What to Expect at Your Home Inspection to Help Prevent Bad Surprises

Looking under the hood in Honolulu.
Home inspections
Photos: Courtesy of Diamond Head Home Inspections

If you’re like us, when buying your first used car, you probably opened the hood, looked at the engine, and if you didn’t see any duct tape or clothespins, you closed it right back up and said, “looks good.” And a couple months down the road when you took it in for an oil change, you got the handful of surprises that come with buying used. We hope they were inexpensive surprises.


A home is the biggest purchase most people make in life, which is stressful enough without surprises. And in real estate, surprises often lead to lawyers and lawsuits, which are costly to everyone involved. Your home inspection, which is already written into your purchase contract, can greatly reduce the risk of surprises.


Here’s what you need to know:


  • Don’t have your contractor buddy do your home inspection for free. Even if he or she is a licensed contractor, it’s not his or her primary job. You contractor is an expert at building. Not at inspecting. And surprises down the road can be friendship-killers.

  • Do take your time. Your contract has an inspection contingency written in with a time limit: 10 to 14 to days is average. Use that time. Get your inspector in as early as possible. If you find something scary, you then have the rest of that window to dig deeper—call in an electrician, a plumber or a foundation expert and be sure there are no deal-breakers during that inspection contingency period.

  • Don’t panic. An inspector is going to find things. Nobody’s perfect. Nor is any home. Even brand-new homes have flaws, are limited by the materials used and the potential for human error. In Hawai‘i, much of our home inventory is old. That means outlets that aren’t up to code, corrosion, water damage and more. Your inspection report reads a bit like a doomsday document. A good inspector will find things wrong.

  • Do ask questions. Typically, inspectors need anywhere from a few hours to a full day, depending on the size of a home. They’ll then tell you what time to come for a walk-through of what they found. If you’re going to be a hands-on, DIY-type owner, feel free to come early and follow the inspector around. You’re paying for their time, and they’re usually very happy to share what they see. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, including everything from what GFCI means to what might present a safety hazard. Find out where the water shut-off valve is, the lifespan of the roof and if there’s room to expand in the electrical panel.


Home inspections


We asked Daniel Smith, president of Diamond Head Home Inspections, whose company inspects more than 200 homes per month, what to expect from a good home inspector. “Expect a thorough, timely inspection by an experienced, detail-oriented inspector who consults with the buyer directly,” says Smith. “Time is important during this period, so you should get a digital report with extensive photos the same day of the inspection.” Smith adds that it’s important to have a licensed and insured inspector as well.


And that can help keep the bad surprises to a minimum.