The Benefits of an Inspection on a New House
Is it Your Dream Home Or a Money Pit?
If you’re shopping for a new home, don’t sign the final mortgage papers until you’ve had the house thoroughly inspected. It may appear to be your dream home, but it isn’t what you see that could end up costing you a fortune. It’s what you don’t see.
With existing homes, sellers are generally required to disclose known problems before they sell, although the homeowner may have no idea what lurks behind the walls, up the chimney, or inside the pipes. A home inspection can’t discover every latent problem, but it can shed light on most areas of concern. Arming yourself with an inspector’s report allows you to help buy (or walk away from) a house, knowing what you’re getting, or adjusting your offer accordingly.
The Appraisal versus the Inspection
Don’t confuse an appraisal report with a house inspection. An appraisal is really for the lender. It estimates the market value of the house and checks to see that it meets the minimum standards set by the Federal Housing Authority.
An appraiser is a specialist in valuing real estate, not evaluating a home’s structure and systems.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend that all homes be tested for radon.
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced
from the breakdown of uranium in rocks, soil, and water. Its presence has been linked to lung cancer. Although this is an important inspection, it may be one that you can do yourself with a kit purchased from a hardware store. You can get more information by clicking here or calling the EPA’s National Radon Hotline (1-800-SOS-RADON).
So if you’re hoping to cut corners and save a few dollars, the house inspection is not the place to do it. The price of an inspection depends on the geographical area, the age, size, and features of the home, and the scope of the report. Shop around and check local prices for home inspections, but don’t necessarily take the lowest price. An inadequate inspection is no bargain.
What is an Inspector Looking For?
An inspector will evaluate a home’s physical condition including the structure, construction, and mechanical systems. He or she may point out the positive points, as well as identify areas that need repair or replacement. Generally, an inspector will examine:
- Exterior features such as the roof, foundation, outside walls, chimneys, drainage, and decks.
- Interior features including floors, ceilings, beams, staircases, cornices, arches, windows, doors, electrical outlets and switches.
- Major systems such as heating, cooling, electrical, and interior plumbing.
- The attic and crawl space.
In addition, an inspector will usually provide an estimate of the remaining useful life the roof, structures, finishes, and major systems. Appliances may or may not be included in the inspection, so you should ask the inspector specifically if you want these items examined.
A pest inspector looks for various problems such as infestations of termites and flying beetles, dry rot, and other fungal conditions. Be sure the person you hire is a licensed structural pest control inspector with a good reputation. Some general house inspectors also qualify for this designation and will charge for the extra work.
Other features that may require a specialist to inspect are: swimming pools, septic systems and underground heating oil storage tanks. Again, some general inspectors are qualified to do these evaluations, but they are the exceptions.
If you are concerned about the health of trees on the property, this too, may require a specialist.
What Should You Look For?
Make sure that you hire an inspector who has no professional interest in the deal. The best way to find one can be to ask friends and colleagues who they have used successfully. Here are some other tips for hiring the right person:
- Ask for, and check, several references.
- Verify the status of the inspector’s license with the state licensing agency and ask if there are unresolved complaints.
- Check with your state consumer protection agency for information.
- Ask about liability insurance, including errors and omissions or malpractice insurance that covers possible negligence.
If the worst happens and an important defect is overlooked, an inspector’s insurance can provide money to pay the damages. Keep in mind that even the best inspector can’t see through walls and not every problem can be predicted.
To get local referrals, check with the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHIrequires its members to meet rigorous standards which include technical exams. The organization also sponsors continuing education and workshops to ensure inspectors remain knowledgeable. To prevent conflicts of interest, ASHI prohibits members from doing contracting work.
When Should an Inspection Take Place?
Many buyers wait until they sign contracts with sellers, which make the sale contingent on the findings of the inspection. If you do this, the contract should spell out the terms obligating both the buyer and the seller. As an alternative, you can schedule an inspection before making an offer. Of course, that means you’ll pay a fee even if you don’t buy the house.
A thorough inspection can take two to four hours. You don’t have to accompany the inspector, who will likely be crawling up on the roof, into the attic, and under the house. But it is wise to be nearby so the inspector can point out important findings and advise you about the repair or maintenance costs involved. That gives you an opportunity to ask questions and makes it easier to understand the written report when it is done. It also gives you the chance to evaluate if a particular problem is one you can live with or not.
It may seem like ordering a house inspection is an unnecessary, extra burden when you’re already spending so much to buy a home. But everyone has heard horror stories about homeowners who got stuck with houses that cost a fortune to repair, or worse, were not even habitable. Getting an opinion from an independent professional helps prevent future heartache and expense. Even if the inspection tells you what you already believed — that the house really is your dream home — it is a small price to pay for peace of mind.