One of the most important things you have to get done when you buy a home is schedule a home inspection. The home inspection is a chance for you to find out whether there are any problems with the property that the seller failed to disclose, as well as whether there are any impending problems that may lead to expensive fixes later on after you close. As the buyer, it’s your responsibility to hire a home inspector and set up a date for the inspection. But if you’ve never done it before it can be confusing to know where to start. Here’s some home inspection 101 to get you going.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a visual examination of a property. Buying a home is a massive investment, and you want to be sure that you know as much as you can about what condition the house is in and what exactly you’re paying for. In addition to providing you with valuable insight that can help better inform your purchasing decision, a home inspection provides you with possible leverage to use in your negotiations. If you find out that there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, you may be able to get the seller to skim some money off of the sale price to account for the repair cost.

What do home inspectors look for?

Thorough home inspectors cast a wide net, examining both the interior and the exterior features of a property to ensure that everything is in good working order. The American Society of Home Inspectors provides a Standards of Practice document that outlines most of what inspectors are looking into. These include:

  • Electrical systems
  • Plumbing systems
  • Roofing systems
  • Insulation and ventilation
  • Heating and cooling systems
  • Major installed appliances (kitchen and laundry)
  • Fireplaces and venting
  • Structural components (foundation, crawlspaces, wall structures, etc.)
  • Exterior features (doors, decks, surface grading, driveways, etc.)
  • Interior features (stairways, window seals, garages, etc.)

The scope of your home inspection depends on the property being inspected. When you schedule a home inspection, be sure to ask what the inspector intends to look at, and to bring up any issues that you suspect there might be (if you do in fact have any suspicions).

How to schedule a home inspection

Follow the advice below to make sure you schedule your home inspection correctly and get the most out of it.

1. Schedule a home inspection to take place as early on in the buying process as you can so that you leave yourself plenty of time to negotiate.Right after your offer is accepted is ideal. Keep in mind that a purchase price is not set in stone until closing—if you find a problem during the home inspection it is perfectly within your rights to go back to the drawing board and propose a new price to the seller.

2. Ask your realtor if they have a recommendation for an inspector. Your realtor is your best bet for insider information on who to hire for your inspection. There’s a high chance that your realtor has worked with some home inspector companies they really like and some that aren’t quite as good, so take advantage of their experience by asking who they think you should go with. Request two or three recommendations so that you can compare and find your best fit.

3. Call up your preferred home inspectors and ask about their availability, process, and price. Just like all other facets of buying a home, it helps to do your research. Call up each home inspector company that you’re considering and find out when they can perform the inspection, how they intend to do it, and how much they charge. On average, you should expect to pay about $325for your inspection and completed report. Still, be sure to take all factors into account instead of just automatically going with the cheapest option.

4. Schedule a home inspection appointment. You’ll want to be present at the home inspection, so schedule a time that works well for both your inspection company and yourself. There’s no use in rushing an inspection, so it’s important that you leave yourself plenty of time to really examine the property with your inspector—you’ll want between two and three hours to do it right.

During the home inspection

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions when you’re touring a home with your inspector. They’re there to examine the property, but they’re also there to give you informed answers to your questions about the home and its structure and features. If you see something you think might be an issue or you don’t understand what your home inspector is telling you, speak up! It’s always better to ask too many questions than not enough when you’re making such a large and complicated purchase.

What if you get bad home inspection results?

Just because a property is new construction or looks like it’s in great condition isn’t a guarantee that issues won’t appear on your home inspection report. Don’t freak out if you find that there are problems, but do take action to see if there’s a good solution.

Call up your realtor right away to discuss the findings. They should have some good insight for you as to whether it’s still a good idea to move forward with the purchase, and if so, what sorts of seller compromises you should aim for. Sellers are typically just as motivated as buyers for titles to exchange hands, so they’re often willing to make concessions based on home inspection reports. That could mean scheduling and paying for the repairs themselves, or reducing the purchase price to account for the repair cost. Sometimes these compromises require you, the buyer, to waive liability, meaning you can’t sue later on if additional problems arise. When it comes to negotiating, focus on big repairs, not small cosmetic issues that you can easily fix on your own.

Sometimes, the findings of a home inspection may warrant walking away from a purchase, especially if the seller is unwilling to budge on negotiations. If that’s the case, consider it an asset that you avoided having to pay for or deal with serious repairs and continue your home search elsewhere.

Don’t waive your home inspection

Unlike a home appraisal, many mortgage lenders do not require a mandatory home inspection prior to releasing funding for your loan. That being said, it’s still not a good idea to opt out. A home inspection provides you with key information that you might otherwise not find out about until it’s too late, and the $300 or so it costs to have one is usually going to be less than any repair costs you might face later on. The only time when it might make sense to waive a home inspection is if you or someone close to you has experience in construction, though even then it never hurts to have an objective eye on a property.

Scheduling a home inspection is a key part of ensuring that you’re making a smart home buying investment. Make sure to work with a company that you trust and that comes recommended, and to be fully present and aware while the inspection is taking place. An inspection is a great opportunity to learn more about the property you’re purchasing inside and out and to find out what additional costs you may be facing in the years to come.