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Home Inspections: A Buyer’s Reassurance Policy

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Home Inspections: A Buyer’s Reassurance Policy

Buying a home is an exciting experience, but sometimes it can be overwhelming simply because there are so many things to think about: arranging a mortgage, making timely deposits, finding an attorney to handle the closing and arranging for a home inspection.  The ink is barely dry on the contract to purchase before buyers are expected to fly into action and accomplish all that needs to be done often in as little as 4-6 weeks.

Early Preparation Pays Off

The earlier you prepare for each phase of your home purchase, the less stressful and more informative your experience will be.  Just as you contact a lender to ascertain all the documents and records he will require of you before you begin your search for your new home, so too should you learn about what is involved with a home inspection long before that perfect house is located.

If you are already working with an agent, ask the agent for names of local, dependable home and septic inspection companies, then contact several companies or visit their company websites to learn what services are offered and to ask about rates. As always, compare rates between companies.  Gathering your information early will allow you to make informative choices when the time comes.

Do I Need a Home Inspection?

This is a one-word answer-ABSOLUTELY!  A home inspection is as close as you can get to an assurance policy-assurance that you know what you are buying.  No legal entity requires a home inspection, but every home buyer is strongly advised to never buy a home without one.

The inspection alerts you to any existing and possible future problems with the home.  Does the roof leak?  Is the foundation solid?  Is there termite damage?  Is the furnace near the end of its useful life?  Question such as these are not superfluous questions, but information that you need to know for your own safety and peace of mind.

In most states, sellers are required to divulge any known material defects such as a bulging wall, unstable foundation or a sagging ceiling.  These are visible defects and easy to see.  Sometimes, however, a home has a significant defect of which the seller is legitimately unaware such as black mold under old wallpaper or an asbestos lining in a furnace box.  A good home inspector will go over the home with a fine tooth comb and unearth anything dangerous or unstable.

Can you buy a home without a home inspection?  Absolutely, but the risk is entirely yours. Should you discover a defect after your purchase, you will have to consult an attorney to determine if you have legal recourse.

Who Pays for the Home Inspection?

The answer to this question depends on the local real estate practices in your area and on market conditions.  In a normal market, usually it is the buyer’s expense, but sometimes the seller, as an incentive to the buyer, will offer to pay for the inspection, especially in a slow market or what is termed a buyer’s market.  That said, as in most facets of real estate, the choice of who pays for the inspection can be negotiated.  For example, let’s say you perceive that the seller has countered your offer with his bottom line asking price.  You could pay his price, you really want the house, but you feel the price should be a bit lower.  When you counter the seller, you could say that you will accept his price, but you want him to pay for the home inspection.  He may refuse, but he may not!  It never hurts to ask.

Scheduling the Home Inspection

A home inspection is scheduled after the buyer has signed a contract to purchase with the seller and secured the agreement with a first deposit. Usually, the arrangements are made as soon as possible as a courtesy to the Seller who has removed his home from the active sale market in order to go forward with the proposed sale.  If the sale falls through, the seller does not want to have his house off the market for very long so the sooner every contingency is removed from the contract to purchase (and an inspection is a contingency) the better for the seller. Your agent can tell you what timing is customary in your area, but usually it is with the first 5-7 days of both principals signing the contract to purchase.

A Home Inspection is a Contract Contingency

Most real estate contracts to purchase are straightforward and contain 2 major contingencies, mortgage and home inspection.  Simply put, the buyer must be able to obtain a mortgage (or pay cash) and be satisfied with the home inspection (or waive the right to a home inspection) before the process can move forward to closing.

Part of the home inspection contingency is the right of the buyer to ask the seller to make repairs based on the home inspection results.  The seller may refuse to make any repairs, make some repairs or agree to all of the buyer’s requests.  All requests/repairs are negotiable.  The negotiating period over repairs is completed in a timely fashion, with each principal usually given 48 hours to respond to the other and sometimes requests and responses go back and forth several times before arriving at an agreeable resolution.

Once resolution is established, the home inspection contingency is said to be removed from the contract.  If agreement cannot be met, the seller is legally entitled to withdraw from the purchase contract and have his deposits returned.  The exact methodology for withdrawing varies from state to state.

Components of the Home Inspection

The home inspection itself is exactly that, an inspection of the home itself (see below for a list of what one company inspects).  In addition, the buyer may want other tests done during the inspection.  Depending on the area in which you are buying, some tests are more common than others.  Ask your agent to suggest the usual ones done in your buying area and check with the inspection company to see if they can complete all of the tests that you require.

Some examples of the tests that buyers request are:
radon levels in water
radon levels in air
testing drinking water to see if it is potable
septic inspection and
insect inspection.

Obviously, if you don’t have a septic system, you will not want it inspected.  However, if you do require a septic inspection, be sure to ask if the home inspection company will do it for you, arrange to have it done for you by another company or if you need to hire a septic company yourself.

Some home inspection companies will arrange to have a septic inspection company present on the same day as the home inspection which makes it easy to attend both inspections at once. If the septic inspection is scheduled on a different day from the home inspection, you will want to be there.

The Process

A home inspection can take from 2-4 hours, depending on the size of the home/condo and the thoroughness of the inspector.  Usually the seller’s agent, the buyer’s agent and the buyers attend.  The seller is absent.  It is wise for buyers to be present to learn everything they can about their potential future home.  Ask questions about systems that you don’t understand or for suggestions on maintenance.  Inspectors are happy to answer questions about the importance of various findings and any other questions pertinent to the inspection.  Some inspectors will systematically inspect a particular system or area, then bring concerns directly thereafter to the buyer’s attention.  Some prefer to save issues needing attention until the end of the inspection, then summarize.  In addition to a verbal review, most inspectors will give the buyer and the buyer’s agent a written copy of the inspection results before leaving the property or soon thereafter.  Hang on to your report.  Your will want to discuss the results with your agent to determine if you want to request particular repairs from the seller.

A home inspection is a buyer’s reassurance policy.  Don’t buy a home without one!

Major Areas Inspected

Exterior chimney
Exterior siding
Exterior trim
Exposed gutters and downspouts
Foundations and sills
Yard drainage and landscape
Basement entrance
Window wells
Exterior outlets and lighting
Any evidence of wood destroying insects
Ground pitch (making sure it is away from the home)
Exterior and interior of garage, decks, porches, walkways and driveways
Retaining walls

Structural inspection of accessible foundation, floor, walls and sills
Complete inspection of doors including (operation) electric opener
Fume barrier and fire door
Fire grade sheetrock
Check for evidence of wood destroying insects

Accessible foundation and floor
Crawl area and ventilation
Load bearing girders
Support columns
Sill, sub floor and floor joists
Interior chimney
Check for evidence of wood destroying insects
Inspect for water penetration, past or present

Fire grade sheetrock
Emergency shut off
Exposed flue and damper from heat plant
Fire box liner
Circulator pump
Zone valve and pipes
Furnace, circulator fan and filter
Duct work (in basement)
Fuel Tank

Compressor Evaporator unit
Service line
Condenser drain
Temperature at service line
Electric disconnect
Compressor slab

Accessible wiring
Service panel box
Fuses and circuit breakers
Service panel box
Junction box covers
Switch plate covers

Supply and waste systems
Visual condition of accessible feed lines and connectors within structure
Visual condition of accessible waste lines/connections within structure
Main vent stack
Accessible well equipment
Laundry tub
Washer/dryer connections
Hot water heater
Interior sewer ejector pump

Fireplace/wood stove
Stairway and handrail
Bathroom and all fixtures including tile/fiberglass
Kitchen and all fixtures
Appliances: stove, garbage disposal, dishwasher
Ceilings, windows, walls, floors, doors, electrical outlets, heat sources in every room

Attic/Vent Insulation

Access to attic
Structural supports
Roof backings
Ceiling joist
Flashing Insulation (visible attic only)
Whole house fan
Evidence of water penetration

Pat Perkins is a writer for Yodle, a business directory and online advertising company. Find a Inspector or more construction articles at Yodle Consumer Guide. Home Inspections: A Buyer’s Reassurance Policy

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