A home inspection is not the same as a property appraisal. An appraisal is an estimate of value that is prepared by a professional appraiser. A home inspection is an examination of a property to determine the condition of the structural and mechanical systems, done by a professional home inspector.

Although home inspections are optional, experts recommend that you include a home inspection contingency in your Offer to Purchase to give you the option to withdraw if the inspection reveals major problems that neither you nor the seller is willing to correct.

In fact, you may want to complete the inspection before you apply for your loan. That way, you’ll uncover any problems with the home before you spend money or time on securing financing.

Usually, it’s your responsibility as the buyer to pay for an independent home inspection. It varies by location, but the average price of a home inspection is around $300. A professional home inspection generally takes 2 to 3 hours and gives you valuable information on the home's structural condition and mechanical systems.

Finding a qualified home inspector

Your home inspector should be a qualified professional who has training and experience in a field such as engineering, architecture or construction. To find a qualified home inspector, ask your lender or real estate agent for names of companies that have a good reputation.

If you can’t get a reliable recommendation, look for someone who is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). The ASHI standards of practice require that inspectors judge the condition of a number of structural and mechanical components of a home and give a written report to the buyer. Examples include:

  • Central heating and air conditioning systems
  • Interior electrical and plumbing systems
  • Interior walls, ceilings, floors and stairs
  • Visible insulation
  • Ventilation systems
  • Foundation, basement, attic and roof
  • Exterior wall coverings, flashing and trim, gutters and downspouts
  • Windows and doors
  • Surface grading and drainage

Insist that each of these items be covered in a detailed report that you get to keep. You should absolutely go with the home inspector when he or she conducts the inspection. You’ll be able to ask questions about anything the inspection covers, as well as general home maintenance, and get an estimate of the cost for repairing any issues with the home.