When you are buying a home today, a vital step in the process is the professional home inspection. It is a very important part of the process and needs to be done correctly.
BEFORE THE INSPECTION
Generally when you find a property that may be "the one"; you view it, walk through the entire house, open the closets and cabinets, check out the basement, and even might poke your head into the crawl space. Your first look is what tells you that you may have found your ideal home. Typically you are looking at several and at the end of the day it can be difficult to remember details. So most people go back to the house they are interested in pursuing and spend some time checking everything.
Normally you would not hire an inspector at this point, not until you have made an offer and worked out the terms of the contract. It may seem a little backwards, but the rationale is simple. The inspections normally take around 3-4 hours and can cost from around $350.00 and up. You wouldn't want to spend the time and money on that unless you knew that you were under contract, and that nobody else could step in and buy the house while you were performing your due diligence.
PRE-INSPECT THE HOUSE YOURSELF
But because of the expense of hiring a professional inspector, I think it is important to do as much really careful looking, before you make the offer. There are things that you might catch yourself that could be deal killers. Large cracks in the foundation wall, separation and cracking in the brick siding, swelling and de-lamination of the siding, obviously old and rusted heating systems, old roofs with curling corners and moss growing, water in the basement or crawl space, mold... these things are issues that you should think carefully about before you make your offer. Read the seller's disclosure and see if there are any issues that may be too much to handle. Go into the attic and the crawl space (really). Only when the house passes your inspection are you ready make the offer and get a contract. You might think you aren't qualified and don't know what you are looking for, but give yourself a little credit. In the crawl space, things like standing water, crumbling foundations, lots of extra support beams or jacks, obviously rotten wood... these are all potential problems and do you really want to pay someone $350.00 or more to tell you things you could have seen yourself in 10 minutes?
Now if everything looks good, you make your offer and see if you can come to a meeting of the minds with the Seller. Make sure you specify in your offer the right to inspect for at least ten days after the contract is accepted. Georgia contracts used by Realtors have a section for "due diligence" and give you the right to cancel the contract if you are not satisfied with the results of the inspection for any reason. Make sure that you check that section and specify how many days you have to inspect. Understand that if you do not respond during the time period you have forfeited the right to cancel the contract or negotiate repairs. When you do negotiate for repairs, understand if the seller does not respond favorably or does not respond at all, you still have to exercise your right to cancel the contract in writing before the ten days is over, or you have bought the house "as-is"
If you get an accepted offer with the right to inspect, then you are on to the professional home inspection. You will want to get this done as quickly as possible because you want to make sure that you are buying the home, before you pay for the appraisal, so time is of the essence. The other reason to inspect quickly is in case there are issues that require further testing.
INSPECT THE INSPECTOR
The home inspection field is not heavily regulated in GA so there are a wide range of skill levels out there. It is important to do your homework when it comes to selecting an inspector. Ask what professional groups the inspector belongs to, and what kind of training he has had. See if there is any kind of guarantee that the inspector won't miss anything. Most inspectors only guarantee their report to the price of the inspection (in other words they will refund the price of the inspection if they miss something). Some have a bond up to a thousand dollars if they make an error. Look for referrals from people who have done this before.
UNDERSTANDING THE INSPECTION PROCESS AND THE REPORT
It is important to understand that the inspector is only giving you their opinion. If something seems fishy about the furnace or some other system, they will normally recommend bringing in a licensed HVAC contractor to do further evaluations (or an electrician, or a structural engineer). They do not look behind sheet-rock, or take off fixtures to see if they were installed correctly. They can tell the age of the systems from the serial numbers and can measure the output of the A/C. They can test the walls with moisture meters to see if ceiling stains are active leaks. When they look in the furnace the see if there is rust or flickering flames or other telltale signs of problems, but they basically just look. They won't be able to tell if there is a cracked heat exchanger. So sometimes if the inspector thinks something may be amiss, or even if the systems are just old, it may make sense to get a licensed heating and air company (that you can trust) to check the systems during your inspection period. If there are structural issues you may need to call in a structural engineer. The same is true with electric or plumbing. You will be well advised to call in a licensed professional.
INSPECT MORE THAN THE HOUSE
There are things that the seller is not required to disclose that could have a profound impact on value. Things to check for are: sexual predators in the neighborhood, pedophiles, proposed changes in school districts, crime rates, and more. For crime rates call the local precinct. Call the local schools and ask if redistricting is in the works. For the various predators check the Georgia's Sex Offender Registry. All of these various things need to be checked by you during your inspection period. If you are buying a condo, get the bylaws, budgets and minutes of the last meetings. In a condo, find out if the association has a cap on rentals and if they are within the limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or FHA (not more than 25% renters). It makes sense to check these things before you hire the inspector. That way you wont waste money of there is something else that will prevent you from buying the home.