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Home inspections are an important part of transferring a house from a seller to a buyer. A home inspector will check a home's plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical systems, and look for structural problems, like a damp or leaky basement. Inspections reveal needs for repairs or replacements to eliminate surprises later.

A home cannot "pass" or "fail" an inspection, and an inspector will not tell you whether he or she thinks the home is worth the money being offered. The inspector's job is to make you aware of repairs that are recommended or necessary.

  • Sellers often have a home inspection before a buyer enters the picture to prepare for property condition issues that may delay closing or even cause the sale to fall through.
  • Buyers have a home inspection to know exactly what they are buying. Usually, you call an inspector immediately after you've made an offer on a home. A seller may be willing to renegotiate a price to accommodate needed repairs, or you may decide that the home will take too much work and money. However, before you sign any written offer, make sure, or have your attorney make sure, that it includes an inspection clause or other language that says your purchase obligation is contingent on the findings of a professional home inspector.

For buyers, inspections also give invaluable information about the home, such as where main utility shutoff valves are located and how the house operates. And although it’s not required, it’s to your advantage to be at the home when the inspector is there. You'll be able to clearly understand the inspection report, and know exactly which areas need attention. Plus, you can get answers to many questions, tips for maintenance, and a lot of general information that will help you when you move into your new home. Most important, you'll see the home through the eyes of an objective third party.

In choosing a home inspector, consider one that has been certified as a qualified and experienced member by a trade association. Your real estate agent may refer you to qualified inspectors in your area.

In addition to the overall inspection, you may wish to have separate tests conducted to check for termites, or the presence of radon gas. Talk to your real estate agent for information about these tests, and companies in the area that perform them.