The ultimate home inspection checklist

Everything you should look at inside and outside of the home.

Elissa

Elissa Suh

Published February 13, 2020

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A home inspector checks many aspects of the house for damages and safety hazards

  • Certain hazards, like radon, mold, and pests, typically warrant a separate inspection

  • If you’re selling a home, you cannot fail a home inspection, but any issues that arise can give the buyer negotiating power

When you find your dream house, before you buy it you’ll want to get it inspected, or looked at for any potential structural and safety issues. While you can easily see scuffs on the floor or cracks in the walls, the trained eye of the professional home inspector looks beyond cosmetic issues. A home inspector will evaluate all aspects of the house, from the attic to the basement, plumbing, electric, and even the driveway.

The inspection is an integral part of the homebuying process — a house is a very expensive purchase, so you want to know what you’re getting for your money. (For many people, their house is their most valuable asset.) Depending on what the inspector’s report reveals, you will be able to negotiate the price.

If a home inspection sounds daunting, don’t worry. First-time homebuyers can read this guide to learn how the home inspection process works, and a home inspection checklist that tells you what to look out for.

In this article:

What does the buyer do during a home inspection?

The buyer should be present for the home inspection even though it's not required. After all, if you're buying a house you would want first hand knowledge and insight into the house’s condition. Therefore it’s common for the buyer and the buyer’s agent to shadow the inspector, who will explain what they’re doing and what they’re finding. Don’t worry too much if you forget something — after the inspection, the inspector will send you a multiple-page report with any necessary photos.

The seller’s agent isn’t always present so the the buyer and the buyer’s agent can have some privacy to discuss any findings.

After receiving the inspection report, the buyer can present any problems to the seller and listing agent.

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What does the inspector look for during a home inspection?

The home inspector's job is to examine and describe in detail the condition of the home. A home inspection is exhaustive and covers many things in and outside of the house and relating to the property or lot.

Generally speaking, the inspector looks for any signs of damage. One of the most common concerns is water damage, which arises not just from leaky pipes but also poor ventilation and wood decay.

The home inspector also tends to specify on their report how they examined different parts of the house, like if they inspected with a camera or from a far distance. They will also make note on the report if they did not inspect something and give a reason. (For example, if the crawlspace was inaccessible because it was deemed unsafe.)

What will fail a home inspection?

You cannot "fail" a home inspection. If you’re the seller, and an inspector finds issues with your home, they won’t issue you a ticket or report you to any authorities.

It's not the inspector's job to give you a grade per se, but to thoroughly and objectively report on the condition of your house. From this, the seller discovers issues with the house (and if they can be repaired) and the buyer gains leverage over negotiating the price.

Home inspection checklist

A home inspection checklist for buyers can help prepare you for what to look for during a home inspection. Be observant — not just of what you see, but of what you smell or hear. Odors and noises can also be indicators of damage or safety hazards.

A home inspection checklist for sellers will help reveal whether or not you’re properly maintaining your home. The inspection report can potentially affect how much you can sell your house for. Conducting a routine DIY home inspection will help you identify problems and fix them ahead of the professional home inspector. (Homeowners insurance is an essential part of home ownership that can help protect your home and pay for necessary repairs.)

Here is a home inspection checklist for both sellers and buyers. It broadly lists everything the inspector will look at in a typical house inspection.

Roof

  • Roof: no cracks, wrinkles, missing shingles, and whether it needs to be replaced
  • Gutters and downspouts: secured, pointed away from the house, free of rust and mud
  • Eaves, soffits and fascia: no decay or stains, bolted properly to roof
  • Skylight, chimney: no damage, cracks, missing bricks

Exterior

  • Siding: no cracks, dents, stains, flaking, curling, rot, etc.
  • Decks, balconies, porches, steps, stoops: no damage or decay
  • Entryway landing, sidewalk, garage: no cracks or other damage
  • Driveway and lot: no evidence of standing water (indicates a leak and potential for flooding)
  • Distance between vegetation and foundation: branches and bushes should be kept away
  • No wood to earth contact (potential for termite damage)

Attic

  • Adequate insulation: type, depth, and thickness
  • Ventilation: no dampness or evidence of moisture
  • Structure, beams, underside of roofing: no decay or damage

Basement or crawl space

  • Ventilation: no dampness or evidence of moisture
  • Proper insulation of the crawlspace or mechanical room
  • Foundation: no cracks or exposure
  • Beams: no cuts, notches, or boring (signs of termite damage)

Interiors

  • Walls, floors, ceilings: appear straight and level, no cracks or stains (beyond wallpaper or chipping paint)
  • Doors and windows: operable, no broken hardware
  • Condition of countertops and number of cabinets
  • Ventilation: exhaust systems where necessary in kitchen, bathroom, laundry
  • Fireplace: no cracks or damage, evidence of a safety hazard
  • Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms

Plumbing

  • Functional drainage and water supply system: no leaks, restricted water flow, or poor water pressure
  • Functional water heater: provides sufficient hot water temperature
  • Fixtures (toilets, sinks, showers, tubs, cabinetry): secured, no rust, caulking in good condition
  • Functional waste drainage systems (including pipes and sump pumps)

Electrical

  • Working switches, outlets, circuit breakers
  • Wiring: no exposed wires or improperly coated cables, and make note of older wiring methods, like aluminum wires, or knob-and-tube wiring
  • Grounded panels and GFCI receptacles for outlets near sinks or water

Heating and cooling

  • Installed heating equipment functions properly
  • Proper ventilation of furnace and fuel-burning heaters
  • Functional cooling system and air-conditioning compressor
  • No rusts or leaks, or odors

Appliances

  • Dishwasher, trash compactor, garbage disposal function properly
  • Ovens and ranges have no gas or power leaks, microwave properly grounded

Not included in house inspection

Generally, any accessories or customizations to the house are not the responsibility of the home inspector. These include window treatments, wallpaper, finish, renewable energy sources, like solar panels, freestanding structures, like playgrounds and pools.

Other important safety hazards are not included as part of the general home inspection. You may need to hire a separate home inspector who is qualified to assess the specific hazard.

  • Lead-based paint (For homes built before 1978, the seller provides a disclosure with any known information about whether lead-based paint was used. If you choose, you will have a window of time to get a lead paint inspection from a certified inspector.)
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Radon gas
  • Pests (rodents, insects, and more. Learn more about pest inspections.)
  • Termites (While the inspector may notice termite damage, they will not do a termite inspection.)
  • Soil conditions or erosion control measures
  • Water quality

Where to get a home inspection

You can find a professional home inspector certified with one of the following home inspection organizations:

  • Certified Master Inspector (CMI)
  • American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI)
  • International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI)

The cost of a home inspection can run anywhere from $200 to $500 and you may negotiate for the seller to cover it.

Learn more about the cost of a home inspection.

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Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa is a personal finance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She writes about estate planning, mortgages, and occasionally health insurance. In the past she has written about film and music.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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