Find a qualified inspector. This is one situation in which you shouldn’t take a recommendation from your real estate agent, experts say. She could encourage you to go with someone who overlooks problems in order to make the deal go through as smoothly as possible. Instead, contact a professional organization (ashi.org,nahi.org, or nachi.org) to find an accredited, self-employed expert who has performed at least 1,000 inspections. In many states, there isn’t a licensing program, but these associations usually require their members to meet certain standards and participate in continuing education. Expect to pay about $300 to $750 for a general inspection.
Request a detailed inspection report in advance. Ask how much time the inspector typically needs to conduct an analysis (an average home should take one to three hours) and what the finished report will look like. You want it to be at least 10 pages in length, and it should include photographs of anything that’s wrong.
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Consider additional assessments. Ask your real estate agent and primary inspector if they recommend scheduling additional inspections above and beyond the standard one. These might include analyses of the chimney, the sewer, and the oil tank and testing for mold and radon—with each of these tests costing $100 to $300. “What you need to do usually depends upon the age, condition, and style of the house,” says John Guy, a former president of the North Carolina chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors, a professional organization. For example, radon is problematic in some basements, but if your house has only a crawl space, you probably don’t have to worry.
Attend the inspection. This is your opportunity to ask questions about the infrastructure of the house. Be sure to learn about the operation and the locations of the gas and water shut-off valves and the breaker box.
Tell the repairman to provide written estimates for all fixes. Your real estate agent will submit to the seller the anticipated costs for any problems found during the inspection.
Ask for a price credit. You can control the quality if you have the repairs done yourself, says Boni Bryant, a Los Angeles–based real estate agent for Sotheby’s International Realty. Request that the cost of any fixes, no matter how large or small, be deducted from the sale price and have the work done after the purchase is final.