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Even if a house seems like the home of your dreams, it's still a good idea to get a reality check from a home inspector before the sale closes.
What is a home inspection?
A standard home inspection is a mostly visual examination of a home's structure and systems by an objective professional. The inspection gives an overall picture of the condition and safety of the home, so you can understand what repairs may be needed to get things into good shape.
As the buyer, you can attend the home inspection and follow the inspector through the house, asking questions as you go. If you can't attend the whole thing, it's a good idea to be there at the end to get a summary, ask questions and have the inspector point things out. North Carolina state law requires the inspector to provide a written home inspection report within three business days.
How much does a NC home inspection cost?
The fee for a standard home inspection varies according to the size, age and location of the house and other characteristics, such as the type of foundation, the inspector’s qualifications and the type of report the homeowner requests. The cost can range from $200 for small condominiums to more than $400 for larger homes, according to the North Carolina Licensed Home Inspector Association in Charlotte.
For a two-story, 2,500-square-foot house, expect to spend about $400 to $500, says Dave Hahn, president of the association and owner of Metrolina Inspection Services in Charlotte.
Who pays for a home inspection?
When purchasing a home, the buyer chooses the home inspector and pays for the inspection. Although they’re not generally required, home inspections are recommended.
As the buyer, you can make your purchase offer contingent on the results of the inspection. This contingency allows you to back out of the sale if the inspection turns up major issues and you can't negotiate with the seller to fix the problems or adjust the price to cover the cost of repairs.
In today's fiercely competitive housing market, some buyers are waiving the home inspection contingency and agreeing to buy homes as-is. But even if you waive the right to back out of the deal, Hahn still recommends getting a home inspection so you know what you're getting into and can plan and budget for repairs accordingly.
Buying a newly constructed home? You might wonder why you need a home inspection. After all, the house is brand new — what could be wrong?
But new homes aren't always perfect. Hahn has found defects such as broken roof trusses or mechanical equipment that wasn't installed according to the manufacturer's specifications. New homes are inspected by county building officials, but county inspectors may visit 20 or more homes in a day, while a home inspector spends three or four hours at each property, Hahn says.
At the bare minimum, he recommends that buyers of newly constructed homes get them inspected before the builder warranty expires.
» MORE: Home inspection do’s and don’ts
How to choose a home inspector in North Carolina
Home inspectors who charge fees for their services in North Carolina must be licensed by the North Carolina Home Inspector Licensure Board. The board has a directory on its website to find members in your area. You can also get referrals from your real estate agent or other homeowners.
Hahn recommends considering the following when choosing a home inspector:
Experience: How many years has the inspector been in business? If fairly new to the field, what did the inspector do before getting licensed? Experience in building trades is relevant, for instance.
Education: Licensed inspectors are required to complete continuing education each year. Has the inspector gone above and beyond the basic requirements?
Communication: Talk to the inspector before making a selection. How well does the inspector communicate and answer questions? Look for someone who enjoys educating clients and takes the time to explain concepts rather than speaking in jargon.
North Carolina home inspection checklist
Hahn says one of the most important things consumers should understand is what a standard home inspection does and doesn't cover.
"We're like the family doctor," he says. "We know a lot about many things, but we're not specialists."
According to North Carolina state law, home inspectors must visually examine structural components, such as the foundation, floors, walls, ceilings and roofing, as well as the electrical equipment, plumbing, heating and air conditioning units and built-in kitchen appliances.
That's a lot. But it's not everything.
For example, home inspectors must inspect:
The roof, but aren't required to walk on the roof.
Central air conditioning equipment, but aren't required to operate the systems when that would cause damage due to cold weather or other circumstances.
A representative number of windows, but not every single window and not storm windows.
The water supply and distribution system, but not the fire and lawn sprinkler systems, bathroom spas or swimming pools.
Electrical service equipment, but not security systems, built-in vacuum equipment or telephone, cable TV, intercoms or other ancillary wiring that's not part of the primary electrical distribution system.
Built-in kitchen appliances, but not refrigerators, washers and dryers or other appliances that aren't built-in.
Driveways, patios, walkways and retaining walls, but not fences or soil conditions.
Talk to your inspector to understand what the examination entails and what might need further investigation. After going through the home, the inspector may recommend consulting with plumbing, electrical or heating and air conditioning contractors or suggest additional services, such as:
Wood-destroying organism inspection: Commonly known as a termite inspection, this evaluation is often recommended in North Carolina. When it comes to wood-destroying insects, "some people say there are two types of houses: those that have them and those that will," Hahn says.
Mold inspection: Not every home requires one. The home inspector will look for evidence of water intrusion as part of the basic inspection and can advise you on whether you need a mold inspection.
Radon testing: Radon is an odorless, radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. It's the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., behind smoking, and can be found in homes across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends radon testing if you're buying or selling a home. If the radon level is too high, a radon-reduction contractor can fix the home to address the problem.