A home inspection is a professional, third-party inspection of a property that you intend to buy. Its goal is to evaluate the home from a structural and safety standpoint, as well as to ensure you’re buying a hazard-free, up-to-code property that’s a good investment of your dollars.

Home inspections aren’t required, but there are few cases where you’d want to forgo one. Use this home inspection checklist to learn more about the process — as well as what to do afterward.

Step 1: Include A Home Inspection Contingency In Your Contract

Your first step is to make sure there’s a home inspection contingency — also referred to as a “due diligence” contingency — in your sales contract. This gives you a specified time period in which to have a professional inspection performed on the property.

Step 2: Understand How Your Home Inspection Contingency Works

In most cases, the inspection period is anywhere from one to two weeks from the date your sales contract is signed, though it depends on your specific agreement. The contingency period is supposed to give you enough time to:

  • Find a good inspector
  • Set up your appointment (and, ideally, attend it).
  • Receive your inspection report.
  • Get any follow-up or additional inspections (more on that later).
  • Decide how you’d like to move forward.

Step 3: Hire A Good Home Inspector

Hiring a thorough, experienced home inspector is incredibly important. They should be current on all certifications (NACHI, ASHI, etc.) and up to date on all training and educational coursework. They also need a full insurance policy (this protects you if they’re injured on your property) and should have deep experience in the area you’re buying in. This ensures they’re aware of any current problems with soil, pest and even home builders in your region.

Step 4: Make Sure Your Inspector Follows This Home Inspection Checklist

Every inspector does things a little differently, but there is a basic, standardized home inspection checklist they’re supposed to follow. Certain inspectors may go above and beyond this, or they may report their findings in a different way.

Step 5: Read Your Home Inspection Report

Once the home inspector is done on your property, they’ll put together a full report of their findings. The report should have a section for each room or area of the house, as well as a note about anything that needs repairs, is damaged or isn’t functional.

Generally, you’ll see the following terms for any issues they spot:

  • Material defect: An issue that might pose a potential safety hazard or have a significant impact on the home’s value.
  • Major defect: A system or component that is not working, not functional and needs replacement or repair.
  • Minor defect: A small issue that can usually be fixed by a contractor or the homeowner themselves.
  • Cosmetic defect: A superficial flaw or blemish that doesn’t impact safety or functionality.

Home Inspection Checklist: What Homebuyers Need To Know by Kevin Miller, Forbes Real Estate Council. Read more.