given you the opportunity to learn about your new home and how to look after it.
Invariably, home inspectors note areas which are not of immediate concern at the time of the inspection, but which could typically become of concern at some later date. When we point out preventive measures to you, which you can implement and thereby save money in the future by eliminating or reducing failures, you will have acquired value from your inspection.
Gil Strachan is a professional home inspector, representing Electrospec Home Inspection Services in east-central Ontario since 1994.