Inside Home Inspections: Tag Along With a Pro

Every house tells a story--if you know how to listen. Kenny Rhodes, a licensed home inspector for nearly 20 years, has a finely tuned ear for the messages a house is trying to send. That's why buyers hire him to give their potential new digs a thorough once-over before they close the deal.

A home inspection isn't required by law, but it's an awfully good idea. It's not uncommon for the lender to include a home inspection as a condition in your purchase agreement. The inspector's report is the best way for a buyer to find out about any issues with the home prior to closing.

And this information can be good for your wallet--if you include an inspection clause in your offer and the need for a repair is discovered during an inspection, you can require the seller to make repairs before you purchase the home, or to compensate you in advance for repairs you'd make after you purchase the home. This kind of clause is called a "contingency" and buyers usually have a dollar value for repairs that the contingency clause will apply to. If they refuse, you have the right to walk away from the offer without any penalty.

Rhodes's typical home inspection takes three to four hours and covers the house's mechanical systems, structural integrity, and safety features. He likes prospective buyers to tag along, so that they can get an up-close look at the property--along with an education.

"It's very important for you to follow me, shadow me, watch everything I'm doing," Rhodes explains. "Your understanding of this home will be so much greater if you have first-hand experience." And don't worry about slowing him down. "The more questions you ask, the the more comfort you're going to have when we're done," he says.

Here's are the major stops on a home inspection, and what the inspector is looking for.

Foundation and supporting structures: Your home inspector will check the visible foundation, roof, framing and related structural components for sagging or gaps, as well as obvious signs of insect damage or rot. In some cases, home inspectors also check for termites and other wood-destroying insects, or you can hire a separate pest inspection firm for that part of the evaluation.

Exterior: The inspector will check decks, balconies, siding and porches. He'll also look for signs of drainage problems--a frequent cause of wet basements--and examine walkways and driveways for deterioration or safety concerns.

Roof: In many cases, the home inspector will get up on the roof as well as visually inspect it from the ground using binoculars. On the checklist here are also roof drainage systems, flashings, skylights and chimneys.

Plumbing: He'll check the main water line and distribution systems, including water pressure, and the condition of water heating and filtration equipment.

Electrical System: Home inspectors will typically open and inspect the main electrical panel, looking for overloaded circuits, proper grounding and the presence of any trouble spots like aluminum branch circuit wiring, a serious fire hazard.

HVAC Systems: The furnace or boiler gets tested for safe operation, even if the inspection occurs on a warm summer day. The same goes for air conditioning systems, weather permitting.

Rhodes also examines the walls in living areas for signs of water leaks or cracks and inspects the condition of the windows. When he's all done, he writes up his findings in a detailed report that also serves as a useful guide for future repairs. And that's where the home inspector's job ends. "I tell you the conditions and what I find," Rhodes says. "What you do with that information is really up to you."

Interested in learning more about inspections and getting the biggest bang for your buck? Here are some AOL Real Estate guides that might help:
Video: Home Inspections: It Pays to Know What You're Buying
Home Inspections: What to Expect

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