Buying a new home is incredibly exciting. After all the hours searching online, hitting Sunday open houses, and finalizing mortgage approval, getting to closing feels especially sweet — whether it’s you’re a first-time buyer or are purchasing your second — or even tenth — home.
And buying a new new home? Well, there’s a special feeling that comes from knowing a house is being built just for you, and that you’ll be the first one to ever call it home.
Since new construction is, well, new, it’s reasonable to ask: Do I really need a home inspection before I close?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Surprised? Here’s why you should never skip a home inspection before taking ownership of a house — especially a brand new one.
The advantages of new construction
Buying a newly built house can be pretty special. Consider some of the advantages you can expect when you move into a freshly built house:
- Customization: If you are working closely with an architect and/or builder, you have an incredible opportunity to make the house plans come to life in a way that’s completely one-of-a-kind. Even if you buy new construction in a planned community, you’ll often be able to make choices about the build, including tweaks to the floorplan, finishes, appliances, and some upgrades to suit your needs and tastes.
- Technological advances: A new home lets you take advantage of all the latest advances. You’ll have the opportunity to choose internet-connected smart appliances, robust electrical service, and the latest building technology. These breakthroughs can mean faster and better builds, along with increased comfort and convenience once you move in.
- Efficiency: Some of the most important technological breakthroughs are the ones that allow new construction to be greener than old homes. Advanced insulation, improved windows, and more efficient HVAC systems will save you money in the long run by using less energy — and they’ll keep your carbon footprint smaller, too.
- Low maintenance: When all systems are new, you can expect them to function well for a long time. Sure, you’ll need to keep things tuned up, but it should be years before you need to think about replacing a roof, furnace, or dishwasher.
- Builder warranties: Many builders offer warranties to guarantee their work. Policies vary, but some states require one to two years on a general warranty and up to 10 for structural issues and water damage. It’s important to do your due diligence, but a warranty can provide peace of mind.
The disadvantages of new construction
With all of the advantages of new construction, it would seem like a home inspection would be a waste of time, right?
That’s because there are also plenty of disadvantages of new construction, too — and these are all the more harmful because they’re often hidden under the shiny veneer of that newly built house.
You may be surprised to learn that new construction has some drawbacks:
- The guinea pig factor: While it may be exciting to move into a house that no one else has ever lived in, it also means that you will be the one to test every system for the first time. Sure, someone turned on the furnace briefly when it was installed, but how will it hold up under the stress test of your first winter? Will the roof survive gale-force winds? You’re the one who’s going to find out!
- No record of problems: This would seem to be a good thing, but with new construction, the only reason there’s no record is because there wasn’t time to build one. With an older home, sellers must disclose known problems. With new construction, there may not be any known problems. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist — only that they haven’t been discovered.
- Builders are incentivized to rush: Time is money, and many builders work to erect and sell a house as quickly as possible. But speed is often the enemy of quality — the faster a house goes up, the more likely there you’ll find mistakes in wiring, plumbing, or any number of crucial components that make the difference between a safe house and one with serious problems.
- Not all builders are qualified: Some states don’t require licensure or training for home builders, and — depending on local laws — you might not have legal recourse if you discover problems after you move in. Your builder might be responsive during the construction process but disappear afterwards, leaving you high and dry to deal with any problems on your own.
With these caveats in mind, it’s pretty clear that even new construction has its problems. Fortunately, hiring a professional home inspector can help you discover issues before you buy and protect you from experiencing serious surprises in your new home — and having to shoulder the financial burden of fixing them.
What a home inspector does
A professional home inspector performs a thorough visual inspection of your new home, inside and out. Home inspectors typically have significant experience in home construction and have been trained to recognize problems that the average person simply wouldn’t notice. The inspector uses a comprehensive home inspection checklist to check out everything from the foundation to the chimney — and all that’s in between.
Specifically, you can count on your home inspector to follow a standard of practice that requires careful review the following areas of new construction:
- Structural components, including the foundation, framing walls, floors and ceilings
- Exterior components, including siding, flashing, trim, decks, railing and nearby hardscaping and landscaping
- Interior components, including stairs, railings, cabinetry, windows, doors and installed appliances
- Roofing systems, including shingles, drainage systems, skylights and more
- Electrical systems, including the service panel, grounding, wiring, switches, fixtures and more
- Plumbing systems, including water supply, drains and sewer lines, pipes and venting systems
- HVAC systems, including furnaces, air conditioners, ductwork, exhaust systems, fireplaces and chimneys
Your inspector will note any problems in these systems and create a complete report that details the issues they have found. This report will be incredibly valuable for you for several reasons. You can use it to discuss problems with the builder and add items to the punch list of items to complete or fix on the final walkthrough of the property. You should never feel pressured to sign off on the builder’s work until you are satisfied, and the inspector’s report can give you some backup as you near the end of the process.
If you are working with a real estate agent to purchase a new home that has already been completed, the inspection report can serve as an important negotiating tool. You can ask the builder to fix problems before you complete the sale, or your real estate agent may suggest bargaining down the sale price so you have money left over to fix issues on your own.
Home inspections vs. municipal code inspections
One of the most-asked questions about home inspections for new construction is this:
Aren’t new houses already inspected by the city that issued the building permit?
They are, but municipal inspections are very different from those conducted by licensed home inspectors. That’s because the inspections that cities and towns do as part of the permitting process are mainly concerned with making sure the building complies with local codes. These vary across regions, and it’s important to remember that codes are just a minimum standard to follow. Building codes cover the basics, but the finer points of construction aren’t typically addressed. Municipal building inspectors check out the work of trades like plumbing and electrical for safety and eventually issue a certificate of occupancy that clears the building to be legally sold. But that’s about it — and in areas with booming construction markets, they can be stretched quite thin, leading to more cursory once-overs.
On the other hand, a qualified home inspector works for you, not the local government’s building department. Your inspector will conduct a far more thorough inspection that covers all of the areas listed above. They’ll also answer all your questions about the property, including providing explanations of how various components work, how often to service them, and what to expect as your house ages. It’s valuable advice that’s a huge bonus on top of your inspection report.
Find a great home inspector today
If you’re working with a real estate agent, they’ll almost certainly have recommendations for reputable home inspectors in your area. But if you’re working directly with a builder, don’t worry: You can still choose a great home inspector on your own. You’ll want to check for proper licensure and check reviews and referrals. You may also want to chat on the phone a bit to get a sense of a potential inspector’s style. After all, you should feel totally comfortable asking questions, and you should feel confident that you’ll understand the explanations you get in response.
For more help finding a great home inspector for new construction, try HomeGauge’s “Find a home inspector” tool. We work with excellent home inspectors from across the United States, Canada, and more, so we’ve put together a database to make it simple to connect with a qualified professional near you.