Understanding Your Home Inspection Report

After pouring through real estate news, studying up on loans and neighborhoods, attending myriads of open houses and even digging into house hunting online – most home buyers feel like they are true real estate experts. However, for all but the most handy of house hunters, getting into really looking at the house shows just how little most people actually know about the nuts and bolts of what is probably the largest purchase they’ll ever make.

So YOU make the right decision and schedule a home inspection. You even attend the inspection and ask what you think are all the right questions – then get the report and find it reads with a whole different language then what you were speaking at the time of inspection. Terms like “serviceable condition…”, “monitor…”, “conducive to decay…”, “satisfactory to…” What do these along with the other comments and ratings ACTUALLY mean to you the home buyer?

Here’s a few pointers to help you translate the report into something you can really use.

1. The best home inspectors are even keeled, objective and “Just the Facts” is their byline. They’re not alarmists and they don’t try to play down the importance of things. Sometimes that straightforwardness can make it confusing and difficult for you, the buyer, to know what’s a really big deal and what’s not – whether you should move forward with the purchase, what to plan ahead for; whether to re-negotiate or walk way.

As a home inspector I’ve categorized things as a safety hazard that a couple hours and less than $100 would fix. For example a bathroom faucet with the hot and cold supply lines reversed. On the other hand you might see a simple line like “extensive earth to wood contact observed” that after further inspection opens a pretty pricey can of worms.

A home inspector shouldn’t provide you with a repair bid and in most cases won’t go into what the repairs (if any are needed) would entail, their job is to inspect and report. That being said, 9 times out of 10 they probably will verbally give you the information you might need to help you understand whether the situation is a serious problem or what you may be looking at down the road.

2. Many times I am asked by the home buyer accompanying me on an inspection, “Who should I get to fix that?” Personally I don’t recommend anyone because it’s an uncomfortable conflict of interest for me but instead I suggest they ask their local real estate agents because they know the area, who’s reputable and who isn’t. The other answer may be as simple as “You don’t need to hire anyone, go down to the hardware store and pick up a _____, here’s where it goes. I’m not sure how much it will cost but it probably won’t be much.” Either way, go ahead and ask your inspector – you’ll probably find out that most of the items in the home inspection report will probably be DIY items or maintenance issues. Even if you’re uncomfortable at first with handling DIY items, a couple of You Tube videos and some advice from the clerk at the hardware store should help you get into the projects. Either way you’ll know more about the issue at hand and whether you should hire someone to do the small fixes.

3. The second most popular question is “What would you do if this was your house? What would you fix and when?” The home inspector’s job is to point out everything, within the scope of the inspection that might need repair, replacement, maintenance, further inspection – or what might be on its last leg. They also are experienced enough with homes to know that no home is perfect. For example, if you ask “What would you (the home inspector) do with an item described as “at the end of its serviceable lifetime?” The might say “If it were mine, I wouldn’t do a thing to it. Just know that it could break in the next 5 months, or in the next 5 years. Keep your home warranty in effect, because that should cover it when it does break.”

“What would you do if this was your house? What would you fix and when?” is a good question because it puts you in the position to:

  • Understand better what does and doesn’t need to be repaired immediately
  • Better prioritize the work you plan to do to the home (budget or renegotiate accordingly)
  • Understand and get used to constant maintenance that comes along with home ownership
  • Understand the importance of a good home warranty plan.

4. A common scenario is to get home, open up the inspection report and have no clue whatsoever what he or she was referring to when they pointed out the wax ring that needs replacement or the TPR valve that is improperly installed. Your best bet for better understanding the home inspection report is to ask the inspector ( at the end of the inspection) to walk through the house with you to point out all the items they’ve noted needing repair, maintenance or further inspection. This way when you get the report you’ll have a better understanding of what and where the various items in the report belong. (Make sure your inspector includes as many pictures as necessary in their report.)

The bottom line is; if at all possible, arrange to attend your home inspection. This will be well worth it when you receive your report and you’re able to recognize each item and understand what the comments actually are referring to. At the end of the day, the home inspection report is just that – an objective report on the operations of the basic systems found in a house. It’s going to be up to you to follow up and ask the right questions that will help in making the right decisions for you when it comes time to purchase the home.