Written by Audrey Ference for Realtor.com
If you're buying a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it's in decent shape. But if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you should pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact!
But when you ask those home inspector questions is as important as what you ask. To ensure you get the most out of your home inspection, here's a timeline of queries to hit before the inspection even starts, during the actual home inspection, and well after it's over.
Questions to ask a home inspector BEFORE the inspection begins
So, how do you separate a great home contractor from a merely good one? It boils down to interviewing home inspectors to gauge how thorough a job they'll do. To help, here are some of the best questions to ask.
Bonus: This'll also help you know what to expect! Knowledge is power, my friends.
1. 'What do you check?'
"A lot of people don't know exactly what a home inspector is going to do," says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
Wondering what does a home inspector look for? A whole lot—1,600 features on a home, to be exact.
"We inspect everything from the roof to the foundation and everything in between," Lesh says.
Going into the inspection with a clear understanding of what the inspector can and can't do will ensure that you walk away from the inspection happy.
2. 'What don't you check?'
There are limits. For instance, "we're restricted to a visual inspection," says Lesh. "We can't cut a hole in somebody's wall."
As a result, an inspector will often flag potential problems in the report and you will have to get another expert—a roofer, HVAC person, builder, electrician, or plumber—to come back and do a more detailed examination.
"Understand that we're looking at what exists in the house today," says home inspector Randy Sipe, of Spring Hill, KS. "I can't see into the future any more than anybody else."
3. 'What do you charge for a home inspection?'
A home inspection costs around $300 and $600, though it will depend on the market, the size of house, and the actual inspector. Generally you'll pay the inspector the day of the inspection, so you'll want to know in advance how much and what forms of payment are accepted.
Lesh cautions against going with an inspector who quotes you a very low price.
"That's often a sign they're having trouble getting customers," he says.
Spending on a good inspector will more than pay for itself in the long run.
4. 'How long have you been doing this?'
Or perhaps more important: How many inspections have you done? A newer inspector doesn't necessarily mean lower quality, but experience can mean a lot—especially if you're considering an older home or something with unusual features.
5. 'Can I come along during the inspection?'
The answer to this should be a resounding yes! Any good inspector will want prospective owners to be present at the inspection. Seeing somebody explain your house's systems and how they work will always be more valuable than reading a report, and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications in the moment. If an inspector requests that you not join him, definitely walk away. Run!
6. 'How long will the inspection take?'
Inspections often take place during the workweek, when the seller is less likely to be around. Knowing how much time you'll need to block out will keep you from having to rush through the inspection to get back to the office. You'll get only a ballpark figure, because much will depend on the condition of the house. But if you are quoted something that seems way off—such as a half-day for a two-bedroom apartment, or just an hour for a large, historic house—that could be a red flag that the inspector doesn't know what he's doing, says Lesh.
7. 'Can I see a sample report?'
If you're buying your first home, it can be helpful to see someone else's report before you see your own. Every house has problems, usually lots of them, though most generally aren't that big of a deal. A sample report will keep you from panicking when you see your own report, and it will give you a sense of how your inspector communicates. It's another opportunity to ensure that you and your inspector are on the same page.
Questions to ask a home inspector DURING a home inspection
Ideally, you should attend your home inspection—in person or by video—and ask your home inspector anything that comes up right then and there. The reason: Rather than trying to decipher your home inspector's (very technical) report, it's much easier for this pro to actually show you what's going on with the house.
To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few important questions to ask a home inspector that will help you size up a house yourself, and keep it in good condition for as long as you hang your hat there.
1. 'What does that mean?'
During the inspection, your home inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem. He'll point out things to you that aren't as they should be, or may need repairs.
Don't be afraid to ask any questions about what the home inspector is telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters. For example, if the inspector says something like, "Looks like you've got some rotten boards here," it's smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.
Just keep in mind that your inspector can't tell you whether or not to become the buyer of the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that).
2. 'Is this a big deal or a minor issue?'
For most people, buying real estate is the biggest purchase they'll ever make. It's normal to start feeling panicky when your inspector is telling you the house has a foundation problem, a roof or water heater in need of repair, or electrical, heating systems or an HVAC system that isn't up to code.
Don't freak out—just ask the inspector whether he thinks the issue is a big deal. You'll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they're not deal breakers, even if the fixes or repairs sound major. And if it is major? Well, that's why you're having the home inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.
3. 'What's that water spot on the ceiling, and does it need a repair?'
Don't be shy about asking questions and pointing out things that look off to you during the home inspection and checking if they're OK, real estate–wise. Odds are, if there's something weird, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there's a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it's an issue.
Ideally, your inspector will ask you if there's anything you're specifically concerned about before he starts the inspection. Make sure to tell him if this is your first real estate purchase, or if you're worried about the house's age, or anything at all that strikes you, the buyer, as a possible negative.
4. 'I've never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?'
Flaws aside, a home inspection is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house.
"Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have an inspection question, ask it," Lesh says. "Don't expect your inspector to teach you how to build a clock, but we are happy to answer and explain how things work."
5. 'What are your biggest concerns about the property?'
At the end of the inspection, the inspector should give you, in broad strokes, a summary of what he found. You'll get a written report later, but this is a great moment to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house's biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation.
Often, it's a good idea to call in another home inspection expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged.
You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert. In some states, there's a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running.
Your official home inspection report will have more detail, but you should know what's on it by the time you leave the home that day.
Questions to ask a home inspector AFTER the inspection is done
What are some questions to ask a home inspector after he's finished the inspection? Because, let's face it, just staring at that hefty report highlighting every flaw in your future dream home can send many buyers into a full-blown panic!
Know the right questions to ask a home inspector afterward, though, and this can help put that report into perspective. Here are the big ones to hit.
1. 'I don't understand [such and such], can you clarify?'
Just so you know what to expect, here's how it will go down: A day or two after the inspection, you should receive the inspector's report. It will be a detailed list of every flaw in the house, often along with pictures of some of the problem areas and more elaboration.
Hopefully you also attended the actual inspection and could ask questions then; if so, the report should contain no surprises. It should contain what you talked about at the inspection, with pictures and perhaps a bit more detail. If there's anything major you don't remember from the inspection in the report, don't be afraid to ask about it.
2. 'Is there any problem in this house that concerns you, and about how much would it cost to fix?'
Keep in mind, most problems in the house will likely be minor and not outright deal breakers. Still, you'll want your home inspector to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and point out any doozies. So ask him if there are any problems serious enough to keep you from moving forward with the house.
Keep in mind that ultimately it's up to you and your real estate agent to determine how to address any issues.
"The inspector can't tell you, 'Make sure the seller pays for this,' so be sure you understand what needs to be done," says Lesh.
3. 'Should I call in another expert for a follow-up inspection?'
Expect to have to call in other experts at this point to look over major issues and assign a dollar figure to fixing them. If your inspector flags your electrical box as looking iffy, for example, you may need to have an electrician come take a look and tell you what exactly is wrong and what the cost would be to fix it. The same goes for any apparent problems with the heating or air conditioning, roof, or foundation. An HVAC repair person, roofer, or engineer will need to examine your house and provide a bid to repair the problem.
Why is this so important? This bid is what your real estate agent will take to the seller if you decide to ask for a concession instead of having the seller do the fix for you. Your inspector can't give you these figures, but he can probably give you a sense of whether it's necessary to call somebody in.
4. 'Is there anything I'll need to do once I move in?'
Wait, you're still not done! It's easy to forget the inspector's report in the whirlwind of closing and moving, but there are almost always suggestions for things that need doing in the first two to three months of occupancy.
Lesh says he sometimes gets panicked calls from homeowners whose houses he inspected three months after they've moved in. Although he'd noted certain issues in his report, the buyers neglected the report entirely—and paid for it later.
"I had a couple call and tell me they had seepage in the basement," Lesh says. "I pulled up their report and asked if they'd reconnected the downspout extension like I recommended. Nope. Well, there's your problem!"
Everything you didn't ask the seller to fix? That's your to-do list. Isn't owning a home fun?