Let's face it – we can't all be experts on living structures. We may know some of the things to look for, but a lot of significant problems go right past our eyes. That's why I think it's a good idea to pay a home inspector to thoroughly go over any house you're planning to buy just to be sure it's in as good condition as it looks.
Not long ago, the house next door to ours was on the market after it had been “renovated” after 14 years of abandonment. The renovation was only partial, and the years of abandonment had left the home and the lot in very bad shape. When there was finally a contract on the house (according to the “For Sale” sign on the front lawn), an inspector showed up. He asked me questions about the property that no one else had provided answers for. He didn't know the house had been abandoned for a long time, for example. He said that inspectors had to rely on the neighbors to fill in the blank spaces sometimes.
The home inspector will carry out the following tasks; however, you can ask him to do other things if you have concerns:
- Check the physical condition, including structure, construction, and mechanical
- Report on items that need to be repaired or replaced (he should have a list with details)
- Determine how much more life the major systems such as electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning can reasonably be expected to have. He should also estimate the life-expectancy of equipment, the structure of the house, and finishes.
- Test for radon exposure risks.
The inspector is then required to provide a written report of his or her findings. It may take a week or so, though some are finished the very same day.