Most home buyers know that getting a home inspection should be part of the process. But they don’t know why it’s so important to have a trained and unbiased review of the home and its components and systems.

Meet Adam and Abby.

Abby and Adam

Our fictitious couple is excited to buy their first home. They’ve been looking for a while, as it’s a hot market and houses go under contract quickly. They’re currently renting an apartment, and hoped to buy property nearby since they like the area. One day, their agent shows them a house that would be just perfect for their needs, appears to be in good shape, but is bumping up against the maximum of their borrowing power

From here, there are two possible scenarios.

Scenario 1: No Home Inspection

Because of the hot market, Adam and Abby’s agent suggests they waive their inspection clause to make their offer more attractive to the seller, and the couple agrees

That works, and the rest of the process goes smoothly to closing. Now let’s fast-forward a few weeks. Abby wakes up to Adam shrieking from the shower, “There’s no hot water!” They go down to the basement and find the water heater, but can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, since they have never been responsible for maintenance in their apartment. And now there’s no Super to call. They have no idea what to do, and start contacting friends who own houses for ideas. One recommends a plumber, who comes out the next day to take a look.

Plumber looking at water heater

“This water heater’s more than 25 years old,” he tells them. “It was just old age. You’ll need to replace it.”

“We had no idea it was that old,” Abby says. “How much does that cost?”

“Typically around $1,200, depending on the type and size.”

Abby looks at Adam. “Wow, that’s a lot. We’ll have to put off getting new tires for a bit.” They give the plumber the go-ahead, and chalk it up to bad luck.

A few months later, they notice what looks like a water stain on the bedroom ceiling.

Adam finds the attic access, but it’s a scuttle, not a pull-down stair, and they don’t have a ladder yet. More calls to friends, for a roofer this time. When the roofer comes down from checking the shingles, he tells the couple, “The roof is well past the end of its life, and needs to be replaced. It’s also two layers, which will make the job more expensive due to the disposal cost. Didn’t your inspector tell you any of this?”

Adam looks at Abby in shock. “Well,” he stammers, “we… we didn’t have a home inspection.”

The roofer shakes his head. “Too bad. The replacement is probably going to cost between $8,000 to $10,000.”

Let’s draw the curtain on this sad scene, and go back to that fateful decision point when they were preparing their offer.

Scenario 2: Getting a Home Inspection

Because of the hot market, Adam and Abby’s agent suggests they waive their inspection clause to make their offer more attractive to the seller. But Abby doesn’t like that idea. “How will we know whether everything in the house works?” she asks. Reluctantly, the agent writes the offer with a home inspection clause.

Their offer is accepted, and their agent gives them a few business cards for home inspectors in the area. They take them home and start searching the web for information and reviews about those inspectors. They ask their friends for recommendations as well, and end up choosing a home inspector who not only was recommended by two of their friends, but also had excellent reviews online.

On inspection day, they follow the inspector as she tells them what and where everything is. She climbs onto the roof, then goes into the attic and when she comes down, tells them “I spotted some active leaking in the roof sheathing, so it needs to be repaired or replaced. But since the roof appears to be at the end of its serviceable life, and there are two layers, a repair will just be a band-aid. It will need replacement soon, and the extra layer means it will be more expensive as well. I recommend you have a roofer come out to look at the roof and give you an estimate.”

The inspector goes into the basement and looks at the water heater. “The serviceable life of a water heater is around 10-12 years, and this one is over 25 years old. It’s still working today, but it could fail tomorrow… or five years from now. You can watch the sales for a good deal on a replacement unit and keep it in storage until this one gives up the ghost; that could save you a lot of money over needing an emergency replacement.”

While they are going over the findings at the end of the inspection, the inspector tells them that, since the roof is actively leaking, they should have their agent contact the listing agent and ask that the roof be inspected by a licensed roofing contractor and repaired, or, if the contractor determines the roof has less than five years left, replaced. Because of their home inspector’s advice, Abby and Adam know they should ask to see all the documentation for the new roof to ensure it was installed correctly.

In the end, the seller replaces the roof, plus gives an extra $1,000 at closing to use towards a new water heater when the time comes.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In this hypothetical story, spending around $500 on a thorough home inspection saved Adam and Abby thousands of dollars, and also saved them from a lot of unpleasant surprises. Don’t leave your home purchase to chance. Get a home inspection.