When is a home inspection report useful?
August 2, 2014 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I am buying a house and wondering whether a written home inspection report is much more valuable than an informal verbal report.

I am buying a foreclosed house for cash. As such, there's no requirement from a bank or other entity to have a written inspection report. I have two estimates for an inspection. One for $500 will provide me with a detailed written report, the other, for $250 will do the inspection while we follow behind and talk with him and take notes. Both inspectors have a good local reputation so I don't think that the effectiveness of the inspection is in question, only the formality of the report.

Will the written inspection be worthwhile for anything down the road? We will need to refinance the house in 6 months, but the bank we are going with only requires an appraisal, so I'm not sure the report has any value. Also, we will be making some major plumbing repairs in those 6 months, so the report will be out of date by then. Does a written report help with home-owners insurance quotes or rates? Anything else I'm not thinking of that makes the extra $250 worthwhile?
posted by no1hatchling to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would think you would want to follow along and take notes whether you get the $250 report or the $500 report. I used the information I gleaned from my inspection for years after -- it's basically a list of stuff, from minor to major, that you're going to have to deal with sooner or later.

Having the written report might help if you're going to have a contractor in later who will understand more about what the inspector is saying than you are (unless you're really savvy about this stuff, and comfortable with it, obviously). A lot of things the inspector said to me -- I heard them, but I had never owned a house, or lived in a house owned by my family. I didn't understand what they meant.

"The chimney doesn't have a cap" did not equate to "water will pour into your house the first time their is a huge rainstorm" in my head, not until it actually happened.

"The grout work around these tiles was not professionally done" certainly did not translate to "The DIYers who lived here before you did such a cruddy job on this shower tile that it's leaking into your kitchen ceiling".

Apart from the fact that he's having you take notes rather than writing his own reports, are there other differences? I was told to expect the inspection to take 4-5 hours, and it did. That's a lot of stuff looked at. Are you going to get that level of detail for $250?
posted by instead of three wishes at 8:36 AM on August 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

We've found it personally useful to go back and check the written report a few times, mainly to remember stuff we didn't recall - e.g. how old did the inspector say the water heater was? Was this crack here at the time we bought the place? What did he recommend we do about this weird wiring situation and how soon did he recommend we address it before it turned into a serious problem? It's been very helpful, but strictly for personal use - we've never been asked to provide the report for insurance or repairs or anything. It's possible that taking really good notes and pictures (get pictures of problem areas!) yourself would provide the same value. But only if you know enough to understand what the inspector is saying about the problem and the solution. Personally, I did not. My notes would have been a disaster. My partner is pretty handy and probably could have taken notes almost as useful as the final report would have been.
posted by Stacey at 8:39 AM on August 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

I just had an inspection done. The written report is similar to my own notes, and less detailed in parts. There is nothing in the written report that is not in my notes. There is nothing in either my notes or the report that an average homeowner would be unable to understand, at least well enough to google or describe to a contractor. Our buyers also had a written report, which was sent to us. It has very basic general information about the house, along with a few bulleted items, such as "Hot water temperature is 126 degrees. Adjust water heater to 120." In either case, if there were an option for a $250 savings to forego the written report, it would have been worth it.

As far as I know, the inspection is not relevant to insurance, the appraisal, or refinancing.
posted by deadweightloss at 8:47 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just purchased a home and got a written report done and it felt like the best money I spent during the transaction - and certainly was tremendous value for money. The written report helped my understand what I was stepping into, the risks that needed to be addressed and the written report will serve as a blue print of things I will need to tackle. As for notes - my hand writing is so unreadable and atrocious, that I sometimes wonder if I should have been a doctor.

That being said - the most important thing was the inspector letting me follow him around during the process and ask as many questions as I wanted to.
posted by helmutdog at 9:18 AM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

My best friend does home inspections and I would pay for the written report to have a detailed list of all the things that will eventually need attention. You can use that list to triage your houses "injuries". Take notes and pictures but refer to the report. I would personally never buy a house without a written report and detailed home inspection.
posted by schyler523 at 10:43 AM on August 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

My written inspection report played a crucial part in an insurance claim from a house fire that happened 4 months after I closed on the house. The insurance company was being a jerk, balking at paying. They essentially said to me "we have no way of knowing if you caused xyz issue or whether the previous owners did." And I was like "actually, we do. The inspection report says 'this xyz issue is a fire hazard and should be remediated.'"
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:44 AM on August 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

I am 1000% on board for a written report but $500 sounds a little high. Have your realtor shop around a bit for a bonded service with a good rep that could do a full report for cheaper. I think we paid $350 (in Atlanta) on an 85 yr old house. YMMV but it's nice to have in hand, but maybe you can get a quality, full report for a better price.
posted by pearlybob at 12:03 PM on August 2, 2014

Depends on what the written is going to look like.

I took notes during my inspection, but I tended to only write down the comment itself, like "dead tree limb, probably will have to be removed."

My inspection report proved to be a lot more useful because the inspector went the extra distance to put in the consequence of not fixing (i.e., instead of three wishes' "water will pour into your house") his WAG (which, given his experience, was pretty dang accurate) about how soon it would be a problem, order of magnitude of cost (two hundred? two thousand? twenty thousand?) to repair.

It really helped my strategy decision of what to ask for as a price concession, what to ask for fixed, what to accept as-is. Also, it helped to have on a piece of paper so when the seller agent argued that something wasn't a problem, I could shrug and say, hey, I'm not expert, but the inspector says it IS a problem.

But I'd say a written report that looks exactly like the notes you would take wouldn't be worth the money. You'd still have to take your own notes to make sure the inspector didn't forget to mention anything.

Tip: Take a digital camera with you and photograph every comment, no matter how small.
posted by ctmf at 12:12 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

so when the seller agent argued that something wasn't a problem

Actually, this isn't a question about agents, but as an aside:
I actually had more problems with this with my own buyer agent trying to talk me out of asking for too much. Take everything your agent says with a grain of salt. Their number one priority is making the sale happen. You being happy is #2 and contributes somewhat to #1. What happens to you down the road, that's not on the priority list.

My written report helped me shut down those agent's PR-spin language sales techniques that they tried because they knew I was NOT an expert.
posted by ctmf at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2014

The other fun thing about the written report is that you can forward a copy to the seller. One house we didn't end up buying turned out to need a five-figure urgent repair to the side sewer. This was not on the seller's disclosure of known issues, although I'm sure they knew about it.

But then after getting our report in writing, they couldn't claim not to know about it any more. So I feel like I saved the next potential buyer from getting tricked into a surprise disaster.
posted by ctmf at 12:42 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our written report had photographs along with detailed notes and a summary of actionable steps for each section. It's about 30 pages long (our house was not in need of a lot of immediate fixes, the report is just extremely detailed). I am an excellent note-taker, and there is no way I could have gotten everything in the report just by following the inspector and taking notes. It also wouldn't be in a form that I could just show an electrician or roofer. I think it's worth it, but it depends on how good the inspector is as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:47 PM on August 2, 2014

Get the written report, even if it costs a little more. Some folks I met recently bought a beautiful old house in my rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. The house had already been refurbished with all the bells and whistles, fancy new kitchen, bathrooms, etc. They paid a hefty amount for it. They had it inspected before they bought it and the inspector said the house was in great shape.

A few months after they bought it they discovered that the sills- the horizontal beams set on the foundation on which the exterior walls rest- were rotten, termite-infested, as were some of the studs attached to them.

They've had to do close to $100,000. worth of repairs. Apparently the inspector never crawled under the house as he should have. (Older houses in my southern city generally do not have basements and are build on piers or foundation walls with crawl spaces underneath.) You'd better believe they are suing the inspector, and I hope he loses his license.
posted by mareli at 4:54 PM on August 2, 2014

I haven't had personal experience with this, but from what I understand, the written report could be useful if you want to try to use it as leverage on the seller. Because there is almost always an inspection contingency in the contract you have signed, it means that if anything is found on the inspection that might cause you not to want to go through with the purchase, you could potentially back out of the deal at that point. Now, that part might be doable without a written report if you really decided you wanted to move on.

But as in ctmf's answer, if you give the report to the sellers and their agent, they will have to disclose any information they get to future buyers. That gives you leverage if you want to negotiate on the price with them based on the findings. So you could try to get your price down or get the seller to cover the cost of repairs for you, and I really think you'd want to have the written report as proof if you wanted to do this. Not sure how this differs if you're buying from a bank instead of an individual, whether they might be even more willing to negotiate with you or less willing.

As for the comment above about the inspection being overpriced, I think it sounds cheap. I believe inspection pricing is based on square footage and other aspects of the property, and therefore I don't think we have enough information to know whether that price is a good one or not. I have a home inspection scheduled for this coming week that's going to cost a lot more than yours (but will also include testing for radon, well quality and flow testing, and septic system testing).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:11 PM on August 2, 2014

I agree with oneirodynia above. My report had pictures of various issues, which could be helpful later if you needed to see if something has worsened (crack, water damage, etc.).

An alternative if you are worried about your notes being insufficient on the fly, maybe the inspector would be willing to have a personal recorder available, and then you could have it transcribed...either personally, or pay someone? Just a thought.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2014

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