How to Decode a Home Inspection Report

By: Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza Buying a home, How to

If you want to minimize any unpleasant surprises during the home buying process or you’re planning on selling and want to put your home in better selling condition, understanding the inspection report is a must. We’ll help you demystify your home inspection report by explaining what’s included, what’s not included, and how to decode the findings.

A home inspection report is an objective document given to you by a home inspector after they have evaluated your house. It includes information about the current condition of the home and issues with major systems. A home inspection does not list quotes for home repairs or replacements.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of what’s included, note that a long inspection report doesn’t necessarily indicate serious issues. Rae Dolan, a licensed real estate agent in Katy, Texas, says, “An inspector must list every item they find wrong with the house—whether it is a significant issue or not. Inspectors take multiple photos throughout the inspection and include them in their reports, adding to the bulk of its length.”

For instance, an inspector might note that a window screen is damaged and include photos. Small items like this can often make up the majority of the report, so it’s important not to focus on the number of issues, but rather the severity of them.

According to home inspector Welmoed Sisson with Inspections by Bob, “It’s easy to pad out a report with half a page of boilerplate on each little issue (such as loose or wobbly toilets), but it’s more important to educate the client about the implications of R-22 coolant in the air conditioning system.” (R-22 coolant is slowly being phased out by the US government due to its damaging effects on the ozone layer.)

Ultimately, focus on finding whose implications are severe, costly, or timely.

What’s included in a home inspection report?

You’ll likely find a home inspection report broken down as follows:

  1. An informational section that lists general details about the house, like its square footage and construction date
  2. A table of contents
  3. A general summary that includes major issues with the house
  4. Details about major home systems, their crucial components, and their operability

Any defects associated with major systems will be described in the report and often will come with recommendations on how to proceed with the issues (i.e. if a system is old and starts to break down, the home inspector could suggest replacing it in the near future).

You can expect a home inspector to include information about:

  • Structural components like the foundation and framing of the home
  • Exterior features like siding, porches, balconies, walkways, and driveways
  • Roof features like shingles, flashing, and skylights
  • Plumbing systems like pipes, drains, and water heating equipment
  • Electrical equipment like service panels, breakers, and fuses
  • Heating and cooling systems

“The inspector will also look at walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, cabinets, indoor stairs, and railings. They will try to visualize insulation, the attic, and crawl spaces as well,” says April Palomino, realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. Again, the most important thing to note about these systems and elements is whether any pose an imminent threat to your house (i.e., rotting shingles that could lead to leaks or mold growth).

According to Dolan, good inspectors will include a legend in the report to note what items have informational comments, observational comments, repair comments, or safety comments. “Informational and observational comments typically contain information about the components mentioned in the report or notate issues to keep an eye on that might need further attention later,” says Dolan. “What you want to stay focused on are the comments surrounding repairs required and the items the inspector feels may present safety issues.” These will typically be listed in the summary area of the report.

What you want to stay focused on are the comments surrounding repairs required and the items the inspector feels may present safety issues.”

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What’s not included in a home inspection report

Items not included in the inspection report include the condition of the inside of walls or information about septic systems or wells (home inspectors aren’t properly equipped to inspect septic systems or wells). “The inspector is not able to visualize behind the wall without causing damage to the property and therefore cannot inspect those things,” says Palomino. However, these areas should still be inspected by specialized contractors to reveal any mold within your walls and operational problems with the septic tank or well.

“Bear in mind that a home inspector will never be able to give their opinion on whether a home is a good deal or a bad deal, and they will not quote you prices of repairs,” says Shelly Place, agent at Triplemint Real Estate. “Buyers hire home inspectors so they can make sure that the property is not going to become a black hole for money down the road if things start falling apart after they’ve purchased it,” says Place. “So when an inspector points out a potential issue, the buyer often expects the inspector to be able to quote or estimate dollar figures. But the inspector is not there to give quotes (that’s a contractor’s department).”

Though inspectors won’t give you estimated repair costs, they’ll typically make a recommendation such as “this item should be addressed by a carpenter” or “this system should be evaluated by a plumber.” According to Palomino, you will have to reach out to the appropriate contractor and research those costs for yourself after you receive your report.

Because of this, it’s extremely important to have an inspection done as soon as you can and not wait until the very end of your inspection period. The inspection period time frame can range between 1–30 days and must be agreed upon by both the seller and buyer at the beginning of a real estate transaction. You don’t want to receive your report after your inspection contingency has expired because you may not be able to cancel the housing contract or negotiate repairs. Note: Home inspection reports can take an average of 48 hours to receive and even longer if a holiday falls the day after an inspection.

Red flags in a home inspection report

Here are five items that you’ll want to pay attention to if problems are found.

  1. Foundation
  2. Roof
  3. HVAC systems
  4. Electrical systems
  5. Plumbing systems

These are the issues that can present the most significant repair costs if they have defects present,” says Dolan. “Points that fall within these categories are the ones I typically recommend buyers push to have repaired before closing or negotiate credits to correct the items themselves after closing.”

Foundation

Be aware of foundation leaks that can weaken building materials and affect structural support. “Cracks in the foundation are another expensive repair and can possibly mean structural damage or issues as well,” says Palomino.

Roof

Palomino also encourages homebuyers to pay attention to details about flaws in the roofing or the need for roof repairs or replacement, noted water damage, or areas in which moisture or leaks were detected. “These are things that can not only be costly to repair but may unearth additional damages that are not seen,” says Palomino.

HVAC systems

Make sure the current HVAC systems are working properly and are up to date. Air conditioning systems and furnaces typically break down and lose efficiency after 10 years.

Electrical systems

Pay attention to old or outdated electrical panels or fuse boxes. Palomino says that some may not be grounded properly or have the proper wiring. “I myself have personally had a home inspection report in which someone did their own wiring, or hired an unlicensed electrician, and all the outlets were not grounded and the wiring for additions were not wired properly,” says Palomino.

Plumbing systems

Home inspectors will check your faucets, pipes, and drain lines to ensure there are no leaks and that everything’s working properly. They will also check for stains on ceilings or walls (these can reveal a leak) and low water pressure. Since home inspectors aren’t equipped to properly examine a septic tank or well, you’ll have to hire a contractor to evaluate these systems and make sure they’re functioning properly.

Geoffrey Bray, licensed broker and partner at Engel & Völkers Minneapolis, also recommends looking out for anything that might affect your health. “An example of this might be mold or radon,” says Bray. Regarding items that could affect safety, Bray usually points his clients to things like electrical hazards such as double-tapped circuit breakers.

What to do about issues in your home inspection report

Though it may be tempting to ask the seller to fix all of the items in a home inspection report, Dolan advises against this. “Many of the issues will be informational and observational and won’t be presenting a current problem, but rather something to keep an eye on over time,” says Dolan. “Focus on the items that are genuine problems and potentially expensive issues. Asking a seller to fix a cracked outlet cover or replace a damaged screen—along with 20 other small and unimportant items—adds bulk to your repair requests and can overwhelm the seller and make them feel as if you’re difficult as a buyer.”

And unless you’re buying a new construction home, you’re bound to encounter a few minor issues with the house. “Buyers have hired me to identify the problems in the house (and there are always problems; I have yet to encounter a defect-free home),” says Sisson. Stay focused on the meaningful issues. According to Bray, it’s important to know that most inspection items can get worked out by having the seller contribute to the repairs or have them repaired prior to closing

“If the buyer wants to buy the home, the seller wants to sell it,” says Bray. “Going back to the beginning and trying to find a new buyer for the home and not knowing how they might react after their inspection is a risky move for any seller, so keep a cool head and do the best you can!”

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