If you’re buying a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it’s in decent shape. But if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you should pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact!
But when you ask those home inspector questions is as important as what you ask. Namely, you should attend your home inspection and ask him right then and there. The reason: Rather than trying to decipher your home inspector’s (very technical) report, it’s much easier for this pro to actually show you what’s going on with the house.
To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few important questions to ask a home inspector that will help you size up a house yourself, and keep it in good condition for as long as you hang your hat there.
1. What does that mean?
During the inspection, your home inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem, says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors. He’ll point out things to you that aren’t as they should be, or may need repairs.
Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what the home inspector is telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters. For example, If the inspector says something like, “Looks like you’ve got some rotten boards here,” it’s smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.
Just keep in mind that your inspector can’t tell you whether or not to become the buyer of the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that).
2. Is this a big deal or a minor home inspection issue?
For most people, buying real estate is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. It’s normal to start feeling panicky when your inspector is telling you the house has a foundation problem, a roof or water heater in need of repair, or electrical, heating systems or an HVAC system that isn’t up to code.
Don’t freak out—just ask the inspector whether he thinks the issue is a big deal. You’ll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they’re not deal breakers, even if the fix or repairs sound major. And if it is major? Well, that’s why you’re having the home inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.
3. What’s that water spot on the ceiling, and does it need a repair?
Don’t be shy about asking questions and pointing out things that look off to you during the home inspection and checking if they’re OK, real estate-wise. Odds are, if there’s something weird, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there’s a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it’s an issue.
Ideally, your inspector will ask you if there’s anything you’re specifically concerned about before he starts the inspection. Make sure to tell him if this is your first real estate purchase, or if you’re worried about the house’s age, or anything at all that strikes you, the buyer, as a possible negative.
4. I’ve never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?
Flaws aside, a home inspection is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house.
“Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have an inspection question, ask it,” Lesh says. “Don’t expect your inspector to teach you how to build a clock, but we are happy to answer and explain how things work.”
5. What are your biggest concerns about the property?
At the end of the inspection, the inspector should give you, in broad strokes, a summary of what he found. You’ll get a written report later, but this is a great moment to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house’s biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation.
Often, it’s a good idea to call in another home inspection expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged.
You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert. In some states, there’s a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running.
Your official home inspection report will have more detail, but you should know what’s on it by the time you leave the home that day.