Home Inspections: Spend a Little to Save a Lot

What is a home inspection, and how is it different from an appraisal? A home inspection is a detailed review of all the major systems of a home, including the plumbing, electrical, and heating/cooling, as well as the structure and the roof.

The home inspector’s job is to inform you – the client – of any current or potential issues with the property. What he or she isn’t concerned with is the value of the property. An appraiser, on the other hand, does a less detailed review of the property and is primarily focused on the value of the property in the local market.

While lenders do require appraisals to protect their own interests, they don’t require home inspections. So should you still get a home inspection? The answer is probably yes. A home inspection will directly benefit you by helping you avoid expensive problems down the road – something that will also indirectly benefit your lender.

Any standard real estate contract gives you the right to obtain an inspection of the property; but some buyers in a sellers’ market will waive the home inspection condition in order to compete.

In deciding whether to call in a home inspector, you need to ask yourself how likely you think it is that there will be serious issues with the property.

Also, home inspections aren’t inexpensive, often starting in the $200 to $300 range and going up from there. But they may be cheap at twice the price if they uncover a serious problem with the property – items an inspector may find could cost thousands of dollars to correct.

You may not want to raise all the minor issues, but an inspection will give you leverage on your contract to address the major ones.

Also remember that if the inspection turns up significant issues, and you can’t negotiate a resolution, you can always walk away from the sale – with your deposit.

You Can Reduce Your Closing Costs … but Should You?

All of the costs incurred in the course of purchasing or refinancing a home are called “closing costs.” They include fees that you pay the lender, most importantly the origination fees, but other fees as well, such as appraisal, title, and recording fees.

Closing costs are usually paid from the borrower’s funds, but often you can lower them with seller credits. As well, your lender may agree to waive some of your closing costs. Sellers are often willing to cover some of your closing costs in exchange for a slightly higher purchase price, and lenders may waive some closing costs and charge a slightly higher interest rate.

Seller credits and trade-offs

These may sound great, but note that a higher home price and a higher mortgage rate will cost you more in the long run. When you begin the prequalification process, consider these “benefits” but ensure you know the downsides. Your real estate agent can help you decide the true worth of a sellers’ credit, while your lender can explain all the mortgage options available to you, including trading a higher rate for reduced closing costs. The decision, however, is yours.

Your down payment is also required at closing, and it’s the one cost that absolutely can’t be reduced by seller or lender trade-offs. Fortunately, you can use monetary gifts from close relatives to partially or completely reduce the down payment amount that comes out of your own funds, and you’re also able to use approved government or other nonprofit down payment assistance programs.