Having just signed a sales contract on a home, you may be feeling some financial pressure, wondering how it's all going to come together: the down payment, the closing costs, the mortgage insurance payment, the loan payment, the move-in expenses, the initial repairs, etc. In the face of this pressure, you may be tempted to skip the home inspection. Don't. It may be vital to your personal and financial safety.
Any home is bound to have defects. Maybe the furnace was replaced just last winter. How do you know it was installed properly? Maybe the door frame that's slanting slightly in the older home you're planning to buy is just part of its charm; or, perhaps it's evidence that termites have hollowed out a supporting girder. What if there's a crack in the chimney? Since the current homeowners never use the fireplace, they may not know the crack is there, but the first time you build a fire, you could be setting your roof on fire. Even if the home is brand new, are you willing to take the builder's word that he/she did everything as promised? The potential problems are endless, and the cost of ignoring them could be astronomical.
A home inspection is essentially a visual process meant to uncover any glaring problems and help you reduce any risks you might encounter by moving into a home. A professional inspector has specific technical skills, but he/she will not take anything apart and is not licensed to make any repairs. Nevertheless, an inspection can provide grounds for a repair addendum to your sales contract and/or help you plan for future repairs. For example, if you have an inspection contingency in your sales contract and the inspection reveals that the home needs a new roof, you will have three options: ask the seller to make the repairs before you close on the home, ask the seller to compensate you for the cost of replacing the roof, or void your contract. Or, the inspection may determine that there are three layers of shingles on the roof; it doesn't need to be replaced now, but you know that you need to budget for a new roof in a few years.
If at all possible, you should arrange for the inspection at a time when you can be there to follow along and ask questions. It's also not a bad idea for the current owner to be present; a diplomatic inspector can address the seller's concerns was well. At the inspection, ask the inspector to return to the home with you a day or two before closing for a walk through. At that time, the expert can verify that the promised repairs were done and that no new problems have developed in the interim.
Following the inspection, the inspector will generate a report which can be used to write a repair addendum if necessary.
To find a good inspector, ask your real estate agent for referrals. Make certain that the inspector is licensed and a member of a professional organization such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), or the American Inspectors Association (AIA).