DC Home Inspections

Author: Susan Isaacs | The Isaacs Team

A home inspection will cost you a few hundred dollars–and that small investment can sometimes prevent you from making a mistake costing tens of thousands.

Pre-Offer Inspections & Inspection Contingencies


In a scenario involving multiple offers, a pre-offer inspection can make your offer more competitive. When your offer is not pitted against others, an inspection contingency may be used. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, but the greatest disadvantage is not obtaining an inspection at all!

The ‘General’ DC Home Inspection

General DC home inspections provide an examination of the visible and accessible components of the home you’re purchasing. Inspectors are not able to create openings in walls, ceilings or floors, pull toilets, hardware, sinks or appliances to inspect or scope plumbing, wiring or interior components. Inspectors are typically not structural engineers, master plumbers, electricians or contractors. Some inspectors are members of ASHI and INACHI, some are not. Some offer additional features such as infrared thermography, some add it for an additional fee, and some do not.

You’ll receive a written report, photographs from some inspectors (others don’t provide them), and you’ll hear the inspector’s comments as he inspects the home if you attend inspection (highly recommended). There are a few categories that require your particular attention:

  • Major defects (these should be noted as “significant” on your report)
  • Issues that contribute to major defects
  • Issues your lender may require you or the homeowner to address in order to provide loan approval (often related to FHA and VA loans, but not exclusively)
  • Safety hazards and/or code infractions

If warranted, these items should be addressed, either by you, the new home owner, or by the seller if you have included a standard inspection clause in your contract and they can be successfully negotiated in the form of repairs or credits.

All District of Columbia residential real estate is now sold effectively “as is”, with sellers only required to provide a disclaimer in lieu of a disclosure. GCAAR contract changes over the past decade eliminated “Section 7” requiring mechanicals to be in good working condition, safety hazard items to be addressed, etc. Now, sellers are under no obligation to negotiate to make repairs unless the contract specifically requires it.

No home is a ‘perfect 10’ and with the advanced age of homes in many areas of the District, we see more 4’s, 5’s and 6’s than 9’s. There are a huge number of pieces and parts to the average home, some made by fallible machines, some by fallible humans, all installed by humans. Time, weather, wear and maintenance affect the condition of a home through the years, decades and centuries. Some settlement, deterioration and dated components are inevitable. Even a new home is not exempt from issues.

Remember that homes are generally priced with condition in mind. Maintain perspective on the home’s value in the market and try not to overreact to inspection issues. Houses are bricks, glass and sticks—almost anything can be repaired or rebuilt, it’s just a question of cost relative to the purchase price of the home and the end market value.

    Michael Says

    “I went to The Isaacs Team after working with another realtor that wasn’t really delivering the level of detail on potential homes that I was seeking. Susan and Alex not only met, but exceeded my expectations in the level of knowledge I sought. Their level of professionalism has secured them a client in me, for all future property purchases.”

    The ‘Specialty’ DC Home Inspection

      There are a number of ‘specialty’ DC home inspections buyers may consider in addition to a general inspection. Some are required of particular property types, such as pest inspections for single family dwellings, and condo inspections for condos and co-ops.

      Recommended for “flips” and significant renovations:


      If the property is a fee simple, single family home and sufficient documentation has not been provided to disclose the age, type and condition of the roof, a buyer may want to order a roof inspection. A company specializing in roofing will offer a detailed analysis and can provide estimates for repair and replacement. Roof inspections are ordered separately from the general home inspection. General DC home inspections will typically gain access through available interior hatches or walk attics to ascertain whether or not there may be active leaks emanating from the roof and if insulation and ventilation are sufficient, but only a roofing specialist will carry the ladders and insurance necessary to access and fully inspect all heights and types of Washington DC roofs. Reports generally take 24-72 hours to obtain once the inspection is completed and may or may not include photos, depending on the inspection provider. Some providers conduct inspections free of charge and some charge a fee. It is preferred that you are present during a roof inspection to gain full insight as to the condition of the roof if your inspection contingency deadline is brief.


      A pest inspection is desirable on a fee simple, single family home whether or not your lender requires it. These inspections include examination of the property for carpenter bees, rats, mice and termites, among other pests. The inspection should identify any new or existing damage resulting from pests. Under the standard terms of the GCAAR contract, the buyer or seller (depending on designation) pays for the inspection and the seller pays for required repairs/remediation. We recommend the buyer pay for the inspection in order to control the choice of inspection provider and to ensure that the company is working for the buyer, not the seller. Pest inspections average between $80 and $175., depending on the provider and property. You’ll receive an inspection report within a few days of the inspection. A pest inspection should be performed 7-10 days prior to settlement for the most recent termite report possible and to leave time for the seller to  effect repairs, if needed.


      A condo and co-op inspection differs somewhat from a fee simple general home inspection. Inspections take place within the four walls of the unit. This is the area of responsibility for the condo and co-op owner. Common areas, such as exteriors, rooftops, landscaping, hallways and what’s inside the walls, under the floors and in the ceilings (slight variations may be specified in some condo and co-op resale package documents) are all the responsibility of the association and therefore not subject to inspection. These inspections primarily include assessment of the operational condition of appliances, electrical outlets and light fixtures, the HVAC elements designated as the owner’s responsibility and overall functionality. Cosmetic issues, unless they are a hazard, should not be included in an inspection. While condo and co-op buyers are not responsible for maintenance of the common areas of the project, there should be some concern for the quality and scope of building maintenance, as well as its funding, since these can lead to higher fees and special assessments. Rather than an inspection issue, investigating maintenance and repair budgets outlined in the resale certificate package is part of a buyer’s due diligence.


      Sewer scoping (or “camera”) inspections for single family homes can be an advantage in detecting breaks in the sewer line. Replacing a sewer line is a major expense and damaging to the adjacent landscaping. All pipe condition will reflect the home’s age, but the pipe’s condition can also be affected by its material, maintenance, and usage, as well as vegetation in its surrounding area. Tree roots are one of the main causes of sewer line breaks. Sewer line scoping is a way to determine the extent of breaks and wear and to flag areas of concern that can be mended or replaced before a break occurs.

      Unfortunately, many DC scoping companies have stopped performing pre-ownership inspection scopes since the seller must authorize and take responsibility for any resulting damage (pulling sinks and toilets to apply scope if there is no clean-out option) and lost camera equipment. Sellers are almost always unwilling to do this. Even if a buyer is unable to obtain a sewer scoping prior to taking ownership of the home, it is recommended to have one as soon as possible following settlement. It will not only help the new home owner to create a budget plan for future repairs, but a good sewer scoping provider will be able to track the line for the home owner, providing a valuable roadmap to non-invasive landscaping and maintenance.


      The pre-settlement inspection is used to identify issues that have–or have not been corrected following an earlier inspection as part of a resale transaction. Your inspector will return to the property for an additional fee to test the repairs, or cite the lack of them. Depending on the significance of the repairs in question, buyers may want to bear this added expense or forego it if the repair or replacement provides a warranty and can be easily tested by the buyer at walk-through.
      Pre-settlement inspections may also be used as a primary inspection for new construction purchases if  the buyer missed a contractual opportunity for a pre-drywall inspection, or wasn’t allowed one by the builder. Developers often refuse to commit in writing to remedying all inspection items listed on an outside inspector’s report. They’ll say they don’t know which inspection provider  you’ll be using or the inspector’s level of expertise, whether or not the inspector understands new construction, and how realistic the list will be. That’s fair, but buyers do need some protection. Make sure your agent is knowledgeable and experienced in negotiating with developers for outside inspections.


      “As is” properties prevent buyers from making purchases contingent upon inspection or asking for remedy for defects. “As is” means exactly what the term implies; no right to negotiate and no requests for seller credits. If you have included or agreed to this clause in your contract along with a “courtesy” or “informational only” inspection, you may have an inspection but you have already agreed not to request corrections or credits. Buyers may also choose to conduct a pre-offer inspection, if allowed by the seller. In this case, it is recommended to have every possible inspection performed, as applicable to the property type.


      If you’re buying a “flip” (a home a renovator has purchased and upgraded or renovated for resale), we recommend every inspection you can obtain in the time you have to inspect before making an offer, or during the contingency period. Highly recommended are inspections by a structural engineer, HVAC, plumbing and roofing specialists. Their ability to make determinations will be limited by access.

      Buyers should also research DCRA records pertaining to permit applications, permits granted, permit-related inspections, surveys for fencing and other potential encroachments, etc.  You can find links for permit research in our Tools section. 

      Your agent will not perform this research for you or make representations as to the quality of the work, permit requirements, code requirements, etc., it is part of a buyer’s due diligence. Read our section on “flips” and renovations on our Buying New Construction page.

        There are two types of inspections buyers can choose from:


        Walk Through Inspections

        Walk Through inspections require that the buyer or a representative be present at the inspection and follow the inspector through the process. The inspector will explain issues and point out conditions as the inspection progresses. No written report is included with this type of inspection. Because the inspector doesn’t have to take notes and photographs, the inspection takes less time, and is therefore less expensive.  Sometimes the cost difference isn’t significant, however, and buyers will benefit from having a report to refer to later if they want to have vendors correct items, and when they resell. If an inspection contingency is included in the buyer’s contract provisions, a written report will be required.

        Full Inspections

        Full inspections do not require that the buyer or a representative be present at the inspection (though it is recommended).  The buyer will typically wait until the inspection is completed abefore reviewing a shortlist of significant issues with the inspector, who will issue a written report within 48 hours, usually including photos. This is the standard inspection most buyers request.

        Our Tips

          Here are some tips that will help make your home inspection more informative and useful:


          Pay Special Attention

          HVAC & Other Mechanicals

          Pay close attention to the age and condition of the home’s mechanical components. Have they been regularly serviced? Are they showing signs of undue wear or failure? Are they reaching or past the end of their life expectancy? Mechanicals are some of the most costly components of a home.


          Discuss the condition of the roof with your inspector.  A general inspector will not typically carry the 20-40′ ladder that many roofs in the District require for access, and interior access may not be available. Your inspector will not attempt to access the roof in poor weather conditions such as rain, snow or icy conditions, so if the roof is a major concern, leave enough time in your pre-offer inspection period or contract contingency for a specialty roof inspection.

          Water Pressure

          Be sure to stand by when your inspector runs the shower and faucets to make sure the pressure suits your needs. Ask about remedies for weak pressure.


          Don’t operate windows yourself! Stand by as your inspector tests each one. You want to make sure they’re all operable and make note of any issues. Windows are a costly component of a home.


          Other Questions

          Repair Costs

          Your inspector won’t give quotes as they are not vendors, but an experienced inspector can suggest a cost range for various repairs and replacements. This can be valuable information if you have an itemized inspection contingency, or if you plan to get bids for work after closing.

          Float Potential Removation Ideas

          Your inspector isn’t a structural engineer and won’t guarantee you can pull a wall down or expand the rear of the home, but they should have a fair working knowledge of home construction that would allow them to weigh in casually on whether or not your renovation idea will fly. *If renovation is key to your purchase, you’ll want to have a qualified structural engineer inspect the home, and ideally your contractor would walk it with you pre-offer, as well.

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