How to Read a Home Inspection Report

Thanks to Angie’s List for this article – the original can be viewed here.

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Hiring a home inspector is important, but so is understanding the inspection report.

If you’re buying or selling a home, you know the home inspection is a critical event in the process. The home inspection is an opportunity to get a professional inspector’s unbiased view of exactly what you’re getting into.

There are some basic tips that can help you read a home inspection report more effectively. By taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with these, you can be sure to get the most benefit out of your inspection and be able to speak freely about it with the home inspector, the buyer or the seller.

Follow the inspector during the home inspection

If circumstances permit, your very best means of understanding the home inspection report as a buyer is to join the inspector as he or she performs the inspection. There’s no need to be a pest, but you should feel free to ask questions if, at any point, you don’t understand what the inspector’s looking at or taking note.

Given the opportunity, most professional home inspectors will be more than happy to explain things as they go along, and answer any questions you may have.

Whether you’re buying or selling, you will likely have the opportunity to review the final report. Generally, the home inspection report will be in one of two formats, the first of which is a checklist.

A checklist report is just that: a list of items inspected plus the inspector’s rating, which will usually be limited to good, fair or poor. At the bottom of each section of the checklist there will usually be a spot for the inspector to insert comments about the items listed above.

Keep in mind that a rating of “fair” does not necessarily mean the item is in need of repair. Since “good” is the highest rating the inspector has available – even if the item is new – a “fair” rating can just mean the item has standard signs of age or weathering, like a spot of rust on a pipe or some scarring on the vinyl siding.

The drawback of a checklist report is that the lack of detail could result in more questions than answers. Don’t be overwhelmed or disappointed by this. Simply make note of your questions and contact the inspector for further detail as needed.

A Narrative Inspection Report

A narrative report provides a more detailed rundown of the inspector’s findings, written in an article format in which the inspector basically describes what was inspected, how it was inspected and the results.

While the additional detail and thoroughness of the narrative report may seem at first glance to be an obvious improvement over the checklist variety, those same features could make the narrative report more overwhelming and more likely to create issues with the inspector’s terminology and descriptions.

If you have questions about what a section of the report means or what the inspector meant by a particular phrase, simply contact the inspector and ask.

Prioritize the results

Although the inspection will cover most aspects of the house – from the foundation to the door frames – certain sections are definitely more important. This may be due to the cost of the repair or the fact that it could be dangerous to ignore a repair.

If you’re buying a house, make sure the following are good to go:

Electrical system: This must be up to code, in excellent condition, and strong enough to support your family’s usage. If the seller doesn’t have four computers, three TVs and a microwave all running at the same time like you usually do, he or she may have never taxed the system like you will.

Plumbing: Major plumbing repairs can be costly and inconvenient. Don’t forget to get a full rundown of the pipes outside the house as well. Most likely, this will require you to hire a plumbing company to run a camera through the main sewer lines to determine their condition.

Roof and chimney: This is potentially a major repair that could be overlooked. Make sure the inspector pays close attention to signs of water damage or moisture around the eaves and the edges of the chimney. If at all possible, do the inspection on a rainy day. Not only will you see how the roof holds up, but you’ll also see if there’s any water seepage in the basement or if water pools anywhere in the yard.

Potential health risks: Pay special attention to any mention of mold, mildew or contaminants such as radon gas. All these hazards can be dangerous, even deadly, if ignored.

Take the time to read your home inspection report thoroughly and ask for help if you don’t fully understand what something means. Doing so can mean the difference between regretting the biggest purchase of your life or enjoying it.


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