What to Expect When You’re Inspecting

House inspections are like physicals.

They’re inevitable.

They’re often tedious.

They remind you of everything that could go wrong in life.

And you’d be crazy not to get one.

It’s reassuring to note that something like 90 percent of buyers now see the value in inspections. That wasn’t always true. And, according to American Society of Home Inspectors, almost 75 percent of buyers report that they avoided problems by having one done.

What’s not so obvious is that inspections bring value to sellers as well—even to homeowners contemplating sale–and if used for what they’re intended can save both sides of a real estate deal a doctor’s office full of headaches. Indeed, they can enhance rather than undermine the sale process.

What inspections are:  A careful look at the “readily accessible”  systems of a house, including (in Connecticut) the foundation and framing, the exterior, the roof, the plumbing, heating and electrical systems, air conditioning, the interior–walls, ceilings, windows, etc.—insulation and ventilation, fireplaces, and environmental concerns such as air-borne radon, asbestos and lead paint or solder. In addition, the water is tested for contaminants and potability, as well as radon and, increasingly, arsenic and uranium (although these last two are far more rare).

What they are not:  An exhaustive look at every system accessible or hidden; an attempt to determine the remaining life of all systems or components of the house; a critique of the home’s design or architecture; a comment on the property’s cosmetics or tastefulness, or a recommendation yea or nay on the advisability of purchase. (That last one from the Connecticut statute covering home inspections).

Misunderstandings about what inspections should or should not entail can undermine deals faster than termites.

For sellers:  Inspections need not be feared and need not put you on the defensive as you “re-negotiate” the selling price.  In fact, they can be a plus. If:

  1. You commission one prior to putting your house on the market.
  2. Make repairs you feel you can, or…
  3. Build the cost of anticipated repairs or updates the buyer will likely feel necessary into your price.
  4. Make the inspection available to the buyer.
  5. Use the contractor receipts on work you had done in explaining the selling process.
  6. You realize that in the greater scheme of things holding up the sale of a $1 million house over the cost of a window replacement makes no sense.

For buyers:  Inspections can assure you that your new home is safe, functioning effectively and not a “money pit.” It will make your purchase less stressful and smoother. If:

  1. You don’t see it as a whole new stage of negotiating the price.
  2. You concentrate on serious structural and safety issues.
  3. You gain as much knowledge about the life expectancy of systems as possible, but don’t expect the seller to absorb the cost of updates unless they are immediate.
  4. You realize that no re-sale home is without flaws, cosmetic or otherwise. Unless it’s a new house, there will be fixes.
  5. You realize that in the greater scheme of things holding up the sale of a $1 million house over the cost of a window replacement makes no sense.

That last one, on both lists, seems obvious, but it doesn’t always appear so in the final innings of a closing. Your inspection will find imperfections. (Have you ever had a physical that didn’t?) And unless you’re buying a brand new home, it will find things you’ll need or want to fix or upgrade. That’s no cause for alarm. Even some serious issues—radon for example—can be easily ameliorated.

ASHI has a “virtual inspection tour” on its web site. Worth a look, though remember, every state is different.

Choosing the right inspector key. Ask your Realtor for more than one recommendation. Check them out. What’s the reputation of their company? How many inspections do they do a year? Do you have a friend who purchased a home recently and used an inspector they liked?

Your goal is to hire an inspector who is a) conscientious, b) focused on the major systems called for in the statutes, and c) acutely attuned to safety concerns. It’s not the inspector’s job to make the deal happen, but it’s also not his or her job to sabotage it—unless there is truly a major concern. As a buyer, you want to understand the condition of the house and determine if there are any serious issues not disclosed by the seller (if they knew of them).

If both sides view the process realistically, additional negotiating of fixes or allowances for upgrades will go smoothly. If, however, the seller thinks he’s undergoing an appendectomy, or the buyer thinks he’s been told to take two aspirin and relax, you’ve got a problem.

Julie Carney is GMW’s real estate columnist. One of Wilton’s leading realtors, she heads up the Julie Carney Group at William Raveis. Her award-winning real estate career spans twelve years and sales exceeding $115 million. 


  1. Thanks for a good description of what we do…and don’t do. Shopping for a home inspector like looking for a physician should be done carefully. Bedside manner is important and body of knowledge and experience are critical. Ask the inspector what they look at, what their experience level is, how much time they will spend on site and on the report. How long before the report will arrive and if they have any additional certifications and skills (National Certifications for Radon, Certified for Water testing, Licensed for pests, E & O insurance etc.) Many inspectors do not climb on roofs or carry ladders. Many will not test appliances. As a result pricing may be different. Don’t shop for an inspection based on price alone, often you get what you pay for.
    American Society of Home Inspectors, (ASHI) inspectors who have passed a rigorous exam and performed over 250 inspections can advertise they are Ashi Certified Inspectors (ACI) You can look for ASHI inspectors on their web ashi.org.

    Stephen Gladstone, ACI Stonehollow Inc.
    Inspecting Homes for 31 years

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