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What to expect from your home inspection

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During the recent sizzling-hot housing market, many buyers chose to forgo a home inspection to give themselves a competitive edge when there were multiple offers on a property. Now, though, some may be experiencing buyer’s remorse as they discover cracked foundations, warped doors or malfunctioning electrical panels, which add up to expensive repairs. Anyone buying a house, condominium or townhouse should get a home inspection, which is an unbiased, noninvasive evaluation of a property. The inspector issues a detailed report telling you what — if anything — is wrong with your home and itemizing damage or issues that need to be addressed.

“While inspection can be a formality, it’s a chance to get your home reviewed by an expert, so you go into an expensive purchase with eyes wide open,” says Kerry Sherin, a consumer advocate at Ownerly, a home valuation company. “You are investing a few hundred dollars to save potentially thousands.” Here are some answers to common questions about what to expect from a home inspection.

Who does the inspector work for? You. Unlike real estate agents, “we have no vested interest in the property. Whether you buy or don’t doesn’t matter. I get paid a fee,” says Eric Mohlenhoff, owner of Remedy Inspections in Rockaway, N.J. Although most home inspections are for buyers, pre-listing (or seller) inspections are also an option, so sellers can make necessary repairs before listing their home.

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What does it cost? The fee depends on where you live, the size and age of your home, and the services included. Expect to pay about $500 on average for a basic inspection, with it increasing to as much as about $800 if you add mold, termite and radon testing. High-tech services, such as thermal imaging to identify water infiltration, may also cost extra. Ownerly has a searchable database of inspection costs for approximately 950 cities.

Should I be swayed by price? You shouldn’t look for the cheapest home inspector. One who charges next to nothing is probably doing so for a reason: They’re either inexperienced or they’re hurting for business, Sherin says. Instead of shopping for the lowest price, compare the qualifications and services offered by multiple inspectors to see where you can get the most for your money.

How do I find an inspector? Ask friends or family whether they have used one in the same area. Associations such as the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) or the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) also have online databases. You can always ask your real estate agent for a recommendation, but keep in mind that their job is to make a sale, Sherin says. “In the worst-case scenario, a home inspector who’s friends with your agent could give the all-clear on a home to push the deal through, despite there being problems. Bringing your own vetted home inspector to the table can help ensure objectivity.”

What questions should I ask before hiring? How long have you been in business? How many homes have you inspected? Are you licensed? Are you certified? Some states, such as Pennsylvania, don’t require a state license; instead, inspectors must be a member of a nonprofit home inspector association. Certification standards for InterNACHI or ASHI are high. An InterNACHI master inspector, for example, must complete 1,000 fee-paid inspections and/or hours of training and education combined. Other states, such as Florida, require a training course and exam. Home inspectors in Florida must complete 120 hours of training and pass an exam with a score of at least 80 percent to be licensed, says Benjamin Martin, the president of Florida Certified Home Inspections in Seminole, Fla.

How can I tell they’re a good fit? The way an inspector treats you before you hire them is a good indicator of how they’ll treat you after hiring them. Do they return calls and answer questions in a timely fashion? Make sure the inspector gives you a list of what they are going to inspect, Martin says. A good one will call you beforehand to review any concerns you may have spotted during your buyer walk-through. “It may be nothing, or it may be serious,” he says.

What technology do they use? Gone are the days of paper and pen. Many inspectors use a drone to look at roofs, thermal imaging to “see” into walls, and mold machines, says Martin, who takes about 400 to 600 images per inspection. The pros typically input everything into a tablet — checklists, photos of defects, notes, and sometimes even the serial number, make and model of appliances and HVAC equipment — to generate a report.

What gets inspected? An inspector usually looks at structural elements (foundation, framing, drainage systems), roofing, exterior surfaces, grounds (driveway, fences, sidewalks), the attic, interior plumbing, the electrical system, appliances, heating and cooling systems, the basement, the garage, insulation and ventilation, and safety systems (fire and carbon monoxide detectors). “I’ll even note if a dip in the front lawn is a trip hazard,” says Martin, who averages nine inspections per week.

Are there limitations? They can only inspect what they can see and what is accessible. “I don’t move furniture or touch personal property. If a home is cluttered with stuff, there will be a note in my report that says I could not inspect ‘due to personal debris,’ ” Martin says. They typically don’t inspect swimming pools (that requires a different certification), sheds or outbuildings. And although the inspection may note structural damage caused by pests, such as termites, it will not detect active infestations of insects, rodents or other pests.

Is there an end product? A home inspection can take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on the size and age of your property. Once it’s complete, you’ll receive a full report. Mohlenhoff’s are usually 60 to 80 pages, with images and related text. Ask your inspector how long the report will take; it can be up to two to three days, although some arrive within 12 hours.

If they goof up, do I have recourse? Inspectors are only liable for issues they could see at the time of inspection. So if your roof gets a thumbs up and starts to leak two weeks after you move in, as long as there wasn’t a damaging hail or wind storm in the interim, you may have a case. But if you pull up old carpet and discover rotten flooring, you probably don’t. And you’ll have to provide strong evidence to support your claim. Martin says inspectors should carry a minimum of $1 million in general liability insurance in case they are found at fault.

Is it worth it? “A certified inspector’s fee may cost less than the repairs, which can be negotiated between the buyer and seller after a home inspection report,” Sherin says. “If the seller ends up paying for the repairs, hiring a certified inspector doesn’t cost you money; it makes you money.”

Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategies. Find her at dailywriter.net.

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