It is rare when a home buyer does not have a home inspection done before purchasing a home. Under law the Seller must disclose to the Buyer all known facts that materially and adversely affect the value of the property being sold and that are not readily observable. The key word here is known. There are often things wrong with the home that the Seller really does not know about, even if he is living in the home. The home inspection checks the interior and exterior of the home, goes up into the attic space, and goes in the crawl space, if there is one. The price of a home inspection will vary with the size of home and with the amenities of the home (crawlspace, pool, etc.).
Choosing an Inspector: Be sure the inspector you hire is licensed and certified. Does he belong to a professional association such as ASHI? What are the qualifications and background of the person actually doing the inspection? How long has he been doing inspections? What type of report does he prepare? Does he distinguish between comments that are general and those that are specific to your property? Does he welcome you to be there during the inspection? The Seller? Is he willing to answer questions as he goes along, and to explain how things work? Will he differentiate observations from problems? To what extent does he stand behind his work?
What's the point? The inspection is done to determine whether any warranted items are in need of repair. Generally the Seller warrants that the structure (including roofs and pool) are structurally sound and are watertight, and that the appliances, heating, cooling, mechanical, electrical, security, sprinkler, plumbing systems, seawall, dock and pool equipment, if any, are in working condition and will be maintained in working condition until closing. The Seller does not warrant and is not required to repair cosmetic conditions (unless the cosmetic condition resulted from a defect in a warranted item). Cosmetic conditions means aesthetic imperfections that do not affect the working condition of the item, such as tears, worn spots and discoloration of floor coverings/wallpapers/window treatments; nail homes, scratches, dents, scraped, chips and caulking in bathroom ceiling/walls/flooring/tile/fixtures/mirrors; tears or holes in screens; and minor cracks in windows/driveways/sidewalks/pool decks/garage and patio floors. The Seller is not obligated to bring any items into compliance with existing building code regulations (unless necessary to repair a warranted item). Codes are constantly changing, and vary from one municipality to another. If the items was installed properly under the code existing at the time of installation, no more can be required. The inspector will point out items that he recommends bringing to current code, such as GFI outlets, but this is a Buyer option, not a Seller requirement.
Note that most contracts provide that any repairs must be done by a licensed contractor or repair person.
Items Commonly Noted in an Inspection:
Electrical panel: a fuse that is double lugged.
Pool equipment and/or screen enclosure that needs to be grounded.
Faucet that will not turn completely off.
Outlet that does not have power.