What Is a Home Inspection?

Written by Anytime EstimateOctober 17th, 20226 minute read

Is an inspection worth it? | Who needs a home inspection | Cost | During an inspection | After an inspection | Finding an inspector

Home inspections are a routine part of the home buying process. During an inspection, buyers hire a licensed inspector to examine a for-sale property, looking for major and minor problems.

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How does a home inspection help buyers?

A home inspection helps buyers by:

  • Saving money long term by identifying essential repairs and avoiding traps
  • Saving earnest money, if your offer has a contingency
  • Granting negotiating power with the seller

🛠 It's important to include a home inspection contingency in your purchase contract. That way, if you find serious problems, you can comfortably back out of the deal.

In a competitive market, some buyers may want to minimize the number of contingencies they include. Instead of waiving an inspection contingency entirely, consider a repair contingency, which lets you back out safely if the cost of repairs is above a certain threshold, or a specific deal-breaker such as a termite contingency.

Is a home inspection required?

While recommended, home inspections aren’t technically required. You can buy a home without one, but you’d be taking a huge risk. If you forgo the inspection, you could wind up with a money pit and very little recourse.

If you’re buying a fixer-upper and already planning to shell out thousands for repairs, it might make sense to skip the inspection. In most cases, though, inspections are essential.

Do lenders require home inspections?

Conventional lenders — like your bank or private mortgage company — don't require full home inspections. They do, however, require:

  • Disclosures of defects or hazards; sometimes that's mandated by the state
  • Title searches to make sure the property can be sold without issues, and
  • Appraisals to determine a home's value and, ultimately, the loan amount

Government-backed lenders, on the other hand, have strict criteria for property condition. They'll often roll the appraisal and inspection into one evaluation. If the home fails that inspection, you might not get the loan.

How much does a home inspection cost?

On average, prospective homeowners spend about $340 on home inspections. That number can go up or down depending on a few factors:

  • Where the home is located
  • Square footage of the property (approx. $50 per 200 sq. ft.)
  • How old the home is
  • How experienced your inspector is
  • What inspections you want done

Your primary home inspector may recommend specialized inspections for an additional fee, or you might order them proactively.

Common specialized inspections and costs

Chimney inspection
Pool inspection
Lead-based paint inspection
Radon inspection
Soil analysis
Source: Homelight

Who pays for the home inspection?

The potential buyer usually pays for the home inspection toward the end of the purchase process. You could ask the seller to foot the bill, but you'll have better luck asking them to pay for any needed repairs or to lower the asking price.

Home sellers can also order a pre-listing inspection if they want to know of any issues ahead of time. Buyers and sellers can choose to use that report, with buyers potentially reimbursing the seller for half the cost.

What does a home inspection cover?

Home inspectors take note of anything that might jeopardize your health and safety. They’ll compile picture and video evidence, and they’ll explain what can be done about the issues they’ve found.

» SEE: American Society of Home Inspectors Standard of Practice

That said, general home inspectors won't examine any areas that are difficult or dangerous to access. For example, they'll usually check the foundation, but they won't necessarily climb up on the roof. And if they see signs of deeper issues, like mold, they may order (or charge for) additional specialized inspections.

Common general inspection areas

Indoor quality
🚪 Walls, windows, doors
💩 Plumbing, septic tank
🐀 Pests (e.g., termites, rodents)
👷 Foundation
⚡ Electrical systems
😷 Lead or asbestos
☝ Roof
💧 Mold

What does a general home inspection NOT include?

A general home inspection won't automatically check for things like mold, radon, hazardous waste, certain infestations, or quality of weather-proofing. If the inspector sees signs of these issues, a specialist may be in order.

Normally, an inspector won't worry about cosmetic issues that might affect value, such as:

  • Cleanliness, neatness, or style
  • Quality or age of appliances like refrigerators
  • Number of bedrooms, closets, or bathrooms
  • Neighborhoods, unless they're close to potential hazards, like airports
  • Natural disaster areas, though those may still need to be legally disclosed

If possible, try to attend the home inspection so you can view the property through the inspector's eyes. The inspector’s there for your benefit, after all. The key is to gain insight into why the inspector evaluates the home the way they do.

You can use these questions as a starting point:

  • “How can you tell if something’s wrong with this?”
  • “This looks worrisome to me. What do you think?”
  • “How should I maintain these appliances?”
  • “How serious is this problem?”

While a typical home inspector can spot signs of damage beyond normal wear and tear, they may not be qualified or obligated to address them. Instead, they may recommend a specialized inspection to diagnose an issue or a contractor to fix it.

How long does a home inspection take?

Home inspections usually take two to three hours to complete, but the exact time frame depends entirely on the size of the property and what the inspector can get to easily.

  • Size: a 3,000 sq. ft. home, for instance, will take longer to inspect than a 1,500 sq. ft. home.
  • Hard-to-access areas: a property with a locked attic or a blocked-off basement might take less time to inspect, or the inspector may decide to come back.

What happens after a home inspection?

A day or two after the inspection, you’ll receive a detailed report and can take an informed next step:

✅ If everything looks good, you can move forward with the purchase.

🚧 If the home needs some work, your agent can help you negotiate — either the seller makes the repairs or lowers the price and you make them yourself.

❌ If the seller won’t make the repairs or if the home needs too much work, you may need to walk away from the deal entirely. Just make sure you have a home inspection contingency in place (learn more).

Ideally, you'll review the report together with both the inspector and your agent so you can ask them questions.

What fixes are mandatory after a home inspection?

Serious problems and code violations — like structural defects or gas leaks — need to be handled immediately before you can buy the home. Your lender simply won’t approve the mortgage without that, or the homeowner legally won’t be able to sell the house.

Unless the lender or municipal code requires you to fix something, the home inspector’s report isn’t binding. You don’t have to fix everything on their list.

When to walk away after a home inspection

A home inspection contingency gives you an out if things go south. Meaning, you can safely back out of the sale without earnest money.

As you review the inspection report, consider the following questions:

  • How serious are the repairs? Can I afford to cover the repairs?
  • What needs to be repaired first and what can wait?
  • Could I live in the home while it’s being worked on, or would I be stuck paying both a mortgage and rent for temporary housing?
  • What's special about this home in particular? Are there comparable houses nearby?

You don't have to chart a path forward on your own. An experienced agent is your ally and can help you get a second opinion, estimates from contractors, and the right contingencies into your purchase contract.

🏡 Start house hunting: Try Clever Real Estate’s free agent matching service, compare top local agents, and start searching for your dream home today! Get started.

Finding a home inspector

If you’re looking for local home inspectors, try a free tool like HomeAdvisor. Or ask your real estate agent to recommend some trusted inspectors they like to work with.

You can also use these tools to find licensed or certified inspectors in your area:

As you interview inspector candidates, ask them about their qualifications, experience, and any specializations.

Hold out for an inspector that has solid credentials and a trustworthy personality. Someone who brushes you off or doesn’t want you present is a red flag. The more comfortable you are with the inspector you choose, the more peace of mind you’ll have about the inspection itself.