A building inspection is a visual evaluation of the structure, and the components and systems of a building. Simply speaking, an inspector gives a building a 'physical' examination.

At a minimum, a building inspection should include an examination of the following components and systems:

structure roof & flashings water heater air conditioning
foundation roof drainage gas system appliances
exterior grounds attic & ventilation plumbing fixtures floors & ceilings
exterior walls chimney & fireplace electrical system doors & windows
exterior building components water pipes & waste system comfort heating system interior building components

In addition, safety-related issues are an important part of an inspection. Some inspections also include pools and spas.

An inspection excludes items that are concealed or are inaccessible such as pipes or wires in walls, plumbing lines below soils, and flooring beneath carpets. Also excluded are systems and components that cannot be reached, entered or viewed without moving obstructions, or that require action that could result in damage to the property or personal injury to the inspector. In addition, most inspections do not include geological or engineering evaluation. An inspector should provide you with a list of those things that are not included in their inspection.

A safety-related issue is something that could affect the health, safety or well-being of a visitor or occupant of a property. Examples include the potential for fall at a stairway without a handrail, a young child could crawl through or get stuck in guardrail pickets that are spaced too wide, a person could fall over a guardrail that is too low, a child could fall through an openable window that is too close to the floor. At certain locations, non-tempered glass creates a potential for injury. Proper fencing and other related issues are vital for pool or spa properties. Rodent feces in an attic or animal feces below a home are a potential health hazard. These, and much more, are conditions that a competent inspection will address.

Whether it is a residence, a multi-family dwelling or a commercial building, the purchase of real property is one of the single largest investments most people will make in their lifetime. A thorough inspection can help you avoid costly, unpleasant surprises. Are those water stains a result of an isolated incident, or an indication of a chronic problem? Is the roof functional, does it need repair, will it soon need replacement? Are the water pipes copper or galvanized, are they leaking, were they professionally installed? Are the drain lines clear? Is the wiring older or newer, are there any problems that could cause injury or even a fire? Is the heating system functional, is it safe to operate? Is the foundation system sound, is it bolted for earthquake resistance? Are there any safety-related issues? A competent inspection will provide you with a clear understanding of the property you are about to purchase so you can make an informed decision.

No building, regardless of how well it is constructed, is totally free of defects. A builder may have the best intentions, but the nature of construction is such that some problems will occur. It is always easier to have a builder repair or replace defects before a sale is complete, than to discover problems later and try to get them to return to do this work.

At times, an inspection will reveal something that does not comply with code, but it was approved by the local building authority. City building inspectors are often pressed for time and because of this they may occasionally overlook something. Also, like all humans, they sometimes simply make mistakes. Building officials recognize this and therefore the code provides that any such approval is invalid. Unfortunately, being built with permit and approved by a City building inspector doesn't always mean a building complies with code. In fact, a Building Official has the authority to require a property owner remedy a violation EVEN THOUGH THE CITY APPROVED IT.

Many builders encourage an inspection. However, there are some that do not welcome the opinion of an independent consultant. They will state that the home has been "built to code" and was "already inspected and approved by the City building inspector" (see 'The City Building Inspector Approved It', above). It is important to understand that a builder only needs to comply with 'minimum' standards - but your standards may be higher. In addition, a City building inspector is not concerned with workmanship as long as building 'minimums' are attained. It is always in your best interest to have a consultant with no financial attachment to the project render a professional, independent opinion.

When buying property, the best time to have it inspected is right after your offer has been accepted. The purchase contract usually provides a grace period to have this done. However, it is important to check with your Realtor® to see when this period ends. If your contract does not contain a provision for an inspection, you should have this added. In addition, you should make sure the contract clearly states that your obligation to purchase the property is contingent upon the results of the inspection.

Most homeowner's do not have the knowledge, expertise or experience required to evaluate a building and its systems. A professional inspector, however, will be thoroughly knowledgeable in the myriad of systems and components included in the construction and maintenance of buildings, and equally familiar with the building codes. In addition, a competent inspector will have evaluated thousands of properties. Above all, it is difficult for most buyers to be completely objective and unemotional about their purchase, and because of this, their judgment may be clouded.

Some contractors are qualified to perform property inspections, but most do not have the expertise or experience necessary to thoroughly inspect an entire building and its systems. Although it may be tempting to have a friend inspect your purchase, if they are not truly qualified, the money you think you are saving could actually cost you several thousand dollars. More importantly, it could also cost you a friendship.

It is not necessary for you to be at the inspection, but if you can attend, it's always a good idea. Not only will you be able to meet your inspector and ask him/her questions, but also after the inspection is completed, the inspector will be able to discuss and point out their findings with you. This information will help make the written inspection report more meaningful.

No. A professional inspector is providing an independent, objective opinion on the current condition of a building. He/she simply describe its present condition, and point out potential safety-related issues and items that need maintenance, repair or replacement. As an independent third party, the inspector should not offer an opinion on the value of the building, or if you should proceed with your purchase.

No property is perfect, even brand new construction. The discovery of problems does not mean you shouldn't buy, but this information will help you make a well-informed decision. Many different factors can influence a decision whether to proceed with the purchase. What is the extent of the problems and how much will it cost to repair them? What is your budget? Are you paying fair market value, or are you buying the building below or above this value? Is the seller willing to make some repairs? These, and much more, are some of the things you need to consider and discuss with your Realtor®

Definitely. Now you can make an informed decision to proceed with your purchase and have peace of mind about the condition of the property. In addition, you will have learned some things from the inspection that will help you maintain, take care of and enjoy your new property.

Not in California; there is no professional license for building inspectors. If an inspection company represents they are licensed building inspectors you should have them clarify this. If you believe they were intentionally misleading, you should seek another inspector.

A competent inspector will have passed written comprehensive certification exams given by the International Code Council (ICC), the same prerequisite for employment as a City building inspector. Preferably, they will also be a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). This is your assurance that the inspector is a professional and that they have demonstrated through both testing and experience their knowledge and understanding of the myriad of different building systems and their various components.

One way is through a referral from a friend, relative or business acquaintance that has had a recent inspection and was satisfied with the service provided by their inspector. Another way is to contact the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). This organization has established high standards of practice for the inspection profession, and their members must abide by these standards as well as a code of ethics. In addition, members must maintain continuing education in the latest building technologies and materials to ensure a professional inspection for the consumer.