When the 26-year-old couple picked out the townhouse with the deep back yard, they knew they’d have to draw down their savings account to make the purchase.
So when their realty agent suggested they spend $250 to have the property checked over by a home inspector, they took several deep sighs before accepting her advice.
But the thorough inspection more than paid for itself after the inspector found 17 items that needed correction and the sellers agreed to foot the $3,500 bill for the work.
“A good inspection is absolutely worth the cost,” said Chris Cali, the listing agent for the property.
Even when a home inspection doesn’t yield an immediate financial reward--as it did with the young couple--it can be worth the expense, real estate specialists say. At the least, an inspection should reveal safety hazards and instruct the new owners on upkeep.
“An inspection is the only chance people get at a verbal manual to the house,” said Cali, who sells homes through the Re/Max Realty chain.
If problems are found, the home inspector’s report can empower the buyers with a tool for negotiation. And if the problems prove serious, it can give them an escape hatch from their contract before it’s too late. (Be sure to make any purchase offer contingent on your acceptance of a home inspection.)
But all home inspections are not created equal. Here are five keys to getting a top-flight inspection:
--No. 1: Exercise caution in selecting a home inspector.
A few inspectors have no real professional claim to the title. One way to navigate the field is to select an inspector affiliated with the American Society of Home Inspectors, based in Arlington Heights, Ill. To affiliate with ASHI requires that an inspector prove he can do the job, Cali said.
“It’s a designation that shows he takes his occupation seriously,” she said.
Most home buyers find an inspector through their real estate office. But a few agents, fearful of a deal falling apart, would rather you picked a “soft touch” inspector than one who is more rigorous, said D. R. Grempler, co-owner of 20 offices in the Coldwell Banker chain.
“Realtors very often are disappointed to see the best home inspectors in town show up at the scene,” Grempler said.
Good inspectors are often seasoned individuals who have been in the field 10 years or longer, said J. D. Grewell, an ASHI inspector who owns his own firm. Among other things, experience teaches an inspector which local neighborhoods have solid construction and which do not.
“The question is: Are you the inspector’s first customer, his 250th or his 1,500th?” Grewell said.
Referrals from friends, relatives and colleagues are probably your best source of good names. Ask your associates whether the inspectors they hired caught problems in their properties before they moved in.
--No. 2: Don’t scrimp on what you pay for home inspection.
There’s an old saying that “only rich people can afford cheap furniture.” Likewise, those with a tight budget can’t risk buying a house laden with undiscovered defects--such as a bad roof or heating system--which they must pay to resolve later.
--No. 3: Don’t use a friend of acquaintance as your home inspector.
“Many times people shortchange themselves by thinking they can use a friend for an inspector,” said Gene Gallagher, the broker-owner of an office in the ERA chain.
Even if your friend or relative is skilled in the art of home analysis, he is likely to be less objective than a neutral third party who is a professional in the field, Gallagher insisted.
--No. 4: Make sure you’re at the house when the inspector comes and that you’re given a written report right away.
Being there during the inspection should give you a fuller understanding of the inspector’s findings than will a phone call from your agent later.
These days most home buyers give themselves an out from a contract on the basis of a home inspector’s findings. But this out is typically good for only five to 10 days after the contract is signed.
It’s during this window of time that you can make best use of your inspector’s written report as a negotiating tool. After your contingency expires, it’s usually too late to opt out or get the sellers’ help to remedy a home’s problems, Grewell points out.
--No. 5: Keep the findings of your home inspector in context.
In an occasional instance, a home inspector comes up with alarming results that warrant an anxiety attack. It’s right to be concerned if the house has major electrical, plumbing, heating or air conditioning problems or if it is structurally unsound.
But in most cases, like that of the young couple, the inspector comes up with lesser issues. In this instance, for example, the 17 items on the inspector’s list included broken kitchen faucets and loose shingles on the roof.
It’s distressing to find out that the house you’ve so carefully selected is imperfect. Often, inspectors see tears in the eyes of their clients. But common sense should tell you that all homes, like all people, have flaws, said Chris Cali, the RE/MAX agent.
“Remember that there is no perfect house and many situations are solvable,” she says.