The price is right, the neighborhood desirable and the house perfect. But before you plunk down money on that resale, think with your head instead of your heart and hire a home inspector. Otherwise your dream home could become your worst nightmare.
Today, wise buyers make the purchase of a home contingent on a satisfactory whole-house inspection. That allows them to pull out of the deal if the inspection turns up serious defects too costly to repair. Savvy sellers tap the skills of home inspectors, too. By uncovering problems beforehand, they can correct them before the house goes on the market.
"A home inspector has the ability to see the forest through the trees," says Frank Lesh, president of the 6,000-member American Society of Home Inspectors, North America's oldest and largest association of professional home inspectors. "While the home buyer is envisioning how much fun the children are going to have playing in the new house, the home inspector is reporting on potentially unsafe conditions," Lesh notes.
Although there are several thousand home inspectors operating either independently, through a franchise or as part of a large company, not every state requires them to be licensed, even those with tough seller disclosure laws. Housing inspectors do not need licenses in California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Vermont or Wyoming.
Most licensed professionals are affiliated with one or more professional organizations like ASHI or the National Society of Home Inspectors, which provide standardized testing, codes of ethics and courses that keep members abreast of new materials and construction standards.
Whole-house inspections usually cost $200 to $600 depending on location. If you've agreed to buy or sell a house, the inspection may have to be completed within a narrow time frame specified in the sales contract. National home inspector organizations like ASHI can provide you with the names of members in your area, either via the Web ( www.ashi.org) or by phone. NAHI's Web site ( www.nahi.org) also provides current state-by-state licensing information.
Though buyers often depend on their real estate agents to direct them to local home inspectors, that's not always prudent. Since agents have a vested interest in seeing the sale go through, you may not get the names of tough inspectors for fear they could kill the deal. Before you retain a home inspector, ask for recommendations from friends or business associates.
Whether you're buying or selling, plan to be on hand for the inspection, which could last a few hours. That way you'll have an opportunity to see and get advice on solving any of the problems that are uncovered.
Expect the inspector to look for damaged or decayed roofing, poor drainage, electrical hazards, rotted wood, additions or alterations not up to code, unsafe fireplaces or chimneys, non-working air handling systems, faulty water heaters, gas heaters that need maintenance or repair, foundation cracks and garage fire wall violations. The condition of appliances, faucets, insulation, doors, windows, sidewalks and driveways, and concrete floors should also be part of the inspection package. A comprehensive written report should be in your hands well before the closing. A termite inspection is usually handled separately.
If you own the house, make sure the inspector gets total access. That may mean clearing out the attic and garage as well as unblocking entrances to crawl spaces. Utilities should be turned on, electric panels put within easy reach, and sinks, showers, tubs and kitchen appliances made free of personal or stored items. If you have pets, either secure them or temporarily move them elsewhere.