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How to Get the Most Out of Your Home Inspection

Marietta Rodriguez

If you're like millions of people who will move into a new home this year, chances are the home you move into won't be a new one. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, in 2016, approximately 700,000 of the 6.1 million homes sold were new. That means nearly 90 percent of homebuyers moved into a home that someone else had already lived in, and as a result, may be taking on problems that they didn't know about.

A good way for homebuyers to be aware of potential problems with a home -- and gauge the potential costs -- is to have a home inspection. A home inspection by a certified professional provides a bit of assurance regarding the home's quality and the effectiveness of its key systems like air conditioning, heating, roof and more.

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Having a home inspection in hand provides you with an estimate of what may need to be repaired or replaced, enables you to prioritize those items and creates the opportunity to budget for those future costs.

According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, a home inspector checks a host of things, including the roof, foundation, electrical systems, interior walls, doors and major systems in the home, such as plumbing, heating and cooling. However, the extent of these inspections and the training for inspectors varies by state. Here are a five home inspection items that you'll want to gather more information about, and likely plan a home maintenance budget for replacements and repairs.

Roofing. In most states, a roof inspection takes place from the ground or with a ladder, without an inspector ever walking the roof. This type of inspection can miss signs of wear that could lead to high replacement costs in the future. Asking the seller when the roof was last replaced is one solution, but damage can occur during a roof's usable life. Hiring a home inspector who also does full roof inspections may be a good option.

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Heating and air conditioning. Inspectors also check the heating and air conditioning systems, but while the inspector may report that they are working properly, it's important for you to ask about their usable life. The systems may be near the end of their average life span and may need to be replaced in a few years or less, a potential cost that you should know and plan for up front.

Still, knowing if the heating and cooling systems are working does not tell you much about their efficiency or the home's overall energy efficiency. A home energy audit answers those questions. A home energy audit frequently takes place after a home is purchased, but some home inspectors are qualified to perform a the efficiency check as well. When arranging for a home inspection, asking if the company also offers home energy audits can save time and money.

Water heaters. A similar situation frequently occurs with water heaters. An inspector will test the water temperature and report back that the appliance is working fine. However, an older appliance that's working one day could malfunction the next. It could save you money if you know how old the water heater is and what replacement options there are could be down the road.

Windows. Along the same lines, an inspector will examine the windows of a home to see if they are in good working order, but especially when buying an older home, the windows may be original and not the most energy efficient. Factor in replacement costs and make a budget for future replacements.

Wood-burning fireplace and chimney. Most home inspectors are not certified to inspect a fireplace and chimney. If you're buying a home with a working fireplace, it's important to retain the services of a professional. A list of certified professionals can be found at the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

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Buying a home can be complicated -- from the array of mortgage products to choose from to being sure as possible that you're buying a house that won't drain your finances. Working with the right team of professionals -- housing counselors, real estate agents and inspectors -- and asking the right questions along each step of the way will help ensure long-term homeownership success.

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