What are some questions to ask a home inspector? If you’re buying a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it’s in decent shape. So if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you should pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact!
But when you ask those questions is as important as what you ask. Namely, you should attend your home inspection and ask him right then and there. The reason: Rather than trying to decipher your inspector’s (very technical) report, it’s much easier for this pro to actually show you what’s going on with the house.
To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few questions to ask a home inspector that will help you size up a house yourself, and keep it in good condition for as long as you hang your hat there.
1. ‘What does that mean?’
During the inspection, your inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem, says Frank Lesh, executive Director of the American Society of Home Inspectors. He’ll point out things to you that aren’t as they should be.
Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what he’s telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters.
For example: If the inspector says something like, “Looks like you’ve got some rotten boards here,” it’s smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.
Just keep in mind that your inspector can’t tell you whether or not to buy the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that).
2. ‘Is this a big deal or a minor issue?’
For most people, buying a house is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. It’s normal to start feeling panicky when your inspector is telling you the house has a foundation problem, a roof in need of repair, or electrical that isn’t up to code. Don’t freak out—just ask the inspector whether he thinks the issue is a big deal. You’ll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they’re not deal breakers, even if they sound major.
And if it is major? Well, that’s why you’re having the inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.
3. ‘What’s that water spot on the ceiling, and is it a problem?’
Don’t be shy about pointing out things that look off to you and asking if they’re OK. Odds are, if there’s something weird, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there’s a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it’s an issue. If something is bothering you about the house, make sure to address it.
Ideally your inspector will ask you if there’s anything you’re specifically concerned about before he starts. Make sure to tell him if this is your first home, or if you’re worried about the house’s age, or anything at all that strikes you as a possible negative.
4. ‘I’ve never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?’
Flaws aside, this is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house.
“Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have a question, ask it,” says Lesh. “Don’t expect your inspector to teach you how to build a clock, but we are happy to explain how things work.”
5. ‘What are your biggest concerns about the property?’
At the end of the inspection, the inspector should give you a broad-strokes summary of what he found. You’ll get a written report later, but this is a great moment to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house’s biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation.
Often, you’ll need to call in another expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged. You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert.
In some states, there’s a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running. Your official report will have more detail, but you should know what’s on it by the time you leave the home that day.
Audrey Ference has written for The Billfold, The Hairpin, The Toast, Slate, Salon, and others. She lives in Austin, TX. Follow @audreyference
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