05/17/2012 02:18 EDT | Updated 07/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Ask a Realtor: Is a Home Inspection Worth it?

"Ask a Realtor" appears Thursdays. Have a real estate question for Susanne? Please email her at, and she will publish and answer the questions of most general interest.

Q: Is a home inspection worth the $450?

Well, if your house is your biggest investment, I think you want to know how solid that investment is. Four hundred and fifty dollars is the cost for a home inspection on an average three-bedroom house. The price is calculated on the size and price of the house and will vary somewhat in price across the country. In making your decision think about this: Is there a wet basement, mould, knob and tube wiring, or asbestos? If so, how much will it cost to get rid of them?

There are several scenarios for a home inspection. If you're buying a home and you're the only one who puts in an offer, you can ask that it be conditional on a home inspection (usually a three-day condition). If you're looking at going in on a multiple offer situation -- i.e. holdback offers -- they may provide a home inspection but you may want to do your own before the offer date.

What do I get for the cost?

A home inspector's skill and time. The average home inspection takes approximately three hours and the inspector starts outside, examining the roof and the exterior features of the house: the eavestroughs, downspouts, brick, stucco or frame exterior, grading etc. He or she then moves into the house and checks out the mechanics; the wiring, plumbing, and the furnace. He or she also examines the basement foundation and looks for signs of water in the basement, etc. You as the buyer are invited to join him or her as he moves about the house. Ask questions, it's incredibly useful information.

Which are the top areas of concern?

Exterior: Is the brickwork in good shape? How about the eavestroughs and the downspouts? Are the windows new/newer? Are there screens? Does the trim need painting? Do the eavestroughs discharge water away from the house? With regard to grading, does the earth slope away from the house?

Structure: Is the house sound? Has there been much shifting? Is the roof leaking and what is its lifespan? Is the foundation cracked?

Interior: Are the floors in good condition? Is the drywall or plaster in good condition? Is the fireplace operational? The liner ok? Is there good water pressure? Is there water in the basement?

Mechanics: Is there knob and tube wiring and if so, how much will it cost to replace it? Are there circuit breakers? How recent is the electrical panel? Is the plumbing copper or old and galvanized? How old is the furnace, is it operating correctly and what is its life span? Is the AC unit functional?

Problems: The home inspector also looks for problems such as mould, Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), asbestos or evidence of termites (though you usually need a termite inspector).

All of the inspector's observations are noted in a binder for the buyer and the home inspector goes over the contents and features of note with them.

In sum, yes, it's worth the time and money to have a thorough home inspection. Get to know your new house and what it needs -- now and in the future!