The Value of a Professional Home Inspection

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Thinking of buying a home? If so, you'd be wise to have it professionally inspected before making a commitment.

A home inspection, unlike a termite inspection or a city-mandated building inspection, addresses the overall condition of a home and reports on the various repairs that need to be made.

A complete home inspection includes a visual examination of the house from top to bottom. The inspector examines the heating system, the central air conditioning system, the interior plumbing and electrical systems, the roof and visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors, the foundation and basement or crawl space.

A home inspection is most often performed when a property is being sold or transferred. Usually, it is the buyer who enlists the services of the professional home inspector to determine exactly what kind of home he or she is buying.

Although the majority of home inspections are requested by the buyer, sometimes the seller will hire his own home inspector to find areas in need of repair. Or, the seller may hire a home inspector at the same time as the buyer to verify the validity of the buyer's report.

Some people have their homes inspected after living in them for a period of time. They do this as a means of identifying developing problems, and obtaining information on preventive measures that might preclude future repairs.

You most assuredly should have any home that you are considering buying professionally inspected. Aside from revealing needed repairs, the home inspection is an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about the workings of the home. Tagging along with the inspector can be a real learning process. Be certain before engaging one, that he or she permits this.

Finding a qualified inspector isn't difficult when you know what to look for--and look out for. Since there are no federal or state laws that regulate the home inspection industry, anyone can call himself an inspector.

The most qualified home inspectors are those with years of building experience such as general building contractors, architects or engineers. They possess an understanding of the various aspects of construction and are most likely to offer the most comprehensive and legitimate report.

An inspector who is certified by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) and/or a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) offers an added level of assurance of being well qualified.

ASHI, a nonprofit voluntary professional association, has developed formal inspection guidelines and a professional code of ethics. Members of ASHI are independent professionals who operate their own inspection services from coast to coast. ASHI can be contacted at (800) 743-ASHI.

Another way to find a qualified home inspector is through referrals from friends, neighbors and realtors. Whatever the method of selection, always insist on references from previous clients.

Most home inspection reports will not include specific repair methods or information about projects that require the services of an individual with specific expertise, such as a soils engineer or structural engineer. Don't expect too much from the inspector. Even the most qualified inspector will be limited in providing certain technical information.

Rebuke an inspector who offers to perform the repairs himself, or who recommends someone who can. This is a conflict of interest. The inspector should be completely neutral, only making recommendations on needed repairs, not for someone to make them.

Determine the type of report that will be issued. There are two basic ones that most home inspectors offer--the checklist and the narrative. The checklist report is simple and offers the little detail. It briefly summarizes the condition of the home in a very general way. The narrative report, on the other hand, compiles the information in a much more thorough and comprehensive fashion. We think the narrative report is your best bet.

However, even they will vary from firm to firm, so ask to see a sample report. It should be written in easy-to-understand non-technical language.

According to ASHI, the average cost nationally for a home inspection is $250. Inspection cost can vary dramatically for a variety of reasons: the size of the home, the part of the country in which it is located, age, features, special structures and the type of report issued.

In any case, the money invested in a professional home inspection can save a buyer in many ways.

What to Look for in a Home Inspector

Background: Best inspectors are architects, contractors and engineers.

Experience: Length of time inspecting; residential inspecting.

Client references: Names and numbers of previous clients.

Conflict of interest: Beware if inspector offers to do repairs or has some other vested interests.

Member of professional inspection organization: Mamber of ASHI of ICBO.

Inspection specifics: What inspection includes.

Written report: Ask to see sample; look for clear language.

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