A home inspection is a visual exam of the structure and systems of a house. It identifies structural and cosmetic issues. You should focus on issued raised by the home inspector that would affect the value of the home or your ability to fully enjoy the property. The three main points of an inspection are physical condition, items in need of repair or replacement, and the remaining useful life of major systems.
A report won’t cover defects that are not visible, inoperable systems (e.g., A/C during the winter), or code violations. These concerns can be addressed can be in a number of ways. Your real estate agent can help you find additional professionals to further investigate any concerns you may have.
It’s a good idea to be present during the inspection: you can ask the inspector questions, and the inspector can point out areas of potential trouble and just as important educate you about the use and maintenance of the systems and structure of the home. This applies to first-time buyers and experienced buyers, new construction homes can be especially challenging to the new homeowner as the technology in today's homes is ever changing.
Expect an inspection to take 2-5 hours (older homes may take longer), and expect charges of $200-$800 depending on size.
In most cases the seller is not required to make repairs, but the buyer can use the report in negotiating (e.g., if a repair is made, the buyer will offer to pay more, otherwise the buyer will bid lower). The inspection is most useful in assessing maintenance items that you may want to take care of promptly and items you might want to plan for down the road. Remember, no house is perfect, even a newly built home will have items that need adjustment.
To hire an inspector, get recommendations from your Realtor or from others who have used them, or check the phone book under “Home Inspection.” Be sure to ask about references, memberships in professional associations, professional training, and experience. In Massachusetts home inspectors are required to be licensed and every Coldwell Banker agent will provide you with a Home Inspectors Guide.