Like going to the doctor or bringing your car to a mechanic, home inspections can be nerve-racking and traumatic. When it’s your house in the hot seat, even a fairly clean inspection report might sting a bit. News flash: no home is perfect. But you can take steps to ready yourself (and your home) for the home inspection to minimize unwanted surprises.

Remember, a home inspection is not a pass or fail test. It does, however, open the door for renegotiation. You’re not obligated to fix anything, but the buyer can also walk away if they’re not satisfied.

With these fragile dynamics, the last thing you want to do is go into the home inspection blind and risk killing a contract worth saving.

So we spoke to the president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, top real estate agents, and the most experienced home inspectors to break down exactly what happens during a home inspection and how different outcomes can affect your home sale.

What is a Home Inspection?
In the process of closing a home sale, the buyer typically hires a home inspector to come to the house and perform a visual observation. In accordance with the state’s standards, the home inspector identifies health, safety, or major mechanical issues.

Tim Buell, the president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, says “We look for things that are significantly deficient, unsafe, near the end of the service life, or not functioning properly.”

When Does a Home Inspection Happen During a Home Sale?
In a home sale, there are two types of home inspections: a buyer’s inspection and a seller’s inspection (or a pre-listing inspection). A buyer’s inspection occurs after the buyer has made an offer on the home, and before closing the sale. After a home inspection, the buyer may be able to renegotiate their offer or request repairs if certain issues come up.

A seller’s home inspection happens before the home is listed. Some sellers choose to get their home inspected as they’re beginning to prepare their house for sale, so they can fix any potential issues beforehand and save time in the closing process.

We’ll touch on the positives and negatives of a pre-inspection a little later.

What Happens During a Home Inspection?
A typical home inspection takes a few hours for an average-sized house. Then the report takes about 3-4 days to complete. The home inspector will go through the interior and exterior of the house to record any broken, defected, or hazardous issues with the house and the area surrounding the house.

Buell emphasizes, “The key thing that we look for are safety issues.”

Who Should Be Present During the Home Inspection?
Anyone is allowed to stick around for the home inspection. However, whoever arranges and schedules the home inspection should always be present while the home inspector is there.

Thomas Day, a top real estate agent who sells homes 39% faster than average in Pompano Beach, Florida, is always at the inspection when working with clients. “If I’m working with the buyer, we can see first hand what the problem is. If I’m working with the seller, I know exactly what he’s looking at and can either rebut it or find an expert,” Day says. “Sometimes the house is crowded. Sometimes the inspector and the agent are the only ones there.”

Most home inspectors will provide answers to any questions you may have during the home inspection, so it’s a good idea to go to the inspection and hear the findings firsthand.

What Do Home Inspectors Look For?
Home inspectors have a long, thorough list of things to check in the home. “An inspector’s job is to find defects, and defects they will find,” says Andy Peters, a top-selling real estate agent in Atlanta. “We have to concentrate on the health and safety concerns first followed by major defects.”

There are seven major things that home inspectors look for:

  1. Water Damage
  2. Structural Issues
  3. Old/Damaged Roof
  4. Damaged Electrical System
  5. Plumbing Problems
  6. Insect and Pest Infestation
  7. Issues with the HVAC System


Read more. How a Home Inspection Works When It’s Your House in the Hot Seat by Corinne Rivera.