You have just found that perfect home – the right location, the right size, the right finishes, the right price — and your offer is accepted! Now, you want a home inspector to evaluate the condition of your new investment. What should you do as a buyer? How do you utilize the opportunity to your advantage? Don’t sweat it – prepare to make the most of the inspection. A smart consumer can use a home inspector to help understand their new property and remove the risks and anxiety of the major purchase.
Reprinted from Wisconsin Home Gallery Magazine
By: Tom Feiza – “Mr. Fix-It”
Selecting an inspector
Home inspectors come in as many shapes and sizes as homes. Find a qualified individual who will provide a detailed inspection and useful information. You should look for an inspector that is a member of a professional organization such at the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the NARI Home Improvement Council, or a similar construction related group. This insures you have an individual who was taken the time to be involved in the industry on a professional level and has meet the qualification standards of the group.
The ASHI group also provides a nationwide “standards of practice” that assures a certain level of inspection standards. Inspectors who work under the ASHI standards also conform to a code of ethics – the inspector may not have a commission agreement with real estate agents, and will not do any of the repairs he may recommend. Members must pass an exam and the organization provides continuing education programs.
Check references and backgrounds. Talk to friends, relatives, and trusted individuals in the construction and real estate business. Look for technical and practical experience in engineering, home construction, and home repair. If the inspection company is also involved in home repair or other aspects of real estate services, you need understand the “independent” inspector may also be there to sell you other services.
For larger firms, ask for the qualifications of the specific inspector assigned to your job. Call several firms and don’t be too sensitive to the cost – you are paying for the time and experience of the inspector. The time of an experienced individual will cost more. A cheap inspection may just be that – a quick and cheap inspection.
Require a written report and ask about the details included in the report. Every major system and component should be inspected. This includes the structure, attic, roof, electrical, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, basements, kitchens, bathrooms, and interiors. Home related operation and maintenance information should also be included. The inspection should last about 3 hours and you should be encouraged by the inspection firm to attend.
Preparing for the inspection
This is your chance to take a good, long look at your new purchase. You should prepare a long list of questions in advance. Include anything you can think of and anything you noticed during your previous tours. Ask questions during the inspection.
If you have any particular concerns, relay them to the inspector prior to the inspection so he can focus on the potential concern. This is your chance to get independent opinion from a professional who is working for you. Use his expertise to your advantage.
During the inspection
Come dressed to walk in the snow, tour the roof and look up the chimney. Immediately tell the inspector you want all the information possible. The best time to ask your questions is during the inspection so you can both look the component or system in question. A good inspector will appreciate your interest and should take the time to answer all your questions.
The inspection should start with a through explanation of the report you will be receiving and an explanation of the inspection process. Most inspectors will provide a written inspection contract that explains the inspection and it’s limitations. This contract should be explained in detail and you should read it and understand it before you sign.
Remember you have hired the inspector and you need to be happy with the quality of the inspection and details covered. The homeowner and real estate agents do not need to be part of the inspection and discussions. If agents are present and kept informed, however, they will have first hand information and can see the conditions identified preventing confusion down the road.
Inspectors should also be very respectful of the owners and the owners property. The inspection should not disrupt the home or damage any finishes. The property should be left in the same condition at it was found.
The written report – Pass or Fail?
Homes don’t “pass or fail” and inspection. Every home has significant qualities and potential problems. You inspector should identify and explain these traits in the written report. The inspector should also explain why a problem may exist and how to solve it. Often an inspector can provide references for additional information. A problem with a home is not necessarily a reason to walk from a deal or re-negotiate.
All homes have potential problems and many can be avoided through preventive maintenance. Your inspector should help you define the maintenance required to catch little problems before they are big situations. For example, exterior grading improvements can often prevent significant basement problems. Use your inspector to help with your maintenance concerns and to identify maintenance needs.
Inspectors do not provide an appraisal or a municipal code inspection. The inspector will describe the condition of the home in relation to similar homes of similar age. The report should identify items that will be in need of repair immediately or in the near future.
Safety hazards do fit into the “Pass or Fail” category. Conditions such as a damaged combustion appliance should be reported as a safety hazard that needs immediate correction. Inspectors can find problems that need correction for the safety of the current occupants.
Ask questions and beware of the know-it-all
Don’t be satisfied until you understand the information presented. If you don’t understand, ask questions. A good inspector will simplify terms and information presented. If the electrical system has “reversed polarity”, you need to understand that is not related to the rotation of the north and south poles and global warming. A “thermo pane” is not the severe pain you experience in the center of your skull when you eat ice cream too fast.
Remember inspectors will not “know it all”. If you find an inspector who has absolutely all the answers, be suspicious. An inspector who says “I need to check on that” should be respected. When he takes the time to research a question and provide follow-up information, you have received valuable and accurate information – not just a guess on the spot.
Value of the inspection
For a few hundred dollars, a quality home inspection will provide an independent perspective on the condition of a home. This can reduce the risk of major “surprise” after closing. An inspection can reduce the anxiety of a buyer by screening for problems and identifying them in a written report. The inspection offers the buyer an excellent opportunity to take a good look at their new investment.