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The homebuying experience can be intimidating for many first-time homebuyers. It is likely the largest financial decision of your life, one with effects that will last for years to come. Before you make your purchase, it is important to know what you are getting into, and not just in terms of how much you will owe in monthly mortgage payments. Ideally, you want to know how much work you will have to do once you own your home. Even if you are purchasing a fixer-upper, you likely want to know how much it will cost you to fix it up. That’s where the home inspection can come in. When you are arranging for yours, it’s a good idea to know the following home inspection basics.

Getting Started

No matter what it looks like from reality TV, home inspections are generally not required (some loan types like an FHA loan will require them, however). That being said, they are usually a great idea because they give you an idea of any problems a home may have and can also give you a way to get out of buying the home if the problems are too big. It is important to realize that you as a buyer are responsible for the inspections — from finding a certified, licensed professional to footing the bill.

What It Covers

A good inspector should take a long look at the property, thoroughly studying the inside and outside areas. Every property is different so the specifics of what is checked will vary slightly. Generally speaking, they will inspect the foundation, roof, basement, all structural components, plumbing systems, electrical systems, heating and cooling systems, insulation, and any potential leaks or fire hazards.

What It Doesn’t Cover

Just as important as what an inspection will cover, you have to think about what it does not cover. No single inspection can cover every aspect of your new home so there will be limits to what your inspector checks. If there are concerns, you may want to hire a specialist to give an opinion

Get It in Writing

After a site visit is completed, a home inspector is required to provide an official inspection report, detailing the findings in writing with pictures provided where necessary. Your inspector will probably send one to the real estate agent directly, but make sure you get a copy too — and keep it with your legal records just in case. Read it over carefully and ask any questions you have.

You Can Still Walk Away

It is also important to know that the inspector is only responsible for identifying issues, not repairing them. If the inspection finds more flaws than you are happy with or your seller isn’t negotiating fairly now that the needed repairs have been identified, you can walk away from the transaction mostly unscathed. You may have to forfeit your initial deposit, but that can be worth it depending on the inspection results. Just be sure you respond to the seller within the allotted inspection time frame and have a legitimate reason for leaving the deal. Your real estate agent can help you understand what those circumstances are.

Finding the right home can feel overwhelming. You’ll need good credit to qualify for a home loan, some cash upfront and a good sense of how much home you can afford. (You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.) There are many aspects of a property and home to consider, lots of paperwork to read or complete, and an extensive negotiation to prepare for. But coming to an inspection armed with knowledge means you can confidently move forward on making your dream home yours.

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