If you are a home-buyer, the very first thing you will do after the seller has accepted your offer and everyone has signed the purchase agreement is book an inspector to check the systems of your new house.

This is not the same as an appraisal. A home appraisal is an estimate of how much your property is worth and is used by your lender to determine the amount of money that will be lent. An appraiser looks at the home’s overall condition and compares it to nearby property values.

An inspection is centered on the home itself and reveals any structural or mechanical problems with the house. This knowledge then allows you to negotiate with the seller for repairs and/or a lower price. Or you may decide to simply cancel the contract because you cannot reach an agreement with the seller about the home’s condition.

The buyer usually has one to two weeks to have the inspection(s) performed.

Who pays for inspections? The buyer is typically responsible for paying. The cost depends on several factors, including the size of the house and the specific types of inspections you wish to have performed. A very simple basic inspection for a smaller home may be $500 to $700.

Houston’s larger inspection companies have many kinds of inspectors on their payroll and offer buyers a menu of services, including structural and mechanical inspections, termite, air quality (i.e. mold) and stucco. We had a River Oaks buyer who, in an abundance of caution on a $4 million purchase, ordered practically every inspection available. His bill was right at $20,000.

Some companies include a swimming pool inspection in their service; for others, it’s an add-on.

An HVAC inspection is part of a basic package, too. But because it’s such a large ticket item, you may opt for a separate and in-depth HVAC inspection.

The same goes for plumbing. Older outdoing sanitary lines can be problematic, and many cast-iron pipes installed in the 1920s and 1930s are crumbling today. You can hire an inspector to send a tiny camera down the sewer line and take a look. You can also hire a licensed plumber to perform a hydrostatic (pressure) test of the home’s plumbing system that will reveal any leaks.

We believe that a stucco inspection is very important here in Houston. Thousands of area homes have water penetration in their stucco cladding, and repairs are always expensive.

What if you are buying a property and plan to demolish the structure and build your dream house? Do you still need an inspection? In this case you would want to have an expert check for two things:

The first is contamination of the soil. If there was a gas station, say, or a dry-cleaners nearby and the business regularly leaked toxic chemicals into the soil, that contamination could migrate to surrounding properties, sometimes blocks away.

Second, you should have an inspection for subsurface items. Within River Oaks, we are aware of new property owners discovering abandoned concrete sewers that run through their building site. One persistent local legend has it that buyers found an old Cold War-era bomb shelter shortly after they began excavation for their new home.

When you’re ready to hire an inspector, call and ask what is included in the inspection and how long you can expect it to take. You and your agent should plan to be at the house for face-to-face discussion of any issues that come up. You’ll want to see any problems firsthand and ask questions. Good inspectors don’t mind explaining their findings. They can also show you the difference between a small flaw and something that is truly hazardous.

Make sure the company is bonded and insured and avoid companies that do the repairs as well as inspections. You can see where that would be a conflict of interest.

When you receive the inspection report, be prepared to be shocked at first. Remember, it’s the inspector’s job to note every single flaw, so you will probably see many items flagged that are, in fact, quite insignificant and easily remedied, such as a dripping kitchen faucet or a burned-out lightbulb. We always carefully review inspection reports with our clients.

We don’t recommend specific inspectors – that would be unethical. But we’re happy to provide our buyers with a short list of companies that have done a good job for our clients in the past.

Want more to think about? Here is a list from Home Depot that gives an overview of what an inspector generally looks for during a basic inspection.

INTERIOR

Crawl space:

  • Adequate ventilation to exterior
  • No evidence of damage from moisture or insects
  • Water supply and waste pipes are insulated
  • Insulation between crawl space and heated areas

Attic:

  • No evidence in attic of staining from roof
  • Structure shows no damage or decay
  • Adequate ventilation through soffit vents and end louvers; mechanical ventilation is operational
  • Plumbing, exhaust and appliance vents extend through roof
  • Insulation is sufficient and properly installed
  • Electrical splices are contained

Electrical:

  • Service panel has adequate capacity with cables attached properly
  • No knob-and-tube wiring
  • No aluminum cable for branch circuits
  • Cables are secured
  • Visible wiring is in good condition
  • No exposed electrical splices

Plumbing:

  • Visible pipes show no damage or evidence of leaks
  • Drain pipes slope toward main waste outlet to sewer or septic system
  • Water heater is appropriate size for home and shows no signs of rust
  • Manufacture date of water heater is within length of expected use
  • Water pressure at fixtures in home falls within accepted range
  • Hot water temperature at fixtures does not exceed 125-degrees Fahrenheit
  • Water from well is tested
  • Water pump does not short-cycle

Heating and Cooling:

  • No gas odor
  • Air conditioning and heating to operate well with good air flow throughout home
  • Air filters clean
  • Flues have no open seams and slope up to chimney connection
  • Ductwork is in good condition
  • No rust around cooling unit

Bathrooms:

  • Working exhaust fan vents to exterior
  • Adequate water flow and pressure for hot and cold water at all fixtures
  • Tub, shower and sink drain smoothly
  • Visible plumbing under sink is in good condition and cabinet floor shows no water damage
  • Toilets flush and fill properly
  • Toilet is stable, with no rocking or stains at base
  • Caulking inside and outside of tub and shower is in good condition
  • Tiles are secure
  • Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles for all electrical outlets located within 6-feet of sinks
  • No evidence of leaking around base of tub or shower

Kitchen:

  • Working exhaust fan vents to outside
  • Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles for all electrical outlets located within 6 feet of sinks
  • Dishwasher drains properly and shows no evidence of leaks; door and baskets operate properly
  • Plumbing under sink is in good condition and cabinet shows no stains or decay from past leaks
  • Garbage disposal is operational and shows no rust or deterioration
  • Water flow to sink is adequate and drains properly
  • Built-in appliances operate properly
  • Cabinets are in good condition; doors and drawers operate properly

Interior rooms:

  • Floors, walls and ceilings appear straight, plumb and level; no stains
  • Doors open easily and latch properly when closed; no broken hardware
  • Flooring materials in good condition
  • No significant cracks in walls or ceilings
  • Windows and doors operate easily and latch properly, no broken glass, no sashes painted shut
  • Paint, wall covering, paneling in good condition
  • Wood trim installed well and in good condition
  • Lights and switches operate properly
  • Adequate number of 3-pronged electrical outlets in each room
  • Electrical outlets test properly with spot checks
  • Heating and air conditioning vents in all rooms
  • Fireplace has no cracking or damaged masonry and shows no staining, which could indicate back-drafting; flue has been cleaned and is lined; damper works properly

Miscellaneous:

  • Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order and located in required and recommended areas
  • Stairway treads and risers are solid
  • Stair handrails located in required areas are in good condition
  • Automatic garage door operates properly and stops for obstructions

Basement:

  • No evidence of moisture
  • No evidence of water damage to above floor
  • No staining or major cracks in exposed foundation
  • Visible floor joists show no damage, decay or staining and appear straight
  • Sump pump operates properly

EXTERIOR

Grounds:

  • Good drainage, including downspouts, away from the house with no standing water
  • No evidence of leaks from septic tank
  • Landscaping, driveway and walkways in good condition with no significant cracks
  • Trees in good condition without overhanging or touching the roof
  • Detached garage, shed, fence and deck show no rotted wood or evidence of termites
  • Deck and stair railings are secure

Roof:

  • Shingles are not missing or damaged and show no curling or cupping
  • No evidence of excess roofing cement or patches
  • Flashing around roof penetrations is present and in good condition
  • No decay or staining on soffits and fascia; fascia board lines appear straight and level
  • Vents for eaves are clean and not obstructed
  • Gutters show no decay, staining or rust and are securely attached with downspouts
  • Chimneys are straight and show no evidence of damage; flashing and cap are in good condition

Outside structure:

  • Visible foundation appears straight and plumb, in good condition with no significant cracks
  • Exterior walls appear straight with no sagging or bowing
  • Window and door frames appear square
  • No wood-to-ground contact
  • Siding has no cracks, decay or curling
  • Bricks show no damage or cracks in joints
  • Stucco shows no large cracks
  • Aluminum and vinyl siding is not loose and shows no dents or damage
  • Paint is not flaking or blistered
  • Exterior walls show no staining

Doors and windows:

  • Doors have weather-stripping and latch properly
  • Thermal glass or storm windows are installed
  • No condensation inside double-paned windows
  • Frames and trim are secure with no cracks or decay
  • Joints are caulked
  • Drip caps are installed