When you get a mortgage, particularly if purchasing a home, the lender will usually insist on a pest inspection. This inspection is primarily to look for damage caused by termites or carpenter ants. It may also uncover evidence of mice, snakes, bats, or other animals and insects in the home. Although that inspection is vitally important, it doesn't cover everything that may be wrong with the property.
You'll want to know if the building is structurally sound or beginning to rot. You'll want to know if either the basement or roof leak. Is the septic system about to fail? You'll want to know if the furnace and air conditioning need replacement. You'll want to know how much life is left in the roof shingles or if the wiring no longer meets current safety codes. A thorough home inspection will tell you those things and more.
The home inspection provides information you can use to have the owner correct problems before closing, get concessions in the purchase price, or get out of the sale. In fact, if you're buying a home, you should make passing a home inspection one of the contingencies in your sale contract.
In some states real estate agents may be allowed to give you the names of three local firms. If the agent is involved with your transaction, don't go on their recommendation alone because of the conflict of interest. It is in the agent's interest that the inspector find no problems that might prevent a sale. It's in your best interest that every problem be uncovered, no matter how small, so you can decide what to do about them. You may also want to check the local phone book.
Get estimates from at least three firms. Find out what the inspection includes and review a copy of the contract. Make sure it includes a radon gas test. This radioactive gas occurs naturally under ground, can seep into basements, and has been linked to cancer with prolonged high exposure. Get references from each firm you want homeowners as references.
Call the references and find out if they would hire the firm again and what problems the inspector missed.
Most states have consumer protection agencies attached to the Attorney General's Office. Find out if they have any complaints on file on the firms. Check with the Better Business Bureau for outstanding complaints as well. You are trying to determine if the inspection service is competent and follows through on commitments. Choose the most thorough.
You will want to be present when the inspector goes over the home. Walk with them if possible. A good inspector will not only document any problems they find, they will point them out to you and give you suggestions on how to correct them. They will explain what they are testing and why. They will typically leave you with a report listing all the problem areas they found, how serious the problems are, and possible solutions. In some states they may even give you estimated repair costs. Often the company includes a book on home problems and how to fix them.
Now that you know all the things wrong with the house, you'll have to decide how serious they are. Are they problems you want the seller to correct before you will buy the home, ones you want price concession to pay for repairs, or are they things that go on your to do list after you move in? You may need to negotiate a solution with the seller or walk away from the deal if you are not satisfied. Either way, you can avoid buying thousands of dollars in needed home repairs.