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Thursday, March 25, 2010 06:15 pm

Why you need a home inspection

It’s the difference between your dream home and a nightmare

art7126

The best $300 my fiancée and I spent in the process of buying our first home did not contribute in the slightest to the actual purchase price. Rather, it kept us from purchasing a home that would have been a disaster to live in.

The modest fee was the cost of the home inspection on the first home we entered into contract on, a cosmetically gorgeous three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo with a huge backyard.

It was, in fact, too good to be true, as our hero home inspector eventually discovered. Among her findings:

  • An improperly sealed and pitched roof, with chimneys is disrepair
  • Shoddy masonry and tuckpointing
  • Improperly installed mechanicals
  • Presence of mold in the basement
  • [Fill in the blank] not up to city code

We did not even complete a full inspection, let alone read the report before we decided then and there to back out. And, of course, our inspector gained clients for life.

Hiring an inspector is a “makes sense” thing, says Steve Ramos, owner of Envirovue Home Inspection in Petaluma, Calif., and featured certified home inspector on the HGTV program House Detectives. Ramos lays it out, simply: A buyer is going to pay a few hundred dollars for an inspection that, on the low end, may find four to five times that amount in repairs.

“There’s a lot that goes into deciding if you want to buy a house,” he says. “All it comes back to is value. Is what I’m paying for the house worth it?”

The urge to become a homeowner should not overpower the importance of protecting yourself with an inspection. “I think there’s an element out there, a little inexperience, a little eagerness because there is an opportunity and a window to close,” Ramos says of the first-time buyer tax credit, noting that banks and other sellers are really trying to shorten the time required to complete an inspection. Good inspectors are going to be busy, so buyers may find themselves at the end of their contract contingency period with the bank or sellers trying to force a decision.

“Push for a 10- to 15-day inspection period so you can make a little bit better-educated decision,” Ramos says,

Inspecting your inspector
Just like your buyer’s agent, you want to find an objective, independent inspector who has only your interests in mind.

“If you can, get a referral from someone you trust who doesn’t have a vested interest in the closing transaction,” Ramos says. Find some others, as well, to compare.

Be sure to ask how long the inspector has been in business and if you can see a sample report. A lot of times you can tell a lot of how an inspector inspects by reading their report, says Ramos.

Membership in professional organizations, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, is a good indicator of a knowledgeable inspector. In addition, check into any state requirements.

Inspector gadgets
A more general way to assess an inspector it to look at the inspector’s business as a whole.

“If an inspector is willing to invest a lot of money in their business, they’re serious about what they do,” says Ramos, who says he has invested between $20,000 and $25,000 in tech equipment for his business. “It helps me find more potential issues for my clients,” he adds.

Infrared meters, for instance, can detect moisture by variances in wall and ceiling temperatures, in addition to finding missing insulation and potential problems with heating and cooling systems.

An inspection can uncover problems or major repairs needed on big-tickets items, such as roofs or the exterior of the structure, which can run anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $10,000, according to Ramos.

On the safety side, old electrical panels are a concern. Ground-fault circuit interrupters -- outlets with the little turn-off button -- should be anywhere that “people, water and electricity come together” says Ramos, such as the kitchen and garage.

The remediation process
Some problems may be significant enough that a buyer wants them fixed before moving forward to contract, or to closing if an offer has already been made.

“Start at the top of the list with safety issues, such as GFCIs and updating the wiring/electrical panels,” Ramos says. “Almost as important is anything water-related.

When you have leaking plumbing, it leads to one of two things: mold or wood rot,” Ramos says. “Water and water damage cause a significant amount of property damage.”

There’s no harm in becoming well-versed in the inspection process. “The most I’ve ever worked with a client was three houses, maybe once or twice,” Ramos says. “It’s a little more common to get a repeat customer, but they’re usually a little more educated the next time around.”