Home inspection checklist: A homebuyer’s guide

Smiling couple embraces in front of their new home.Image: Smiling couple embraces in front of their new home.

In a Nutshell

Hiring a professional to conduct a home inspection after your offer is accepted can help identify potential defects before you settle on the sale of the home. Knowing a home inspection checklist in advance will help ensure key structural components of the home are examined.
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A home inspection provides a detailed assessment of the property’s condition before you settle on the sale of a house.

It can uncover flaws you wouldn’t otherwise know existed, so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to move forward with the purchase. If you make your offer contingent on the findings of the home inspection, you may be able to use the results to negotiate with the seller or walk away without penalty.

Having a comprehensive home inspection checklist can help you feel confident that no key structural component of the home is overlooked during the inspection.

What is a home inspection and why should I get one?

A home inspection typically assesses the condition of the structure and major systems of a property, like plumbing and electrical, for example. The inspection can uncover repairs that need to be made before you settle on the sale, so you know what to expect after you move in.

What’s the difference between a home inspection and an appraisal?

A home inspection is a tool potential homebuyers use to gain a thorough assessment of the condition of a property, and technically, it’s optional. An appraisal is an estimate of the value of the home — if you’re taking out a mortgage, lenders usually require an appraisal to ensure you’re not borrowing more than the house is worth.

In general, as a homebuyer you’re responsible for paying for both the home inspection and the appraisal.

Why you should never skip the home inspection

There may be times when a potential buyer might be tempted (or asked) to waive the home inspection. This is sometimes done to make the buyer’s offer more attractive to the seller. But skipping the inspection could be a mistake. The home could have significant defects that go undiscovered, and you’d be responsible for all repairs once the sale is final and you legally own the home.

Making the sale of the home contingent on the results of the home inspection can help protect you from costly repairs. Knowing about potential problems before you settle gives you an opportunity to make an informed decision about whether you want to renegotiate your offer with the seller or withdraw it altogether.

What is a home inspection checklist?

A home inspection checklist outlines the major areas of the home to be inspected, including the interior and exterior of the structure, major systems and miscellaneous items. Here are the key areas of the home that should be inspected and general expectations of those areas.


  • The exterior walls have no major cracks and are in good condition.
  • The flashing, trim and exterior doors have no significant damage.
  • Walkways and driveways have no major cracks or other safety hazards.
  • The windows, stairs, porches, patio, deck, balcony, carport and railings are in good condition.
  • Exterior vegetation, surface drainage, retaining walls and grading must be examined for signs of standing water and improper drainage.


The roof, gutters, vents, downspouts, flashing, skylights, chimney and other roof features should be inspected for evidence of leaks and/or damage.

Basement, foundation, crawlspace, structure

  • There are no water stains or signs of water damage.
  • There are no significant cracks in the foundation or other structural components that represent a safety concern.
  • Door frames are square, and floors are level.
  • The sump pump is in good working order.

HVAC system

The heating and cooling system is operating properly, providing adequate airflow throughout the house.


  • The hot water heater is functioning properly, and the water pressure is sufficient throughout the house.
  • The main water and fuel supply shut-off valves work.
  • All toilets flush.
  • Showers, tubs and sinks drain properly, and show no signs of leaks.
  • The drain-waste-vent system operates properly.

Attic, insulation, ventilation

The ventilation and insulation in unfinished areas of the home, and the mechanical exhaust systems in the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry area were inspected.


  • Major components of the electrical system were inspected, including the electricity meter, service drop, service conductors, circuit breakers, fuses, grounding, switches, light fixtures, electrical outlets, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • The type of wiring used throughout the home was identified.


Fireplaces and chimneys, including the lintels, cleanout doors, dampers, etc., were inspected.

Doors, window and interior rooms

  • Doors and windows open and close properly.
  • Windows show no signs of having a broken seal.
  • Floors, walls, ceilings, stairs, steps, landings, stairways, ramps, railings, guards and handrails are in good condition.
  • Garage doors and door openers work properly.


  • The exhaust system, dishwasher, stove and other kitchen appliances show no signs of damage and are working properly.
  • Doorbells, sprinkler systems, swimming pools, outdoor cooking equipment, security system and other optional systems and components are operational.

What you should expect from the home inspection process

For the best results, work with someone who is trained in residential home inspections — they know what to look for. Ask people you know such as your friends, family or real estate agent for recommendations if you don’t already have someone you trust.

Schedule the inspection for a time when you can attend. It’ll give you a chance to see what the inspector sees and ask questions. After the inspection, you’ll receive a detailed home inspection report with the inspector’s findings. Review them carefully to ensure you have an accurate picture of the house’s condition.

You may be able to use the findings to …

  1. Negotiate a credit for the cost of the repairs.
  2. Negotiate with the seller to remediate and pay for the defects before settlement.
  3. Withdraw your offer without penalty (if the offer was contingent on the findings of the home inspection).

What should I do to prepare for a home inspection?

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for your home inspection is to find a qualified inspector you trust. Arrange to be present during the inspection and familiarize yourself with the areas of the house the inspector will assess, so you can ask questions during the process.

What typically fails a home inspection?

Getting a home inspection isn’t like taking a test in school — there’s no pass or fail grade. Instead, the inspection will provide an assessment of the overall condition of the property. It’s up to you to decide whether you’ll proceed with the sale after you get the results.

What fixes are mandatory after a home inspection?

None, in most cases. If the inspection uncovers a defect you want fixed, you can ask the homeowner to remediate it or give you a credit at closing so you can fix it after you move in. But generally they’re not required to do either. If they won’t agree to your terms, you’ll need to decide whether you want to move forward with the purchase.

What’s next?

Buying a home can be a lengthy and sometimes an emotional process, but that’s no reason to get stuck with a house you’ll regret buying. Making your offer contingent on the results of the home inspection can help protect you from surprise repairs down the road.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the inspection. And don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t come to an agreement with the seller after you receive the findings from the home inspection.

About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Towson University. She’s committed… Read more.