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Investigating your home inspector

Adobe_wall_crack_1 You had an inspector go through your house before you bought it, right? Good.

Or was it?

This story of a very unhappy Austin area homeowner who discovered structural problems after moving into his new lakeside home got me thinking about what is usually a routine part of the home-buying process and how maybe it shouldn't be so routine.

How did you find your inspector? If you're like most homeowners, your real estate agent probably recommended him or her. Not to say that's a bad thing. Lots of good agents work with lots of reliable home inspectors.

But the truth of the matter is that you probably left this important home-buying step totally in the hands of other people. People who stood to profit: the agent, who collected a nice commission when the sale went through, and the inspector, who values his/her good relationship with and steady referrals from your realty agent.

Whenever someone has a vested financial interest in making sure that no problems arise, it doesn't hurt for you to pay a little more attention yourself at every stage of the process to make sure that everything is indeed problem free. Since buying your house is probably the biggest financial transaction of your life, you should thoroughly vet the inspector whose assessment is going to help you decide if the purchase is a good investment.

Here in Central Texas, as in much of the state, the housing market is still booming. And as interest rates have inched up, buyers might be feeling the pressure to get into a house sooner rather than later. Fine. Just don't cut corners.

Grilling the inspector: When you're looking for an inspector, in addition to getting referrals and checking training and credentials, here are some questions you should ask.

Is home inspection your only business? What you're looking for here is any potential conflicts of interest. For example, if your inspector also is a roofer, you might wonder if he found "problems" so his other company could fix them. 

Does the inspector carry all the necessary insurance?   

Is the company/inspector bonded?

Does the inspector offer a written guarantee?   

Can you accompany the inspector? If the answer is no, cross this inspector off your list.

What type of a report will the inspector produce and when will you get it?   

Standard inspection areas: Home inspectors generally look at the following basic areas of a house:

  • Structural: Foundations, floors and walls   
  • Exterior: Siding paint, windows, decks, garage doors   
  • Roofing: Coverings, flashing, chimneys
  • Plumbing: Piping, fixtures, faucets, water heating and fuel storage systems
  • Electrical: Wiring, main service panels, conductors, switches, receptacles
  • Heating: Equipment, safety controls, distribution systems, chimneys
  • Air conditioning and heat pumps: Cooling and air-handling equipment, controls and ducting
  • Interior: Partitions, ceilings, floors, railings, doors and windows
  • Insulation and ventilation: Attics, walls, floors, foundations, kitchen and bathrooms

Remember, too, that there are some things a general home inspector doesn't look at. These include septic systems, swimming pools and spas and water wells. You might have to pay extra for the inspector to check these out or even hire a person who specializes in these areas.

And if your house is an older one that might have some hazards, such as asbestos insulation or lead pipes, you'll want to discuss with your inspector his capabilities (and fees) in these areas.

You can check out this interactive home inspector tour for a more detailed look at what items will and will not be checked in a typical home inspection.

Find answers to more home inspection FAQ from the American Society of Home Inspectors, which also offers a search engine to help you locate inspectors in your area.

The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors has a similar search option, as well as a wide array of news items on current home inspection issues.

Til death do us part: Most of us take out loans to buy our carefully-inspected homes. Dan Green over at the Mortgage Reports Blog has a very interesting tidbit on the origin of "mortgage."

A small hint: Dan notes that the first half of the word is Latin for death.


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