When buying a home, consider a DIY home inspection before making an offer. This gives you peace of mind that everything is in good shape before such a big investment.
Depending on where you live, a professional inspection costs buyers, on average, $200 to $400. That can increase dramatically for large or older houses with complicated floor plans. That’s the kind of money you spend when you really want—and intend to buy—a home. Be sure to do your due diligence before calling in the pros.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t get a home inspection from a licensed professional. That level of inspection can wait until your contract has been accepted and you’re ready to commit to the home. Before you hire a professional home inspector, a DIY walkthrough can give you initial results—if you know what to look for. After doing your own inspection, follow up with an experienced pro. That way, you’ve covered all your bases.
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What is a DIY home inspection, and why should I do one?
During a DIY home inspection, you take a good look at the interior and exterior of the property to make sure everything is in working order. A thorough inspection will cover everything from the windows, plumbing, outlets and water heater to the walls, roofing, and more. Everything on the property should be looked at.
Because of all the work involved, getting a home inspection is an important part of the home buying process. Doing a DIY home inspection is a great idea as an initial step. It gives you a hands-on appreciation for your potential new home while learning about everything it has to offer. Sometimes the beauty (or ugliness) of a home can make you overlook items you aren’t excited about repairing. It also helps you save money if you aren’t completely sold on a house or if you aren’t close to the end of the overall process.
Luckily, doing home inspections doesn’t require tons of training or special paperwork. All you really need is a notebook, pen, marble, and this checklist. If you’re feeling ambitious, take a tape measure. Although not every aspect of this list will apply to all homes, this is a rather inclusive inspection list that will be a good jumping off point in your due diligence.
General items to inspect
- Windows: Check that they open and close easily and for any broken panes. Check thoughout the entire house as windows could be different ages and made from different material. For example, are they vinyl, wood, aluminum? Make sure you know the answer to this question for each window.
- Doors: Check that they open and close completely. Do they stick? Lock? Scrape the floor at any point?
- Floors: Check for any creaking and unevenness. Place a marble on the floor and see if it rolls to check for a slant. This test should be done in multiple areas of the home to make sure everything is level.
- Walls: Check for any holes or cracks in the walls. It’s also important to check the insulation. Touching different areas of the walls can be a good way to check for cold spots. Cold spots are an indication that the home isn’t properly insulated.
- Trim: Is there any damage or missing pieces? Animals, for example, can be brutal to wood trim, and matching old trim is almost impossible. If there is damage, it may make sense to replace the trim completely.
- Lights: Turn on every light switch to make sure they work. Check with the power company about this step if need be.
- Stairs: Walk up and down the stairs and touch every spindle on the railing. Do they seem sturdy or wobbly? Do the stairs creak and are any parts missing? Be aware that uneven stairs can be dangerous.
- Outlets: Get a voltage tester at your local big box home improvement store for less than $20 and test every single outlet both inside and outside. Get a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, to prevent electrocution when testing voltage.
- Furnace: Look for any stickers on the furnace that indicate the installation date. If there is none, make sure to get this information as soon as possible and store it in a safe place.
- Water heater: Check for water around the base of the water heater for damage or other signs of wear. The heater should also have stickers that indicate the installation date.
What to look for in the kitchen
- Cabinets and drawers: Open and close every cabinet and drawer to make sure they move smoothly and that they don’t prevent access to anything.
- Oven: Open the oven door slowly to make sure the springs work and the light, if it has one, turns on appropriately. Turn it on to make sure it still works and is in good condition.
- Stove: The same thing applies to the stove. Turn on each burner to make sure it works. If gas, turn on and off one burner before turning the next one on to make sure they all turn on by themselves, rather than catching the flame from an adjacent burner. If they all work individually, turn them all on to make sure they all work at the same time. If electric, just turn them all on.
- Fridge: Open the refrigerator and freezer doors to ensure they open easily. However, do NOT do this if the home is vacant and appears to have been vacant for some time. Who knows what could be in there after all that time— and it could be dangerous. If it’s been an extended period of time, it’s safer to replace the fridge.
- Dishwasher: Open and inspect the dishwasher slowly to check the springs on the door. If it’s electronic, make sure the unit still turns on and functions as it’s meant to.
- Faucet: Run the water to check the pressure and make sure the knobs completely turn off.
- Garbage disposal: Make sure it runs, turning the water on beforehand.
- Cabinet interiors: Take a look inside of each one to make sure they are spacious enough. And make sure there are enough drawers to fit your needs.
- Microwave: Make sure it works. Turn it on and press some buttons.
- Hood: Turn on the range hood fan and light to make sure they work. Peek underneath to check for filth—a commonly overlooked area for cleaning.
- Countertops: Check here for chips and cracks regardless of what it’s made out of.
- Tile: Check the floor for cracked or broken tiles.
Bathroom inspection must-dos
- Plumbing and drainage: Flush the toilet and let the water run in the sink and tub. Inspect that the water in the sink and tub drain properly. Turn on the shower and make sure the water runs evenly with good pressure. This is also a great opportunity to check for pipe leaks and functioning knobs.
- Flooring: Any broken tiles?
- Toilet: Does it rock or is it solidly on the floor? Make sure it flushes properly and doesn’t run after the fact.
- Tub: Check for cracks, chips, and any spaces between the tub and the walls or the floor.
- Vanity: Check the overall condition and each storage space. If there’s a mirror, make sure it isn’t cracked, chipped, or broken.
- Ventilation: Does the fan work? Is there a window and does it open and close easily?
Quick bedroom checks
- Closets: If the closets have doors, make sure they open and close easily.
- Flooring: Does the carpet have stains, wear spots, or other kinds of damage? With wood and tile, does it have any scratches, cracks, or broken places?
Living, dining, and family room scan
- Doors: Any doors? Do they open and close easily?
- Flooring: What is the state of the flooring?
- Walls: Are there any holes or other damage in the walls?
- Ceilings: Make sure they don’t have any cracks or holes. These would also be a big issue if there’s an attic that you plan to use.
- Access: It’s important to know how to get into the attic. Some have drop-down ladders or stairs with doors. However you get into it, make sure it’s safe and that each door opens easily.
- Insulation: A lot of attics give easy access to the state of the home’s insulation. It may be the only place in a home where the insulation is exposed, which makes it the easiest place to inspect it and check that there is enough for your needs.
- Ventilation: The attic may also be one of the only areas to see a home’s ventilation. Make sure it’s properly ventilated and that there are no areas for moisture to get trapped, which allows dreaded mold to grow.
- Framing: The framing can also be exposed in an attic. Check to see if it’s cracked or chipped or has any loose spots.
Basement deep dive
- Odor: Basements are typically underground so make sure there’s no strange odor. An overpowering or strange odor can be mold or mildew.
- Walls: Do the walls have any cracks? Small, hairline cracks are not so concerning, but large cracks—especially horizontal cracks—can be an indicator of bigger foundation problems. Water stains may also indicate former flooding or leaky foundations.
Examine the exterior
- Sprinklers: Turn on the sprinkler system to test the water pressure and that the system works the way it’s meant to.
- Walkways: Uneven walkways can be dangerous. Make sure there are no serious cracks, holes, etc.
- Lights: Flip them on and test them out to make sure they stay on consistently. If they are motion-sensor lights, test them out by walking by them.
- Fence: Walk the fence to check for loose boards and the overall sturdiness.
- Siding: Check for any decay and wood rot that may become a bigger problem as time goes on. Look at the mortar between the bricks, if applicable. Is it cracking? How badly?
- Roof: Go to the south side of the house and look at the shingles. (It gets the most sun.) Curling or buckling can be an indication that the roof needs work.
- Gutters: The gutters are considered part of the roof. It’s important to make sure they don’t have any rust or cracks and holes that would make them leak. The downspouts should also be a certain distance away from the house’s foundation, and the gutters should be a certain size to prevent runoff.
- Garage door: Make sure the garage door(s) open and close easily. If there’s a remote, make sure it works properly.
- Driveway: Check for significant cracks or holes and note the material the driveway is made of to be able to estimate repairs or replacement costs. Is it asphalt? Is it concrete? Is it brick?
- Lawn: Look at the grass and check for dead patches.
- Yard: Note the state of the yard, and make sure there aren’t any dead trees. How’s the size? What amount of shade/sun does it get (for those considering gardens or needing to plant grass). Is there any standing water?
- Air conditioning: Is there an AC unit? If not, then does it have a line set to a furnace, and the AC has been stolen? Or is there simply no line to the furnace? Does the house have some or several window AC units? This is a good indication (but not a confirmation) there isn’t a setup for the outside unit. If it doesn’t have those lines/power supply, make sure you account for that in your figures. There is definitely an additional cost for the line set. Also, ensure you have the right refrigerant for the AC you have.
- Chimney: Check to make sure the chimney is clean and that firewood can be burned safely.
Pro tip: Take photos
In your DIY home inspection, taking pictures is key to the overall process. These pictures document what you saw in your inspection. They can back you up if you see anything that looks suspect before making an offer. Photos can also prove the state of the property: This way, the owner can’t claim that you caused any damage. You’d have the photos as proof that the damage was already there.
However, it’s not enough to take pictures here and there. When you’re doing a home inspection, you have to take pictures of everything. Even if something doesn’t look perfectly fine, it’s important to document it so that you have protection against any future damage. When it comes to things like checking faucets and other sources of running water, take videos rather than still photos.