When purchasing a home, it is always recommended to perform a variety of inspections to satisfy the buyer. The buyer can opt to perform a range of inspections to make sure that you are well informed about what you are buying based on the condition of the home. You can perform as many or as few inspections as you want. I have had buyers bring their construction buddy over to the home to take a look, or their handy father (or mother). But the most common method is for a buyer to hire a home inspector. These inspectors will go through the majority of the house, looking for flaws. Their purpose is to find defects, and believe me, they will! They will generate a report detailing what they find. This report is usually many pages long, some reaching 20 pages or more. They usually know more than a handy uncle because they inspect hundreds of houses every year.
The main reason for an inspection, though, is to make sure there is a balance with how much you are offering on the home and what you are getting. It is to know the home's defects are accounted for within the pricing of the home itself. So if there a dozen of items to fix that total $300, that may be just fine and you may expect that. But if the inspection turns up a $6000 sewer line problem, you may have expected a properly working sewer line for the price you are paying for the house. This gives us the opportunity to renegotiate the price or ask for repairs so that the expectations of the house match the price you are paying for it.
Besides the general inspection, you can also perform specialized inspections. I recommend also doing a sewer line inspection, a radon inspection, and a fireplace chimney inspection. Other types of inspections include structural, or environmental hazard (radon, lead, arsenic, etc.) electric or plumbing (as separate from the general inspection), and several other types of inspections.
It is a good idea to chat with a few potential inspectors before making an offer on a home regarding items such as:
Some of them may be willing to provide a sample report to you. Or you can take a look at this sample report.
When it comes down to the inspection time frame, most are available to schedule an appointment within 2 or 3 days of the request. They usually will take roughly between 2 and 3 hours. You don't need to be there the whole time and many will ask you to be there for the last hour or hour and a half.
That's the basics of inspections.
Once you have the results of an inspection, what do you do with it? I've addressed that in this post called How to resolve inspection issues.