A home inspection is not only one of the most nerve-racking rituals in the homebuying process, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. A big misconception is that an inspection will tell you absolutely everything there is to know about your new home. While it is a thorough examination, it’s important for buyers to realize there are some things an inspection does not include. 

A Pass/Fail Grade
Many buyers are under the assumption that their inspector will give them a thumbs up or thumbs down, or tell them if they should or should not move forward with purchasing a house. However, real estate advice is not included in a home inspection. In fact, it’s a violation of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors’ code of ethics.

Randy Leak, professional home inspector and owner of Property Prestige, LLC, says even if an inspector could give a pass or fail grade, it would be extremely difficult.

“Our reports don’t take into account a buyer’s resources or capabilities for making repairs,” he said. “Every house and buyer are unique. A long list of issues may not be a problem for one buyer, and just a few repairs could send another back to the negotiation table.”

A Warranty or Guarantee
The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) defines a home inspection as “an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a house, from the roof to the foundation.” But, as knowledgeable as inspectors are, they simply can’t predict the future.

Inspectors are looking at a home at a specific point in time. They can provide an estimate on the useful life of a system or appliance, but they can’t tell you when a plumbing leak will happen or if an unexpected storm will damage your roof.

Checks on What They Can’t See
In the above definition the word “visible” is key. For instance, inspectors aren’t going to look inside wall cavities to check insulation, but they’ll inspect the visible insulation in the attic. When checking the furnace, they’ll do a visual check – watch the flame, electronically test for carbon monoxide, etc. But they won’t take it apart to check the components. That can only be done by a licensed HVAC inspector.

Leak says buyers and sellers both need to understand that access is critical when it comes to a visible inspection.

“I’ve seen attic access hatches painted shut or screwed into place, and unfortunately, that meant I couldn’t inspect those areas,” he said. “Inspectors aren’t required to take out screws or move furniture or boxes, so when something obstructs our ability to inspect all areas, it really throws a wrench in the process.” 

Non-Standard Inspections
ASHI says a standard home inspection report covers “the condition of the home’s heating system; central air conditioning system (temperature permitting); interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; the foundation, basement and structural components.”

While this encompasses a lot, a typical inspection does not routinely include an evaluation of things like structural engineering work, swimming pools, or fireplaces and chimneys. A standard report also does not cover items like a well and septic system, mold (outside of a visual check), asbestos, radon, or pests, but these are often available as add-ons.

Specialized professionals may need to be brought in for these areas, but this depends on your geographical area and the expertise of your inspector. For instance, most inspectors in the Lansing area will include a visible check of fireplaces and chimneys because they see them regularly and are familiar with the red flags.

“A lot depends on the inspector’s training and expertise,” said Leak. “Because of my background in construction, I do cover some of the non-standard checks in my report, and I offer riders to cover some of the others. A good inspector knows their limitations and will tell you when another professional is required.”

What You Must Repair
A home inspection not only provides buyers with detailed information about their new home, but it’s also an educational experience. A lot of things inspectors point out are preventative, and even if there are items that aren’t significant enough to make the report, knowing about them may be useful.

So, once the home inspector hands your agent the report, what happens next? Do you have to take care of every item mentioned? Problems with the roof, foundation, or other big-ticket items are probably worth discussing with your REALTOR®. Also, if there are signs of water in the basement or potential mold, these fixes can be costly and may need to be explored further. Local code safety violations will also be noted and must be fixed before closing.

Beyond that, a lot of inspectors list maintenance items that can serve as a future “to-do” list.

“I divide critical findings into three areas – safety, big-ticket, and other,” said Leak. “I tell my clients to focus on those three areas first, but to read the entire report because the rest of the items are things to be aware of.”

Your home is most likely the largest financial commitment you’ll ever make. To help protect that investment, a home inspection is key, and having that inspection performed by a qualified professional is an absolute must. For a list of local, professional inspectors visit the Greater Lansing Association of REALTORS® website at www.lansing-realestate.com.