Congratulations! You’re in the process of buying your first home or a new home, and that’s very exciting. But one important step in the home-buying process is a home inspection, which will give you more information about the house, and protect you from being surprised by maintenance and repair issues down the road.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about home inspections, why they’re important, what you might learn during the course of one, how to find the right inspector, what you can expect to pay, and more. If you’re just looking for some quick answers about home inspections, check out the quick reference FAQ at the end.
What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is a visual examination that’s performed by a trained professional. The home inspector will look at the inside and outside of the house, including places like the attic, basement, crawl space, and other areas you might not think to look.
The main purpose of the home inspection is to identify current problems with the house’s structure, systems, and major components, as well as things that might go wrong in the coming years.
What does a home inspector look for?
The inspector will look at the plumbing, electrical, roof, HVAC system, foundation, basement or crawl space, attic, windows and doors, sump system and drainage, walls and ceilings, and more.
Here are some examples of issues a home inspection might uncover:
- Aluminum wiring and other electrical issues
- Plumbing problems
- Cracks in the foundation
- Structural issues
- Leaks in the roof or elsewhere
- Poor insulation
- Grading problems and drainage issues
- Old or malfunctioning HVAC system
When the inspection is complete, you’ll get a detailed report with pictures that explains what the inspector found, what maintenance and repairs are required now, what improvements or renovations will be required later, when you should plan for these projects, and a ballpark estimate for what the projects might cost.
What does a home inspector NOT do?
While home inspectors do their best to identify problems, they’re only able to do a visual inspection. That means, for example, they can’t open up a wall to find out if there are issues going on in places you can’t see. In other words, the inspector will be limited to what they can see, and that means some issues might go unnoticed.
Another limitation of a home inspection is that it’s not exhaustive, and the inspector won’t have a chance to disassemble systems and components to make sure they’re in perfect condition. For example, the inspector might run the furnace to make sure it works and check its age, but won’t look inside to make sure all the components are working optimally.
It’s also important to remember that home inspectors have a good general knowledge, but they aren’t experts in every area, and they can miss things.
Do I need a home inspection?
While a home inspection isn’t mandatory or necessary, it’s generally recommended to have one done before buying any house. An inspection is always a good idea, whether you’re looking at a heritage home, a brand-new build, or something in between.
When I was looking to buy my first house, I thought for sure I had found the one: the house was in a perfect location, it was the right size, it had all the amenities I wanted, I loved the layout and design, and there was nothing visibly wrong with it.
I put in my offer, which was conditional on the home inspection. And boy am I glad I did that. Although the house looked perfectly sound and healthy on the surface, the home inspector looked behind the wall panelling and discovered an extensive mold problem throughout the entire basement. The root cause was improper grading of the property and poor drainage. Mold remediation would have cost thousands of dollars, required a major reno, and taken months to complete, plus the drainage problem still had to be addressed.
A home inspector will check every nook and cranny of the house and make sure you’re not biting off more house than you can chew. Home inspections can uncover anything from minor issues to major problems, and before you commit to buying a home, you’ll want to know what you’re really signing up for.
Do I need a home inspection for a new home?
Even new homes should be inspected. Just because a house is new doesn’t mean it’s immune to problems. New homes can have issues with construction, wiring, plumbing, HVAC, and other components the same way an old house can. An inspection on a new home will also make sure that all the smaller projects that go into building a house were completed, such as adding insulation, hooking up the plumbing, and putting in hardware.
Should I witness the inspection?
Potential buyers are welcome to be present during the home inspection, and if you can be there it’s a good idea to go. Not only will the inspector walk you through the process and discuss what they find, but you’ll also have an opportunity to ask questions, discuss projects, and even locate things around the house, such as breaker boxes.
A home inspection usually takes anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, and it’s advisable to get time off work or schedule the inspection for a time when you can be present. Your real estate agent can also attend with you or on your behalf, or you could even send a friend or family member if you can’t be there in person.
When is the home inspection done?
The first step in buying a home is seeing what’s available and doing in-person visits. Once you’ve found a house you like, you can put in an offer. These offers are usually conditional on things like securing financing and the result of the home inspection.
After the seller has accepted your initial offer, then it’s time to schedule the home inspection. If the inspection goes well, you can go ahead with the offer. However, if the inspection turns up things that need to be addressed, you have several choices moving forward. You can:
- Rescind the offer and move on to another house
- Renegotiate the purchase price to reflect the improvements that need to be done
- Ask the seller to address certain issues by a specific date
Canadian home inspector credentials
Home inspectors in Canada don’t require any special certifications or licences, with the exception of Alberta and British Columbia. To become an inspector in Alberta or B.C., a person must go through school to learn about home construction and inspections, pass an exam, and complete a hands-on training program or test before applying for a home inspector licence.
Although there are no official regulating bodies in the rest of Canada, inspectors can still choose to be members of the Canadian Association of Housing and Property Inspectors (CAHPI) or the Professional Home & Property Inspectors of Canada (PHPIC). As members, they must abide by the association’s code of ethics and standards of practice, meet professional and educational requirements, and participate in a review.
Finding a home inspector
Because home inspection is unregulated in most of Canada, it can be tough to choose the right person. When it comes time for your home inspection, here are some steps you can take to find a qualified inspector:
- Do an internet search to find inspectors in your area
- Use the home inspector locator function on the CAHPI website or PHPIC website
- Ask your real estate agent, friends, and family for recommendations
- Check online reviews and customer testimonials to vet candidates
- Look for somebody with special training in home inspection
- Look for inspectors with relevant backgrounds, such as construction workers, architects, plumbers, and electricians
- Make sure a potential inspector has many years of experience
How much does a home inspection cost in Canada?
Most home inspections range from $300 to $500. For example, I paid $439.57 including HST for an inspection of our home in April 2017. There are many factors that can influence the final cost, such as:
- Age of the home
- Square footage
- Qualifications and experience of the inspector
It’s typically the buyer who’s responsible for paying for the inspection, so you’ll have to include that in your home-buying budget. However, if the seller has already had an inspection done, you can accept that at face value, ask their inspector to do a walk-through with you (which can cost $100 to $150 for their time) or commission your own inspection with an inspector of your choosing.
Keep things in perspective
Remember that a home inspection is all about getting a fuller picture of the house you want to buy. Every house is going to have some problems, and chances are any home will end up needing some work. Even if the inspection turns up some minor or even major issues, you can still decide to commit to the renovations, or negotiate with the seller to have some of the work addressed before you close.
A home inspection is an added cost in the home-buying process, but setting aside a couple hundred dollars for the inspection now could save you thousands in the long run, not to mention the headaches it could prevent.
An inspection will uncover problems with a potential house, future issues that might crop up, and give you a cost estimate and timeline for projects and improvements that will be required.
Although most provinces in Canada don’t have any licencing requirements for home inspectors, you can still find a qualified and trustworthy inspector by looking at reviews, experience, training, and background.
Over to you
Do you have a great home inspection story that you’d like to share? Please leave your story in the comments.
Q: Is a home inspection mandatory?
A: No, but it is certainly recommended.
Q: How long will the home inspection take?
A: Roughly 2 to 3 hours.
Q: Who can attend the home inspection?
A: The buyer, the real estate agent, and even friends or family of the buyer. It’s a good idea to be there for the inspection if you can.
Q: Do home inspectors have to be licenced?
A: Only in Alberta and B.C.