If you're planning to buy a resale home this summer or fall, don't neglect the Six Deadly Sins.
Those are the problems voted most likely to be overlooked or minimized by purchasers in recent surveys by the nation's top experts -- the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). The six ''sound so basic,'' says ASHI board director and founder Ron Passaro, ''but you'd be amazed how even the most sophisticated buyers don't focus on them when they're first looking at a house.''
Buyers think location. They think schools, kitchens, patios, pools, lawns, landscaping, decks, rec room, ''a million other things,'' in Passaro's experience.
''What they don't think about are some of the problems that could drive them absolutely bananas and cost them thousands of dollars,'' such as 50-year-old galvanized plumbing and 60-amp electrical service.
Based on information from 700-plus members in 42 states, here's Passaro's and ASHI's list of buyers' forget-me-nots: No. 1. Water, water everywhere -- and the farther away the better. Purchasers, particularly first-timers, are virtually water-blind. Yet water seepage -- whether from innocuous-looking grading faults at the foundation or rotting gutters -- can cost them more money and hassle than most other problems.
When you're making your initial walk-through of a house you're considering, advised Passaro, check out the grading around the entire foundation. Look for ''negative pitch'' -- a common phenomenon even among newly constructed homes -- where fluffed-up soil subsides over time, and surface water runs back toward the house. No. 2. Get your power up. The older the resale house you're contemplating buying, the more likely it is to carry inadequate electrical service. You don't have to be an electrical engineer to spot subpar service either, says Passaro. Just ask about amperage. According to Passaro, you're probably going to require at least 100-amp electrical service. Better yet, for central air conditioning and future uses, you might need 200 amps. If you're underpowered, negotiate the price down to cover an upgrading, before you go to contract. No. 3. Peer at your pipes. One of the costliest but least noticed real estate trends nationwide is the terminal aging of World War II-era and Korean War-era plumbing systems. Thousands of young buyers are acquiring suburban subdivision homes built in the late 1940s and early 1950s housing-boom years. They're often fine houses, says Passaro, but the brass or copper pipes are nearing their 40-year rated life spans. Take a hard look at the age, type and condition of the pipes you're getting, he advises, before they give you a bath. No. 4. Windows add up. Unlike other harder-to-spot house problems, many buyers eyeball the condition of a prospective home's windows. But what they also do, according to Passaro, is minimize the cost, time and inconvenience of fixing them properly.
''We're all prone to it,'' he says. We look at a window, we see that it's had water damage, the sash is broken or that the frame needs some repair. Then we say to ourselves: "Oh, I can fix that in my spare time. It's no big deal."
What buyers don't do, according to Passaro, is to multiply the time and cost by the number of windows needing work. What's a small job when you're mentally focusing on just one window becomes a $2,000 to $3,000 job when you get finished with your long-neglected 20 or 30 windows. No. 5. Clunkers burn your cash. What's the efficiency level of that heating plant you've acquired with the house? Modern units are designed to run at 98 percent efficiency. Vast numbers of American homes are powered with units putting out at 60 percent. The 38 percent differential can mean big bucks in the first few years of your ownership. Yet would-be buyers routinely lavish attention on the decorator colors in the bathroom, rather than on the money guzzler downstairs. No. 6. Insects will eat you up. Although many real estate contracts provide for termite, carpenter ant and wood-boring pest inspections, surprising numbers of purchasers don't insist on them, if the lender doesn't. Both should.
Buyers should, in fact, routinely insist on overall home inspections and structural evaluations by a trained professional as part of any home-purchase contract. Not only will the inspection spotlight problem areas in advance, it will also give you negotiating ammunition at the contract table.
How do you locate a reliable inspector? ASHI membership is one key quality test. Another is an inspector's answer to the following question: Do you, or do any affiliated firms, do repairs on houses? If the answer is yes, your answer should be no.