I’m purchasing a home and before the deal closes there will be a home inspection. What do I need to know about the inspection process?

Last week I wrote about what you should look for in a home inspector. Now that you’ve chosen who you’ll work with, there’s the matter of the inspection itself.

For those who didn’t catch last week’s column, a qualified home inspector can identify underlying issues with the major systems in a home, including roofing, foundation, electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems. Most buyers should make an offer to buy a home conditional on a satisfactory home inspection so they have a better understanding of the property.

With that in mind, let’s go into more detail about your home inspection.

It’s important to remember that a home inspection is primarily a visual examination of home’s systems. A home inspector can’t knock out the walls to see what’s behind them or do other destructive testing. Typically they will not move furniture or storage boxes in order to view or access part of the home. Inspections also don’t address cosmetic or aesthetic features of the property. So the home inspection might identify cracked foundations, drainage issues or a leaky roof, but it’s up to you and your real estate representative to spot chipped countertops, peeling paint and other superficial issues.

Systems such as phone, cable TV, alarm and the lawn sprinkler typically aren’t included in an inspection either. If you want an inspector to look at a swimming pool, fireplace or outbuildings, it’s often available as an add-on service.

I often get asked by home buyers whether or not they should be present during the home inspection.  Attending the inspection certainly isn’t mandatory, but if you want to get the most out of your inspection, I strongly recommend it. A typical inspection takes two to three hours and it’s time well spent.

If you attend the inspection, the inspector will be able to point out details as the two of you move around the property and examine its various parts. You’ll also be able to ask follow-up questions about how serious an issue is or what kind of repairs might be needed. While the inspector’s report will contain similar information, there’s definitely value in experiencing the inspection process yourself and interacting with the inspector while they work. During my home inspection, the inspector had lots of tips and suggestions that did not make it into the report, because they were not critical issues. My wife and I were glad that we took the time to participate.

After the inspection, you will receive a report that evaluates the condition of the home, including existing defects and potential problems that could crop up later on. Too often buyers don’t take the time to read the home inspection report in full. Buying a house is a major commitment and reading the report will increase your understanding of the property. Be sure to hang onto it too, because it can serve as a useful reference after you’ve moved in. I have referenced my report many times over the past decade.

If you’ve made your offer conditional on a satisfactory home inspection, it’s now time to make a decision about whether to proceed. This is where the expertise of a registered real estate professional is key.

Your representative can negotiate with the sellers to resolve issues uncovered in the inspection. For minor issues, the sellers may promise to fix the issue before you move in. For more serious issues, they may agree to reduce the selling price by a certain amount to compensate for the cost of repairs. You would then be responsible for handling the repairs once the deal closes.

A home inspection can take a lot of uncertainty out of the home buying process. Making the most of your home inspection can prevent unwanted surprises after you move in.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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