Depending on the type of financing you choose, there should be either 2 or 3 separate inspections on the home you want to purchase. The first should be your own basic inspection (see the bottom of this page for what to look for), the second should be a professional whole-house inspection by a reputable person. Should you select a government loan (FHA or VA), the third inspection should come at the time of the appraisal, which to some degree amounts to a “mini-inspection.” Do not, however, rely on this appraisal as your only inspection of the property!
We cannot emphasize enough the value and necessity of an extensive home inspection. Many home purchasers, either in the desire to save the $200 to $500 that a good inspection costs, or due to simple ignorance, have spent enormous sums of money repairing items that any good home inspector would have pointed out. Any offer to purchase you make should be contingent upon (subject to) a whole house inspection with a satisfactory report. Do not let anyone–not the agent, not your family or friends, and especially not the seller–dissuade you from having the property thoroughly inspected! Not only will you sleep much sounder after you have moved into the house, a professional inspection can give you an escape hatch from a contract on a defective house. If the contract is written contingent on an acceptable inspection, any defects in the home must be either repaired or monetarily compensated for. If you are not satisfied, you have the option to cancel the contract.
Inspections are designed to disclose defects in the property that could materially affect its safety, livability, or resale value. They are not designed to disclose cosmetic deficiencies (for example, an interior wall that needs paint touch up). You will need to determine on your own those type of items that will need attention: don’t expect a whole house inspection to reveal them to you. Cosmetic issues are generally handled fairly easily, unlike major deficiencies.
Don’t wait until you have placed an offer on a house before you begin the search for a home inspector. There will be a time limit in the contract designating when the inspection must be completed (typically between 7 and 14 days). If you start trying to find an inspector at that point, and cannot find an acceptable one to schedule it in that time frame, you will only have two choices: go with an inspector that is not your first choice, or run the risk of running past the deadline for the inspection (which could void any chance having the seller take care of repairs). Neither is an acceptable alternative!