When buying a home, the only way to truly make an informed decision about your purchase is to have a thorough home inspection completed by a certified home inspector. A home inspector takes the time to methodically inspect the entire house and provide you with a detailed, objective report.

By using a home inspection checklist, you will gain a better understanding of any issues with your potential new home. Sometimes, depending on the inspection results, you may need to renegotiate the purchase contract or walk away from the transaction entirely.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring

You should always insist on an inspection period for any home purchase contract and include a clause that makes the contract contingent upon your satisfactory review of the report. Even if the seller already had an inspection conducted, you should still hire someone to examine your potential new home. The following are some important questions to ask a home inspector before you hire him or her:

  • Does he or she only conduct inspections, or will that person also make repairs? When someone inspects for defects and provides a quote for repairs, this can create a conflict of interest. Hire an impartial home inspector, not a contractor.
  • Is the inspector bonded and properly insured? Inspectors should carry workers' compensation for employees and errors and omissions insurance in the event of significant oversight on their part. If an inspector is injured during an inspection and doesn't have sufficient insurance, he or she may sue the homeowner or place a lien on the property.
  • What does the inspector look at? Not all home inspectors have the same standards. Note issues of concern on your home inspection checklist and discuss them in advance with the inspector. For example, the inspector may offer extra tests for water or air quality for an additional fee.
  • Will the inspector let you attend the inspection? Potential buyers should be present for the inspection. Ideally, choose a home inspector who takes the time to explain aspects of the inspection you are unsure about and is willing to answer questions.You want a home inspector who is experienced and an expert at the job. You'll probably purchase only a few homes in your lifetime, so you want them to be in good shape.
  • Home inspectors spend countless hours each year devoted to the business and may use jargon you don't understand and talk about HVAC components or other things you've never heard of. A good inspector expects you to ask questions and won't mind explaining things more than once or in a different way if you don't understand the first time. The following are some parts of the house to add to your home inspection checklist and ask about:

Questions to Ask During the Inspection

  • Outside: Ask about water drainage away from the house. Your home inspector can identify areas of improper drainage that might lead to moisture problems in the basement or crawlspace. The inspector may not know the age of the roof, but you should ask whether there are any signs of damage to shingles that indicate the roof will need to be replaced soon.
  • HVAC: Like the roof, replacing the heating and cooling system is a major expense. Your inspector should be able to tell you the age of a unit from its serial number. If you don't know how the system works, now is the time to ask.
  • Electrical System: Ask how old the wiring looks. Is there room to expand with the existing panel? The inspector should tell you the amps of the service and the service voltage. If you are buying an older home, ask whether the house has knob and tube wiring or aluminum wiring. These are fire hazards, and their presence can complicate obtaining homeowner's insurance.
  • Plumbing: Ask about the age and condition of vent pipes, supply lines, and waste pipes. Copper pipes can cause ongoing problems, and old pipes may need to be replaced in the near future. 

Keep in mind that home inspectors don't conduct invasive investigations or cut out sections of wall to look for insects, structural damage, and rot, so they probably can't answer questions about hidden damages. They shouldn't give an opinion about the price or local housing market and are probably unable to answer questions about topics outside their area of expertise. However, their evaluation could be the deciding factor in whether a house you're interested in becomes your next home.