A home inspection is a visual exam of the structure and systems of a house. It details problems with the property and if they’re serious enough to prevent a sale. The three main points of an inspection are physical condition, items in need of repair or replacement, and the remaining useful life of major systems.
A report won’t cover defects that are not visible, inoperable systems (e.g., A/C during the winter), or code violations.
It’s a good idea to be present during the inspection: you can ask the inspector questions, and the inspector can point out areas of potential trouble and may offer maintenance tips.
Expect an inspection to take 2-5 hours (old homes may take longer), and expect charges of $300-$500 depending on size.
The seller is not required to make repairs, but the buyer can use the report in negotiating (e.g., if a repair is made, the buyer will offer to pay more, otherwise the buyer will bid lower).
To hire an inspector, get recommendations from your Realtor or from others who have used them, or check the phone book under “Home Inspection.” Be sure to ask about references, memberships in professional associations, professional training, and experience.