Purchasing a home can be a long journey. First, you need to work out your finances and determine how much home you can afford. Once you've done all the preliminary planning, you and your real estate agent may visit dozens of houses before you find your dream. If you're lucky, you can make an offer on the home you fall in love with, and it will be accepted. But just because you love a home doesn't mean it's a good idea to purchase it. Before finalizing the purchase, you always have the option of having the home inspected. And although the inspection is optional, here's why you should never skip it, no matter how great a home seems.

Why You Should Never Skip a Home Inspection [infographic]

There's More to a Home

A home is often the largest single purchase a person will make in their lifetime. So when you look for a home, you don't just want something you can settle on. You want to find a home you will love. But the reasons that people fall in love with a home are often not the same as the reasons that a home is a good investment.

Most homebuyers choose a home based on a combination of layout, design, location, and sometimes other factors like school districts and tax burdens. But there is a lot more to a home than an open floorplan or fantastic master bath.

Once you purchase a home, you will be faced with ongoing maintenance and repairs. That's just a part of homeownership. So knowing the current state of the home, where you are starting from, is critical. The information you get from a thorough home inspection can help you plan for future costs. It may also affect the terms of your purchase. In some cases, information uncovered during a home inspection may be significant enough to cause you to walk away from a home. It's much better to know all of that in advance than to find out about it after the purchase is finalized.

What Can You Do With a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is not just about gathering information. A proper home inspection and the report it produces are tools you can use.

One great way to use a home inspection report is as a bargaining tool for your home purchase. When you make an initial offer, make sure that it is contingent on the results of a home inspection. If the inspects turns up only minor issues, you may proceed with the offer as you made it. But if there are issues that require expensive repairs or other major problems, you may want to modify your offer. Sometimes you can make the purchase contingent on the seller repairing certain items before the transfer. In other cases, you may renegotiate the price to account for the costs involved in repairing and maintaining the new home. If you absolutely can't agree on the terms of the home inspection, you may also be able to walk away from the deal. On the other hand, if the problems with the home are too severe, you may want to give up on the home altogether. If you made your offer contingent on the inspection, you should have no problem walking away.

Another way you can use your home inspection is as a financial planning tool. A home inspection will tell you what needs to be repaired in a home. But it will also include an estimate of upcoming repair and maintenance costs. You should factor that in when you consider how much you can afford to spend on your new home.

Finally, the information gathered in your home inspection report has practical value. It's a blueprint for what you need to attend to once you purchase the home. Instead of waiting for problems, you can come to your new home with a predetermined to-do list, complete with every item in your home that needs attention.

The Foundation and Structural Integrity

The most important thing you can know about your house is how structurally sound it is. If a house is sinking, flooding, or falling apart, it may not be worth your time, no matter how much you like the kitchen. A home inspector will go places you probably didn't visit on your review of the home. The inspector will get into crawl spaces and dark corners of basements to get an idea of how well the house is holding up.

Important findings from a structural integrity inspection include the status of the foundation, the presence of water or condensation, and the condition of the home's framework. A home inspection may find that a foundation is sinking or uneven. You could also learn that a basement floods (even if it is currently dry). If an inspection finds that an attic or crawl space is collecting moisture and condensation, that needs to be remedied immediately before you can move in. Floors, supports, and other structural features can also show signs of age or poor construction. Sagging floors can indicate major problems that are just waiting to blow up on you.

While it may seem like only older homes are susceptible to structural imperfections, even new builds should be inspected. Only a thorough inspection can determine the quality of the work that went into building a new home. Never really on the builder alone to tell you how good of a job they did.

Inspecting the Roof

Next to the foundation, the roof is the second most important feature of your home. It is also one of the most expensive to repair or replace. When you purchase any home, you should expect that the roof has a limited life expectancy. But knowing the current condition of the roof and how soon you should expect to replace it should factor into your purchase price. If a roof is relatively new and in good condition, you can expect to live in your home for decades before you need to replace the roof. But if a roof is aging or leaking, you may either want to include that in the purchase offer or require appropriate repairs before the sale is finalized.

The Safety of a Home

Before you move into a new home, you should be sure that it is safe. A home inspection will check for anything that may make a home unsafe to occupy. One of the most critical features to check on is the state of the electrical wiring. Wiring is something you don't see when you view a home with your real estate agent. But improperly installed or aging wiring can be a serious safety hazard. Only a home inspection can reveal those issues.

Other safety issues include air quality, the presence of lead or asbestos, and other environmental pollutants. A home inspection report that indicates anything that makes a home dangerous or unhealthy to live in is vital information. It should definitely affect the terms of the sales agreement and may suggest necessary repairs before you can move in.

Plumbing, Windows, Appliances, and Other Home Features

Modern homes have lots of moving parts and plenty of things that could break down or cause other problems. A thorough home inspection will leave you with no surprises. Anything that could need attention will be included in your inspection report. They may not all become bargaining chips in your final sale agreement, but they are useful to know about.

A home inspection will tell you if your windows or doors are drafty, how energy-efficient they are, and how much it might cost to upgrade them. It will also include information about the plumbing, like how much longer you can expect it to last, and how much you should budget for repairs of the next several years. Homes often come with large appliances, like refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, water heaters, and HVAC systems. A home inspection should cover these items, although HVAC systems may need a specialized inspection. Swimming pools may also require specialized inspection.

Always Worth the Money

A home inspection is relatively inexpensive, and always less expensive than surprise maintenance and repair. A typical inspection for a single-family home may range from $350 to $500. If you opt for additional inspections, like an HVAC inspection, a radon test, or a pool inspection, you can add a few hundred dollars to that price. But a single unforeseen repair could cost you several times that amount. And if you can negotiate the sale price based on the report, you may make your money back before you even sign on the dotted line.

If you are considering purchasing a home, never skip the home inspection. These TrustDALE certified home inspectors will give you useful information at a fair price, and they are all backed by Dale's $10,000 Make-It-Right™ Guarantee.

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