Every home — even a new one purchased from a home builder — has issues, and there is definitely a skill to getting your way on inspection issues, whether you are the seller or a buyer.
For the buyer, it all starts with selecting the right inspector. Your Realtor has probably gained enough experience with enough different inspectors that you can rely on his or her recommendations. I like to recommend inspectors who not only have industry certifications but also have good software for creating readable inspection reports with digital photographs illustrating any problems found. They bring a digital camera and laptop and can get you and your agent a PDF of the full inspection report within hours after completing the inspection. There should be a summary page (or two) in the final report highlighting the truly serious issues, so you don’t have to wade through the whole PDF to find the issues worth putting into the Inspection Objection notice. Before you hire him, ask the inspector what kind of report he generates.
When there are obvious defects in a house, I recommend putting them into the purchase contract itself instead of waiting to put them in an Inspection Objection notice. An example of this would be a wood shake roof that needs replacing. Another example would be double-pane windows with broken vapor seals and condensation. My reasoning is that by putting it in the purchase contract, it doesn’t become a bargaining chip later on.
If you wait to put the roof or window replacements in the Inspection Objection notice, the seller may well say, “I’ll replace the roof, but I won’t do this or that” or “I’ll do this and that, but not the roof or window replacement.” If these items were already in the contract, that can’t happen and you’ll get more of your inspection demands met.
If the home is more than 20 years old, the pipe connecting it to the sewer main will probably be a mixture on cast iron and clay pipe. You should definitely invest in a sewer scope (about $100) to see whether the clay pipe has cracked or collapsed.
If the home has a livable basement, especially if it has a bedroom, you should invest in a radon report, which will cost you $100 to $150. If the radon is elevated, most sellers will agree to absorb the cost of mitigation, which starts at about $850.
As a seller, it is important to have an agent skilled at responding to inspection demands, many of which can be unfounded, such as mitigating radon in an unlivable basement.
New homes, as I said above, are not immune to construction defects, and yet there is no “Inspection Objection Deadline” in the contracts which builders make you sign. If you’re buying a new home which has not yet been built, you need to involve an inspector early and often. You want him to see the house when it is framed but not yet drywalled, for example. If a new home is already completed, you should still hire an inspector to check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
Just before closing, you’ll get to do a final walk-through, and you’ll want to bring your inspector then, too. This is when a “punch list” of incomplete items and repairs is created and blue tape attached to items needing cosmetic or other attention.