Before buying a home, it’s a good idea to have it inspected. Unlike appraisals, home inspections aren’t required, but they offer a detailed assessment of the state of a home – critical information for any potential buyer.
Inspection reports can seem daunting at first. Here’s how to decipher the report so you can make an informed purchasing decision.
Understand the components
Home inspections are typically organized into these components:
- General information about the home – square footage, address
- A table of contents
- A key of symbols or codes
- A detailed assessment of the home
- Summary and rating for each issue
Sort the laundry list
An inspector is required to note everything that’s wrong with the house, so odds are you’ll plow through an exhaustive list of flaws. But it’s important to note not all issues are created equal.
You’ll want to focus on big-picture issues, systemic or foundational flaws that impact the integrity of the entire home. For example, does the HVAC need replacing? Are the roof’s shingles cracking? Foundation sinking? These are issues that will create long-term problems and impact other aspects of the home.
Next, you’ll want to look at smaller items that’ve been flagged as safety concerns. One loose plank on a deck may not seem like a big issue. But, if it’s in a prominent spot and the inspector deems it a safety hazard, you’ll want to address it.
The key here is to not get overwhelmed by the entire list. Remember, it’s the inspector’s job to do just that – inspect. Your job is to sort through the list and focus on issues that will have the biggest impact on the home’s value or livability. Think of these as deal-breaker items.
Decode the ratings
Inspection reports will include a key to help you understand the severity of each issue noted. These vary from inspector to inspector, but generally, they’re put into these categories.
- I: Inspected. An item that was inspected.
- NI: Not inspected. Items aren’t inspected for a variety of reasons from obstructed access to fear of injury. Read these carefully.
- AE: Additional evaluation recommended. This indicates that the inspector isn’t sure if there’s an issue. Typically, this happens with non-functioning items or an item that may not meet code.
- S: Safety concern. These items pose a health or injury risk and could be anything from a structural problem to carbon monoxide or mold.
- R: General repair. These items need correction, but aren’t deemed an immediate concern. For example, a loose gutter or chipped walkway.
- D: Defect. These items don’t function or were installed or constructed incorrectly. These require attention or corrective action.
Knowledge is power
Remember, no matter how daunting the list, the information will help you make an informed decision. Keep in mind you can always ask for clarification from the inspector. They’re a neutral party whose job is to provide an honest assessment.