If you’re a first-time buyer who just nabbed your first place, you’re likely in one of the scarier places in the real estate transaction. Before choosing paint colors, you’ll need to inspect.

If you’re feeling nervous, you’re not alone. The property inspection is one of the most important parts of the home purchase process, yet many buyers don’t know what to expect.

Here’s a guide to the roles and responsibilities each of the players has during a typical property inspection.

You, the buyer

You’re there to learn as much about the property as possible. But you should have already done your homework before the big day.

Before the inspection, review the seller’s property disclosures or building department documentation you received along the way.  The listing agent may have pointed out some known issues. Write down a list of questions or concerns you have about the home.

Block out a few hours on the day, depending on what you need to inspect.  Ask your real estate agent which inspections are typical in your market. Most inspections go smoothly, but some can be the beginning of tough negotiations.

The buyer’s agent

Your agent should be standing by your side to walk you through the inspection.

Good agents have been through dozens of inspections and know the drill, what to look for, and, most importantly, what’s important and what matters in the big picture. Cracked grout in the bathtub tile doesn’t matter when you have a safety issue with the electrical panel.

The listing agent

In some parts of the country, the listing agent won’t show up. But in others, they are present to represent the seller. After all, it’s their home you’re inspecting.

An intelligent listing agent will be front and center as the eyes and ears of the property inspection because they are the most familiar with the property, and are there to address any issues that come up.

For the seller and the listing agent, the inspection is one of the last hurdles to get through, and a big unknown. Issues, questions or concerns could arise during the inspection, which could kill the sale or affect the property’s value.

Though the listing agent is there to be an advocate for the seller, everyone should come with the same goal in mind: to facilitate a clean sales transaction.

The inspector

As the buyer, you hire the property inspector, who should be licensed by the state. You sign an agreement with and pay the inspector. Most buyers get a referral for an inspector from their real estate agent.

The inspector is not a contractor, though some inspectors were contractors in their previous careers. While they may be able to shed light on what you can or can’t do to a property and its potential costs, their objective is to inspect the property, its systems and the overall state of the home.

A good inspector will remain impartial and not be an alarmist, though they will point out concerns that need to be addressed. The inspector isn’t a part of the transaction, and shouldn’t get into the nitty-gritty of your deal – nor would they want to.

The inspector should look around, make notes and provide you with a detailed report as well as some feedback on future maintenance.

Be sure to walk around with the inspector. Get on the roof, go into the basement, venture into the crawlspace. It will be helpful for the inspector to point things out to you in real time and demonstrate where the systems are and how they work. Also, some things are better understood in person than read about in a report days later.

Your Uncle Bob

Finally, it’s important to comprehend why having Uncle Bob, a handyman or an electrical contractor on hand during the inspection is a bad idea.

While it may seem logical to bring a relative or close friend who is a contractor, be mindful that these people aren’t licensed property inspectors. Sometimes, the most well-intentioned people will end up causing harmful consequences.

Uncle Bob may feel it’s important to point out as many negative things as possible, just to seem helpful. He’s far from impartial, however, and hasn’t been a part of your home-buying journey or recent negotiations. You run the risk of raising unnecessary red flags.

Time for a huddle

After the inspection, you and your agent will likely huddle to talk about what went on and to strategize next steps. Hopefully, the inspection was flawless, and you’re one step closer to picking out your new paint colors.

If not, you may need to do more negotiations after the inspection. Hopefully, the inspections weren’t so bad that you walk away. But sometimes it happens.

Either way, it helps to know what to expect going in and to prepare for anything.

Shopping for a home? Check out our Home Buyers Guide for tips and resources.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published February 13, 2012.

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