What is a Home Inspection…and Why do I Need One?

A home inspection, in real estate terms, is a visual inspection of the home and its systems (heating/cooling, plumbing, electrical).  It is not invasive, meaning the inspector will not be able to look inside the walls, or remove siding to see what’s beneath it, or put a scope down the pipes to take a look at them.

In Washington, buyers may use whomever they choose for their home inspection – a licensed inspector, or an uncle, brother, or friend.  You can even elect to conduct your own inspection.  However, if you pay someone to inspect a home, that person must be a licensed home inspector.  Licensed inspectors are required to complete a board-approved, 120-hour home inspection fundamentals course, and mentor with an experienced home inspector for 40 hours of field training, then pass a state certification test.  (Click here for a list of licensed home inspectors in Skagit County, or check the complete list here.)

A home inspection contingency is the second most common purchasing contingency – right behind the financing contingency – and provides buyers with a specified time period (typically 10 days) in which to thoroughly examine the home and property to make certain it suits their needs, and functions as intended, before they are committed to completing the purchase.  Talk to your agent about the kinds of inspections that are right for the type of home or property you are purchasing, and make sure to allow adequate time to complete your inspections.  Most residential home buyers hire a licensed home inspector, but your inspector or agent may recommend specialists (for roofing, plumbing, or electrical).

During the inspection, your inspector will examine both the exterior and interior of the home.  Outside, he or she will concentrate on the roof, siding, gutters, venting, and drainage.  Inside, the inspector will examine the home’s systems, including testing outlets and appliances, as well as inspecting the windows, insulation, and general construction of the home.  Expect your inspector to spend time at the end of the inspection, walking you through and around the house, pointing out any issues that came to light.  You should attend your home inspection if at all possible, to see and hear about the issues first-hand.

So, you’re buying a brand new home – do you still need an inspection?  We’d say yes.  Even in brand new homes, inspectors find issues.  One example:  The heating ducts running under the house were never actually hooked up, they were just hanging from the floor joists, open to the underside of the house.  In another, the bathroom fan vents were never properly vented through the roof, and would have vented moist air into the attic crawl space and all over the back of the plywood roof sheathing – an invitation for mold.

Your inspector will also check the home for signs of wood destroying organisms, including bugs, water, and mold.  (Note:  Most licensed home inspectors are not specifically trained or certified to diagnose mold problems.  A mold specialist may be required if your inspector believes the home has a mold issue.)

As a buyer, think of your home inspection as a kind of insurance:  A typical residential home inspection may cost approximately $375 – $400, but could save you thousands (or more) if the inspector discovers a major problem.   As a seller, many agents recommend hiring a home inspector before you list your home.  That way, you can address any issues discovered in the inspection before a buyer brings it to your attention, or uses it to back out of a sale.  A pre-listing inspection is also a great way to show potential buyers how seriously you take the care and keeping of your home.

What Buyers Want…

Our managing broker recently asked the agents in our office what successful sellers are doing to attract their buyers. That’s a good and important question because there is plenty of inventory out there, in nearly every price range, competing for buyer attention. With lots of choices and relatively few buyers, sellers have the difficult task of figuring out how to make their home stand out to anyone who comes looking.

I want to give you a from-the-trenches perspective. I’m actively working with buyers in three price ranges: Under $175,000; under $250,000; and under $450,000. Interestingly, for each of these buyers, the things that make a house appealing to them are…exactly the same. That’s right. In each case, the buyer is looking for a clean, inviting home that is in good repair.

Sound too simple? Consider it from their perspective: Let’s say we look at six houses this afternoon. Chances are, at least two are short sales, meaning the seller has the home listed for less than they owe on the mortgage and will be walking away without a dime (if they manage to sell before it gets foreclosed on). If the seller can’t pay their mortgage, they likely aren’t able to keep up on home maintenance. Of the remaining four houses, at least one will be bank-owned, a “foreclosure.” It will be cold and dark inside because the bank won’t pay for power. And most are, at best, dirty. Appliances, doors, and fixtures are often missing.  So, of our six houses, at least three will literally leave the buyer cold. Now, of the last three, you can bet that at one of them, the seller didn’t do their dishes, or left clothes on the floor, or hasn’t run the vacuum for weeks.  That leaves just two homes – just two chances to impress today’s buyer.

I guarantee you that any buyer who walks in to a warm, welcoming home where the floors are clean and the space is tidy and inviting will remember THAT house above the others. Often, it’s the difference between a sparkling bathroom and a dirty one. Or a made bed and an unmade one. Buyers subconsciously want to feel like they are coming home. I often tell sellers to think of a showing as the first time your potential husband/wife/mother-in-law ever sees your house – what do you want them to see? What DON’T you want them to see?

Buyers make emotional decisions and back up those decisions with reason. If your house appeals to the buyer’s emotions, the price will be a secondary concern. The rationale goes something like this: “I know I can buy that foreclosure down the street for $20,000 less than this place, but it needs so much work…I’d rather just have a house that I can just move in to and don’t have to worry about.”

Show buyers that you take care of, and have pride in, your home. Clean it – inside and out, top to bottom. Pack up half of what you own and put it in storage unit (they are cheap, and pay dividends when a buyer walks in and feels like your home is uncluttered and open). Repair anything that’s broken or worn. Create an inviting and warm HOME – not just some house, those are a dime a dozen right now.