If you bought or sold a home in recent years, undoubtedly you’ve had some experience with home inspections. If you’re getting ready to buy or sell, you might want to learn more about home inspections.

When buying, your real estate agent may recommend that you hire a home inspector. As a seller, you may be shocked to learn that the buyer in your transaction employed a home inspector — after you accepted the offer — and now has a long list of requested repairs.

Do you need to hire a home inspector? Do you need to make the repairs your buyer requests?

These are good questions. Having completed three residential real estate transactions in the last three years — and seriously contemplated another — I learned a bit about home inspections in the process that may help you.

Eyes wide open

Sadly, the world of real estate transactions, like much of modern life, has become extremely litigious. Your real estate agent may recommend you employ a home inspector to help alleviate liability. The agent, licensed by the state, has certain responsibilities and also undoubtedly wants you to be satisfied with your purchase. 

If you are borrowing to buy the home, an appraiser will take a look at its condition and issue a report to the lender. Your lender may also require a structural pest control report and remediation of related issues. For some lending programs, such as FHA or VA, certain aspects of the home’s condition are examined very closely by the appraiser — and if a home doesn’t pass muster the loan may be denied. 

But at the end of the day, once escrow closes — for better or worse — the home will be your responsibility. You and everyone involved in your transaction will be better off in the long run if you go in eyes wide open. 

Inspector works for you

A home inspection is not the same as an appraisal and is not mandatory, but might be a good idea. You may be surprised to learn that in California, home inspectors are not required to be licensed or to have any particular training. In fact, the state code that governs home inspectors simply states that a “home inspector” is any individual who performs a home inspection.

And unless the home inspector is also a licensed general contractor, structural pest control operator or architect — or registered as a professional engineer — the state only requires that they will “conduct a home inspection with the degree of care that a reasonably prudent home inspector would exercise.”

Notice, also, that I said your real estate agent may recommend that you hire a home inspector. That’s because the home inspector will work for you and in most cases, you will pay them directly.

First buyer experience

In May 2019 my husband and I were buying a home and our real estate agent recommended we hire a home inspector. I was resistant at first. We liked the house. It seemed to be in good condition. I wasn’t sure it was worth the $400 charge that was quoted by a local inspector. And we planned to have a VA loan, so I felt that if there was anything terribly wrong with the house, it would be called out by the appraiser.

But… I learned that the inspection would be conducted very early in our escrow. If there were problems that might cause the home to not qualify for VA (or FHA) financing, they might be identified in the home inspection and either the buyer could correct them — or we could move on and avoid the additional expense of an appraisal. We decided to make the investment.

The report identified a lot of small issues we hadn’t noticed — such as the fact that one of the dual-paned windows had lost its thermal seal. I hadn’t even noticed what appeared to be permanent fogging of a windowpane.

We discussed the report with our real estate agent who prepared a repair addendum for the seller — who promptly refused to make any repairs. Then we waited for the VA appraisal. If the appraiser identified any of the same issues it was possible the buyer might agree to repairs, our real estate agent told us. But she also said the appraiser would not get a copy of the home inspection. So we waited to see what would happen.

Fortunately, the VA appraiser was not concerned with any of the issues and our escrow closed on time. We took care of some of the problems identified quickly — and others went onto our “someday” list.

First seller experience

Just two years later, we decided to relocate and put the house up for sale. For better or worse, the real estate market had exploded and we quickly received and accepted an offer that was quite a lot more than our asking price (which was already even more than we expected to get).

We were required to disclose information about the house and the inspection report from two years earlier made that easy — we knew what we had fixed and what we had deferred. We made a number of repairs and had made many improvements during our time in the house.

There was nothing particularly shocking to us when we received the repair addendum from the buyers. But time was of the essence and contractors were in short supply. Our big concern was whether we could get the work completed by the end of escrow.

Because our buyer’s offer was more than our asking price, we countered with a price reduction that we believed would more than cover the cost of correcting the small list of problems — and the buyers accepted.

Whether the window that had lost its thermal seal has yet been repaired, I don’t know. But we moved on to our next deal.

Heart-breaking inspection

With one home sold, we were looking for another. We learned of an almost 100-year-old Craftsman-style home in a neighborhood we loved that would be coming on the market. In fact, we had a bit of an inside track because the home belonged to a relative of a friend. But, my friend disclosed, there were some problems.

Knowing that we would need to finance the purchase, we needed to have a good understanding of the problems and also what options we would have for restoring the home. We learned about VA and FHA programs to purchase and rehabilitate older homes and engaged a home inspector who was knowledgeable about these programs.

In this case, everyone involved knew there were problems with this darling home — but moving forward with the purchase required us to not only identify the problems but also to find a contractor willing to work with us throughout the loan approval and rehabilitation process.

The inspection report was heart-breaking. The home was off its foundation. And when we finally found a contractor to discuss what could be done about the foundation, he told us that the work would likely destroy the beautiful park-like backyard.

We bonded with this charming little home and it was hard when we had to give up the dream of bringing it back to its original state. But we’ve never regretted the $400 investment we made in the home inspection. The inspector loved the home as much as we did — but shared photos and descriptions to let us know exactly what we’d be taking on if we moved forward with the project. 

Latest buyer experience

We moved on because we were homeless by that time, with our household goods in storage and our little Craftsman house a dream gone by.

Fortunately, we found a home and our offer was accepted. But the market was going crazy and our real estate agent advised us that the seller was kicking himself because he got better offers than ours.

The house is only about 14 years old — so I thought it might not be that important to have a home inspection. But… I realized that I’d learned a lot more about the previous houses than I’d noticed on my own, so we decided to invest the $425 (inflation!) and I’m glad we did.

The inspection turned up a lot of issues we hadn’t noticed — and code violations we wouldn’t have known about at all.

Our seller was only willing to fix a few of the problems but they were likely issues that might have created a problem with the loan, so the home inspection probably expedited the deal in the long run. And we’re making our way down the list of things to be fixed.

Finding a home inspector

Your real estate agent is probably the best source for finding home inspectors currently working in your area, whether you are buying or selling. Although the bar for qualifying as a home inspector in California is pretty low, those I dealt with were very knowledgeable.

If you have a special need (such as we did with the older home), a Google search and review of inspectors’ websites will likely turn up some good candidates.