A Guide to Safe Home Inspections During COVID-19

Home inspections are a critical part of the home-buying process. A thorough inspection can unearth significant issues that could impact a home’s value and may even prevent a sale from going forward. Inspectors spend hours at a house looking for any sign of trouble. The process is hands-on and crowded, as the inspector is often joined by a real estate agent and the homeowner. Is this still possible during a pandemic?

Home inspections have changed during COVID-19. Inspectors, real estate agents, homeowners and prospective buyers have had to get creative. The process is still hands-on, but there are some extra steps involved. COVID-19 may have changed how inspections happen, but it hasn’t altered the fundamental role of inspectors, what they look for when evaluating a house or the overall importance of an inspection.

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What Goes Into a Home Inspection?

“A home inspection is an evaluation covering hundreds of elements of a home,” said Chuck Vander Stelt, Real Estate Agent and Founder of Quadwalls.com. “During a home inspection, the inspector will evaluate every area of the structure, including major components like HVAC systems, plumbing, electrical and the roof. The inspector will also look for health or safety issues or issues which compromise the longevity of the home or a part of the home. Lastly, the inspector will generally give advice about how to remediate any issues discovered during the inspection.”

Home inspections are not mandated by law. Most banks encourage them and may even build language into a loan agreement stipulating an inspection take place. The process isn’t necessarily required, but it’s strongly encouraged. As a homebuyer, you’re about to take on a substantial amount of debt, and a home inspection will provide peace of mind.

“Buyers usually focus on gathering as much information as possible to safeguard themselves,” said Real Estate Broker Michael Dean.

Inspections are typically scheduled after the owner has accepted the buyer’s offer. Depending on the language in your purchase agreement, it may still be possible to cancel a sale if the inspector finds something serious.

Buyers generally pay for inspections, but the results could be used as a negotiation tool, depending on what the inspector finds. The current owner might be willing to come down in price if the buyer agrees to purchase the home and assume responsibility for repairs.

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Safe Home Inspections During COVID-19

Home inspections, like many areas of life, look a little different now because of COVID-19. Luckily, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHA) has created a list for inspectors, real estate agents, owners and buyers to follow to help make home inspections safe during the pandemic. You’re probably familiar with some of the advice: wear a mask, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. However, there’s one big piece that might cause some consternation for owners and buyers.

“In the past, it was common for the family to be present during a home inspection,” said real estate professional John Castle. “Buyers should limit the number of people present at the inspection. If friends or family want to come along, invite them to join the tour virtually.”

Homeowners should find something else to do during the inspection, and the potential buyer needs to tell friends and family to stay at home. Also, real estate agents are encouraged not to attend. Aside from limiting the number of people present at an inspection, what else can be done to ensure safety? Fortunately, the advice given by the ASHA is inexpensive and easy. The organization recommends inspectors and buyers wear disposable shoe covers. Also, minimize what you touch and sanitize those things you do come in contact with. Instead of using paper and pen to sign for things, consider going digital. Even with fewer people at an inspection, it’s still important to practice safe social distancing. If anyone involved with the process is feeling stick, stay home.

Some realtors and inspectors have gotten creative during the pandemic. One simple but clever idea is to ensure that no one has been in the home for at least 24 hours before doing an inspection. This, of course, only really works if the house is vacant, but it’s one more step you can try to coordinate to stay safe. Also, think about finding an inspector who is also certified in doing specialized things like looking for termites or testing for radon. Most inspectors don’t do this, but locating one who does will reduce the number of people who need to enter into the house.

Other Home Inspection Considerations During the Pandemic

A virtual tour complete with videos and photos is one way to limit face-to-face interaction during the pandemic. Agents and inspectors have done this in the past with buyers who live out of state. Not being able to see the inspection might seem nerve-wracking, so it’s important to think about your comfort level with this option and weigh the risks.

Also, if your home inspection report reveals there’s work to be done, the first thing to think about is whether or not the repairs are essential and demand immediate attention or if they’re more cosmetic and can wait. Regardless, real estate agents are now adding coronavirus addendums to contracts. These contracts provide wiggle room by allowing more time for repairs that are listed in the purchase agreement.

The pandemic has caused a fair amount of stress, and the last thing anyone needs right now is more uncertainty, which is why buyers should also consider purchasing home-repair insurance. These policies cover structural or roofing damage not identified by the inspector. They are relatively inexpensive — $300 to $500 — and are good for up to a year after a home sells.

The Bottom Line

Home inspections are a vital part of the home-buying process. COVID-19 has changed how inspections happen. To ensure the safety of everyone involved, fewer people are encouraged to attend, and everyone who is attending is encouraged to wear a mask, practice safe social distancing, wash hands and sanitize anything they touch. Inspections are not required by law or by most banks, but the process gives potential buyers the information they need when determining whether to purchase a home.

(Photo by FG Trade / GettyImages)


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Contributing Writer

Eric Wilson-Edge

Eric Wilson-Edge is a freelance journalist who has covered home security, safety, and other topics for Safety.com, The Seattle Times, and elsewhere.