What Is a Home Inspection?

Home Inspections Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

Man inspects condition of window exterior while another man watches

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A home inspection is an evaluation of the current condition of a structure and its systems.

A home inspection is an evaluation of the current condition of a structure and its systems. If you’re just starting the homebuying process, it may surprise you to learn that a home inspection is not required to take out a mortgage.

In a seller’s market, some buyers will even consider forgoing the inspection to make their offer stand out. However, a home inspection is an important tool to protect yourself from making a bad investment.

Definition and Example of a Home Inspection

If you’ve recently found the home you want to buy, conducting a home inspection can feel like another hurdle to jump through. But an inspection is an important step in the homebuying process.

During a home inspection, a certified inspector will evaluate the property for potential problems. That person will do an honest and thorough inspection of the property and report their findings and recommendations.

Once the inspection is finished, you’ll receive a written report that you can review with your real estate agent. Depending on the inspector’s findings, you may decide to proceed with the sale as planned, ask for repairs or a lower price, or back out of the sale altogether.


Be sure to include a home inspection contingency in your contract with the seller. This contingency allows you to back out of the sale based on the findings of the home inspection without losing your earnest money.

How a Home Inspection Works

A home inspection is a visual inspection of a property to identify any potential problems. It usually takes between two to four hours to complete, depending on the size of the house. Once the inspection is over, the inspector sends a report summarizing their findings and recommendations.

In most cases, the homebuyer is responsible for finding and scheduling a home inspection. The exact cost will vary depending on the size and condition of the house but will typically range between $300-$500.

When inspection day arrives, the inspector will start by evaluating the home’s structure and foundation. They’ll look for problems with the walls, floor framing, and window alignment. They’ll check to see that the electrical system is up to code and the heating and cooling systems operate efficiently.

The inspector will also check to see that the fire alarms, carbon monoxide monitors, and sprinklers are working correctly. They’ll also assess the insulation in the attic and look for signs of water damage in the basement.

When the inspection is finished, you’ll receive a written report of the inspector’s findings. This report will give you a greater understanding of the current condition of the home.


A home inspection is an in-depth evaluation of the property, but a few things are not included. If the house comes with a swimming pool, that may not be included in the inspection. And the home inspector won’t check for radon, mold, or asbestos.

Home Inspection vs. Home Appraisal

Home Inspection Appraisal
Evaluates the current condition of the home Determines the current value of the property
Conducted by a professional home inspector Conducted by a licensed appraiser
Not required by your lender to obtain a mortgage Required by your lender to obtain a mortgage

A home inspection and an appraisal are similar, but they aren’t the same thing. Both involve evaluating the property, but each is done for different reasons.

Like a home inspection, an appraisal is an important step you’ll need to take when you’re buying a home. But while a home inspection is usually done at the buyer’s discretion, your lender will require an appraisal.

While a home inspection looks at the current condition of the home, an appraisal determines the property’s value. This ensures that you don’t pay more for the house than its fair market value. It also protects the lender because the value of the home is used as collateral for the loan.


By law, appraisals have to be completed by a neutral third party and cannot be connected to your mortgage lender (nor to you or the property).

During an appraisal, a licensed appraiser will assess the property and take note of its condition and location. They’ll compare the house to similar homes in that area to determine the fair market value.

Once the appraisal is complete, you’ll receive a written report of the findings. If the appraisal comes in low, it could jeopardize your ability to buy the house. In this case, you can either contest the appraiser’s findings or agree to pay the difference in financing.

Key Takeaways

  • A home inspection is a visual evaluation of the current state of the property.
  • Home inspections are not usually required for a mortgage, but getting them is still a good idea.
  • A thorough home inspection will help you identify potential problems with the home so you can decide if you still want to buy it. 
  • Home inspectors won’t look for things like mold, asbestos, or radon, so you may need additional testing for those things.
  • An appraisal evaluates the fair market value of the home, and unlike an inspection, it’s required by your lender.
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Society of Home Inspectors. “FAQs About Home Inspection.” Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Ten Important Questions To Ask Your Home Inspector.” Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  3. American Institute of Home Inspectors. “Standards of Practice.” Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  4. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Regulation Z: 42(d) Prohibition on Conflicts of Interest.” Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

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