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Buying a home is exciting, but it can also be stressful and time-consuming. The worst thing that can happen after you've signed your closing papers is an unexpected major expense due to problems in the home that you weren't made aware of during the buying process. That's why a home inspection is so important and why most realtors advise homebuyers to hire a home inspector when they are looking to buy a home. Some buyers opt to save a few dollars by skipping this step. While an inspector is an additional expense, hiring one can help you avoid costly repairs and downright bad deals, saving you time and money in the long run.
The average home inspection costs around $315, with condos and small homes under 1,000 sq ft. costing as little as $200. Larger homes over 2,000 sq ft. will run $400 or more. Radon or mold testing will cost extra, but will typically cost less if you purchase them with a home inspection. "How much do you charge?" is normally the first question asked of a home inspector. You should be asking about qualifications, experience, and how they get most of their business! Nonetheless, here is a breakdown of what you need to know so you can anticipate what you should expect to pay for a home inspection:
There is no set standard for how the overall inspection price is calculated, so you should ask your inspector up front to find out how you will be charged.
Inspectors quote inspection fees using different methods. Some charge a flat rate by the square footage of living area, square footage of area under the roof, or the amount of time spent on the inspection.
If the inspector charges based on the amount of time spent, the larger your house is, the more you should expect to pay.
The age of homes can affect the cost as well. Some newer homes can be inspected in 2 to 3 hours while older homes can take 4 or more hours. This is due to repairs, additions and simply how the house has developed “eccentricities” over the years that require a closer look.
Some inspection reports might take an hour or two to complete, while others might take 4 hours or more. This varies by inspector and how they compile reports.
As with most things, paying the lowest cost for a home inspection isn't always in your best interest. Inspectors aren't regulated by HUD (The U.S. Department of Housing and Development), so inspectors who charge the least might be cutting corners.
As stated above, all home inspectors are not created equal. They cover different areas in their inspection, so you should always find out ahead of time what exactly will be covered and what will not. At the end of the inspection, your inspector should present you with a report listing the problem areas that were found, including photos. Make sure the following areas are covered to avoid future hassles and maintenance repairs:
The general interior & exterior
Some additional areas that might be covered by your home inspector include:
These additional areas generally require specialized certification, so if you want them checked out, you should call around to find a qualified inspector. They may come at an additional cost. Home inspections should be non-invasive, meaning it should not include making holes in the walls, damaging fixtures, prying up shingles, or otherwise affecting the structure of the home. In some cases more invasive examinations are required, but they should be completed only with the written consent of the homeowner. Because of this, it is in your best interest to be present during the inspection.
While your quote should be fairly accurate, it's good to be aware of extra costs that could sneak up on you. For instance, some inspectors consider detached garages as part of the main house and do not charge for them while others consider detached garages as outbuildings and charge extra to inspect them. Also be aware that if you have other items such as a swimming pool or septic system, you may have to pay extra for inspection of those items. Some might charge for mileage to the home. TIP: Most home inspectors will charge a "base price" - but then as they ask questions like how large the home is, what year it was built, age of the home, etc., their "base price" gets much higher. Be aware the "real" price isn't the base price you'll be quoted right off the bat. Here are some other things that might add to the total cost, but could be worth it in the long run:
Radon Testing: According to the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and is, overall, the second leading cause of lung cancer. It is therefore worth the extra $100 to $200 that inspectors might charge to have the home tested for radon. They are familiar with every place that needs to be checked and know how to find potential trouble spots quickly. They’ll know the prime spots for gathering samples and will give a much better assessment of the radon levels in your home.
Asbestos: Newer homes shouldn't need to worry about asbestos, but asbestos was used in home construction up until 1989. Having the home checked for asbestos is probably worth it in older homes with popcorn ceilings. However it does come at a hefty cost. On average, you should expect to spend $400 to $800 for a 1,500 square foot house including lab fees. If the samples come up positive for the presence of asbestos, now an inspection must be done to determine the levels and air quality. Asbestos removal can cost anywhere from $400 to $30,000 depending on the amount of asbestos present. After clean-up and removal, a follow-up inspection is necessary to make sure it was done correctly. That's another $200 to $400.
Mold: The six most common molds are:
Of these, acremonium, aspergillus, and stachybotrys are the most dangerous, requiring immediate removal. The other three are hazardous to people with allergic reactions to mold and should also be removed immediately. The cost to have your home tested for mold is about $820, while having it professionally removed is around $2,200.
Lead: A home built before 1978 should be inspected for lead in the paint as well as pipes. Paint that has been on since 1978 is probably old, cracked and peeling, anyway, but most people simply paint over such situations. If the paint is in good shape, this is usually all that’s needed. However, if the paint is cracking or peeling it will need to be encapsulated with a bonding agent to prevent lead-infused dust from getting into the air you breathe. Lead pipes can leech lead into your drinking water. If your home meets this requirement, you will need to have it tested for about $300. If the results come back positive for either the paint or pipes in your home, lead removal could range anywhere from $950 to $2,300.
Sewer Scope: Of all the things that homebuyers overlook, the sewer is at the top. Many inspectors will refer you to a sewer scope company since this runs outside their area of expertise. A sewer scope is a worthwhile investment for homes that are 20 years or older with pipes that could be blocked by tree roots. Homes that were built in the 1950s might even have their sewer lines attached to cesspools. The upfront cost for a sewer scope will run from $85 to $300, but it can save you thousands on replacing a sewer line down the road.
A home inspection is not required, and some people decide to save themselves a few hundred dollars by trusting their own eyes. This often becomes a very costly mistake. Without the training and experience of a home inspector, or without knowledge of what certain problems can lead to, saving a few hundred dollars now can cost you several thousand dollars just a short time away.
Foundation repairs – Damage to a foundation can come from water, shifting soil, earthquakes, and other naturally occurring situations. Moisture and humidity can build up and lead to the growth of mold. Damage to the foundation ranges from $525 to over $10,000. The reason for this wide variance is because each foundation will require its own way of being repaired based on the source of the damage. In severe cases, the foundation may have to be completely replaced.
Mold – Mold can be found anyplace that moisture builds up. If it’s in your crawlspace, it may have to be removed and the crawlspace would get encapsulated. Mold in the walls and attic space requires removal of the wall covering (drywall, wallpaper, stucco, etc.) and replacement of the affected timbers. Some molds have a bad effect on people with allergies while others can be deadly to anybody who breathes them in. All of them are capable of inflicting serious damage to a house.
Removing mold from just a crawlspace costs around $500 to $4,000.
To remove it from ducts, walls, attics, crawlspaces, etc. can cost up to $6,000. If the mold has caused extensive structural damage, you can pay $10,000 to $30,000 or more.
Basement – You might look at a home with a full basement and imagine a den, a playroom, or a bedroom. Before you do that, however, it will have to be brought up to code for it to be a legally habitable room. Even if you plan to use it just for storage and don’t need to have windows of a particular size, a door of a particular size, electrical and plumbing, having a basement you can actually use can wind up costing around $10,000 to $35,000 if done by a professional.
This will involve repairing or replacing cracked concrete, and sealing at the lower end, and creating a whole new legally livable space at the higher end.
Electrical – Electrical codes have changed over the years as we have more and more electronic tools and toys in our lives. In the old days you might have had a lamp on your nightstand. Today you’d have a lamp, clock radio, cell phone charger, and any other gadget you could want handy. All of this puts extra loads on a house’s electrical system.
Modern homes are built with this sort of electrical lifestyle in mind, but an older home may have had extra outlets put in for convenience without accounting for the increased demand. Overloaded circuits are fire hazards, as are the DIY plug additions if they weren’t done properly.
Depending on where you live, the cost to bring a house’s electrical system entirely up to code is from $10,000 to $15,000. If only part of your house needs to come up to code, the cost depends on what exactly is needed. Electrical work should only be done by a licensed electrician!
Plumbing – Do not accept any plumbing issues as “just part of the house’s ‘personality’.” Leaks at the sink can indicate improperly installed faucets, poorly-ground seats, worn o-rings, or an entire faucet needing replacing. Clogs and slow flushing or draining can be anything from build-up at the trap to tree roots punching through your sewer lines. Never assume that it’s minor and you can fix it with a plunger or a plumber’s snake.
For most jobs that require a licensed plumber, you can expect to pay around $275. This is usually for things such as clogged or slow-draining sinks, slow flushing toilets, and sink fixture replacement.
Tree root problems can have a base cost of $350 with another $250 if a video examination needs to be done. However, if your sewer main needs to be replaced, that can cost an average of $2,456. If the yard needs to be dug up to get to the problem, restoring your landscaping is usually not included in the deal.
HVAC – Heating and air-conditioning, including the water heater, should be checked to make sure not only that it’s functioning but that it is if adequate capacity for the house. A new furnace can cost between $1,700 to over $13,000 installed. There is no advantage to leaving an incorrectly sized unit on your house. If it’s too small, it will be running constantly. If it’s too large, it won’t stay on long enough to properly circulate the air, leaving you uncomfortable.
If air conditioner or furnace parts are need, many such repairs can cost from $500 to $700. Parts can be hard to find on older units, and once parts like the heat exchanger start to go bad, it’s usually time to replace the unit.
A water heater is expected to last 10 to 15 years. Check on the age of the water heater in the house. If it’s close to 7 years, start shopping. A water heater installed can cost from $600 to $1,000 depending on capacity and any extra hook-ups needed (such as if changing the capacity of the water heater.
Windows – Windows are big sources of energy loss. If they don’t sit right in the frame, if they don’t close properly, or if the weather-stripping is old, replacing the windows is the most cost-effective thing to do.
If the window frame is still intact, replacing the windows can cost $300 to $700 each to install. However, if the frame is rotted or has termite or other pest damage, you can expect to pay $450 to $1,000 each.
Be aware that windows and doors that don’t close right if everything else is fine can indicate a house that has shifted on its foundation.
Flooring – The floor of a house takes a beating. Constant weight, foot traffic, moving furniture, etc., all of these can damage a floor. A concrete slab floor can suffer from nearby tree roots. A floor that is warped or creaks excessively can indicate troubles with the floor joists and other supporting structures beneath the floors.
If a floor joist has suffered only minor damage, it can usually be repaired through “sistering”, cleaning and treating the old joist and attaching a new one right alongside of it. This costs about $100 to $300 per joist. However, if the damage is extensive and the joists need to be replaced, a single section (for example, the northeast corner) can cost from $5,000 to $10,000. If the whole house needs to be put on jacks and all of the joists replaced, you can expect to pay $10,000 to $30,000 or more depending on the size of the house and the ease of access under the house.
Here is a breakdown of major questions you need to ask your inspector before going through with the home inspection:
What exactly does the inspection cover?
The inspection should cover the items listed in section 2. In addition, your inspector should be able to prove the inspection and report will meet all applicable state guidelines along with complying with a standard code of ethics. You can request a copy of all the areas that will be included in the inspection upfront so that you can ask questions as well as identify any additional areas that you want covered.
What is your experience with home inspections?
No, it isn't rude to ask a home inspector to provide proof of his/her qualifications. In fact, it's just good practice. Your inspector should be able to provide you with references and/or proof of experience upon your asking.
Is your expertise in residential inspections?
Some people who have experience in construction or commercial inspection might claim that they can perform a home inspection, but it is best to choose an inspector who has been specifically trained to inspect residential spaces.
If the inspection shows that repairs are warranted, are you certified to perform the repairs?
Some state regulations and home inspector associations allow inspectors to perform repairs upon inspection, while others strictly forbid repairs due to a conflict of interest.
How long will the inspection take?
Larger homes (2,000 square feet or more) will take longer than smaller homes, but some inspectors just take longer than others no matter what size the home is. On average, you should anticipate the inspection to take 2-3 hours for a single-family home.
How much is this going to cost?
See section 1 for average cost information. This question is important because you should have an accurate quote up front and it is worthwhile to shop around and get a few quotes.
What does the report look like and how soon after the inspection will I see it?
Ask for samples of previous reports the inspector has done to get a feel for his/her reporting style and to make sure you can make sense out of the report itself. In general, you should expect to see the report no more than 24 hours after the inspection has been completed.
Can I attend the inspection?
If the inspector answers “no” to this question, it's probably time to move on to another inspector. It's a pretty big red flag not to allow the homebuyer to attend.
Which home inspector association are you a member of?
There are a few different home inspector associations in the country and, really, it doesn't matter which association the inspector belongs to as long as s/he belongs to one. An inspector who doesn't belong to a professional association likely doesn't take the job seriously and might not be as qualified as other available candidates.
How do you keep your expertise up to date?
It's important to stay on top of education and training in most fields, and home inspection is no exception. A reputable home inspector will take advantage of training courses to stay current and hone skills. This question is especially important for homebuyers who are interested in an older home that requires additional skills/expertise for specific problems.
The two main associations that license and regulate home inspectors are NACHI (National Association of Certified Home Inspectors) and NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors). These associations hold their members to a high standard of quality, and any home inspector who belongs to one of these will need to adhere to their guidelines. Inspectors need to pass an application process to be accepted, and anyone who veers from the guidelines will have his/her membership revoked. The associations' websites can provide a good starting point for finding a licensed inspector in your area.
Based on all the added expenses that you might end up paying without a home inspection such as fixing a broken water heater, plumbing issues, and foundation problems, the minimal cost of $200-$600 is definitely worth it. Homebuyers are often stressed out about money and think that they can save a few dollars by skipping a home inspection. In reality, an inspection can be the best investment you make in your home and it can give you peace of mind when you finally decide to buy.