When you're in the market for a new house, every little detail counts. If you overlook an important flaw, you could be in for major repair or overhaul bills in your would-be dream home. Fortunately, you can avoid unexpected costs with some savvy when it comes to choosing your home inspector. Your house is likely the biggest investment you’ll ever make, so it's worth paying for a quality inspector to ensure that a home's systems are in good shape before committing to buy.

An Expensive Proposition

Even when a house's interior and exterior look great, there could be problems lurking within the walls. The HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems are invisible to the average consumer, but they play an essential role in your quality of living – not to mention your pocketbook.

There could be problems with sewer lines, decaying ducts or outdated electrical products like knob-and-tube wiring – issues that could cost tens of thousands of dollars to remedy. A home inspector is your best friend when it comes to rooting out these hidden costs.

Insist on the Best

You don't want to rely on just anyone when it comes to something this important, so follow these tips to make sure you get the most from your home inspector:

  • Most real estate agents will recommend an inspector, but it's worth your while to do your own research. The agent has a financial interest in the sale going through, so your own inspector might be more forthright with you about major problems.
  • Check out online reviews like Angie's List to verify that the inspector you choose has a good reputation. A membership in the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors is also a good sign.
  • Ask how long your inspector has been in the business. Experience in other contracting areas is helpful, but home inspection requires specific skills and knowledge.
  • If the inspector points out a red flag in one of your home's systems, don't hesitate to hire a specialist -- like a plumber or electrician -- to confirm the findings and give a more precise estimate of what it would cost to address the problem.
  • Check the insurance. A good inspector has coverage for “errors and omissions” so you aren't left hanging if they make a mistake.
  • Have the inspector lead you on a tour to show you what he or she found and explain any trouble areas.
  • Get everything in writing. Make sure your inspector documents each step of the process, and get a copy of the paperwork so you have a record in case any issues come up down the road. Photographs of the home's condition are important as well.

To Buy or not to Buy

When an inspection turns up major problems, you can bring them to the seller and ask them to do the repair work, or at least cover part of the cost. Or, if an issue is serious enough, you could walk away from the sale altogether.

Once you take the plunge and make the purchase, don't forget to call an expert home services professional to make follow-up inspections every few years so you can spot any future problems before they develop.

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