Home Inspections: Understanding Your House From Top to Bottom

By Orlando Gonzales

Buying a home is an exciting experience which can be overwhelming and self-empowering at the same time. Taking the time to understand some of the steps before you encounter them can allow you to more fully leverage the experience. Such is the case with the home inspection. The home inspection is intended to provide you with a long and thorough list of everything related to the home which ranges in severity from minor to major. 


This phase of the homebuying process sometimes seems like a pitfall because you have just fallen in love with the home, submitted an offer that was accepted, and now you’re being handed a list of defects.  Remember that every home will have a list of defects because no home is flawless. That’s an impossible expectation.  Be sure to attend your home inspection so that you can get to know your home beyond the design features.

During the inspection take an active role.  Be prepared by being curious and pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact! This is important because it helps you understand the issues at a deeper level than trying to decipher your inspector’s (very technical) report.  It’s easier and friendlier for the professional and licensed home inspector to show you what’s actually going on with the house.


To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few questions to ask a home inspector that will help you put issues into perceptive. 

  1. ‘What does that mean?’: During the inspection, your inspector will methodically go through the entire house. The inspector will point out things to you that aren’t as they should be. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what he’s telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters. For example: If the inspector says something like, “Looks like you’ve got some rotten boards here,” it’s smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.
  3. ‘Is this a big deal or not?’: Since you will hear the inspector rattle off numerous issues, you may start to feel panicky. Hold steady. If you’re unsure, ask the inspector whether the issue is a big deal. You will be pleasantly surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they’re not deal breakers.

And if it is major? Well, that’s why you’re having the inspection done. You can have your agent address it with the seller or you can rule this house out.

  1. ‘What’s that water spot on the ceiling and is it a problem?’: Don’t be shy about pointing out things that look off to you. It will help your inspector address those things that you’re catching. If something is bothering you about the house, make sure to ask the inspector to check it out very carefully. Most inspectors have a method to their madness, so they might note your concern and address it once they’re ready to check out what you’re observing. Take a note pad to write down those things and be sure they’re noted by the inspector in the end.
  2. ‘I’ve never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?’

Flaws aside, this is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house. Inspectors are great at explaining basic maintenance issues to people to help ensure that you take good care of the home moving forward. Learning how frequently you should change filters, clean gutters, etc. will allow you to start thinking about the necessary things you need to do in the future.

  1. ‘What are your biggest concerns about the property?’: Once the inspector is done, take a step back and ask the inspector for a summary. You will be getting a technical written report later, but this is a great moment to hone in on what the inspector thinks are the biggest issues. You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert. Your technical report will have extensive detail, but you should know what the most pressing issues by the time you are leave.

Together with your agent you will present a list of issues stemming from the home inspection for the seller to consider. In DC, MD, and VA there is a limited amount of time for you to have the inspection completed and for the list of issues presented, and the same goes for the amount of time the seller has in responding to the list of issues. The seller may offer to provide funds back to you to address the issues, or the seller may elect to have the issues fixed prior to settlement. In some instances, an expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional— will need to take a look at the issues that the inspector flagged. In turn the seller will shall provide receipts showing the fixes made and include the name of the contractor with their license number.

Keep in mind that your inspector can’t tell you whether or not to buy the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that). These questions will help you engage fully in the process and will help you not feel powerless.