A family friend, who had a long, successful career as a home inspector, once told me that, if he had to start today, he would have chosen a new path. He cited concerns about the litigious society we live in and taking on the liability of sue-happy buyers was just not worth the risk.
I couldn't agree more, but if you are the one paying for the inspection, what can you expect? As a first-time home buyer, where does your responsibility lie and where does the inspector's pick up? Let's explore what is involved with the home inspection and perhaps shed a little light on the whole subject.
First and foremost, you should get a home inspection. I don't care if the home is in the process of being built before your very eyes or if it is an historic home from the 1800s. Unless you are a trained, professional home inspector yourself, chances are you don't know all the nooks and crannies to look for when evaluating a home.
I would also encourage you to ensure that your inspector is a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors, Inc. (NAHI). This simply ensures that they have demonstrated some level of competence and have committed to adhering to the NAHI code of ethics.
Next (and this one is really one of the more important notes) is to attend the inspection. If you have to take a couple hours off work, just do it. I promise you this is far more important than a couple extra dollars in your wallet. By walking through the home with the inspector, you will learn far more about the structure, safety and integrity of the property.
I visited the construction site of my home while it was being built multiple times a week, but I still attended the home inspection and learned quite a bit about the house that had not caught my attention. No matter how much time you spend at the home (which won't be much in the case of a home you are not building), you still need to attend the inspection.
At this point, it is important to note what a home inspector is NOT looking for. Inspectors are not concerned with cosmetic flaws, specifically, if they do not impact the structure of the home.
"Cracked sheetrock and even broken windows are not the concern of the home inspector," notes Badger Realty agent Edward O'Halloran, "but the potential structural issues behind those cosmetic flaws will most certainly raise flags."
Ed is right. No house is going to be perfect, and you will most certainly find "issues" throughout every home you visit. The job of the inspector (and the reason you need to be there on the day) is to see beyond the peeling wallpaper and highlight the water stains hidden underneath.
Another factor of the home inspection is that they tend to stay fairly basic. Inspectors are trained to look beyond the cosmetic, but they are not construction engineers and, more importantly, they can't see through walls. The peace of mind they provide is highlighting electrical and plumbing issues, HVAC concerns and even crawl spaces, roofs, and garages. You did a walk-through and fell in love with the home. The inspector is like the over-protective father whose daughter is heading out for a date. You want them to do a background check and meet the boy at the door with a shotgun.
Since you are the one paying for the inspection (that was a statement, not a question!) you are the client and you own the inspection report. This covers two items. First and foremost, the inspector is working for you and, therefore, should be providing details to you and on your behalf. You certainly don't want an inspector that the seller's paid for. That just muddies the waters.
Secondly, if you paid for the inspection — you own the report. You are not obligated to share that with anyone. Be aware that every state is a bit different with what you are "required" to disclose. Many states employ "caveat emptor" or "buyer beware." In other states, if it comes out that you knew (and didn't disclose) a material defect, you could be liable. In my opinion, you should not be a jerk, and tell the buyers what YOU would want to be told, but that's just me.
Lastly, home inspections are a good resource for negotiations prior to getting to the closing table. If something is discovered during the inspection that is going to cost the buyers a significant amount of money (as determined by them), this is a great time to negotiate either the repair of the issue or monetary compensation toward the repair.
The (TLDR) lesson for today is: Get a home inspection. The peace of mind it offers is priceless and you may even gain some leverage for negotiating a lower price on your home. Be sure you attend the inspection as well, since you will be amazed at what you can learn about your potential new home in just a couple hours.