Sunday, January 30, 2005

Inspectors hunt house integrity

They check from basement to attic

By Karen Maserjian Shan
For the Poughkeepsie Journal

Although M. Jim Mortillaro was in the market for a fixer-upper, when he found a 50-year-old house in Wappingers Falls he wanted to buy, he had the place inspected.

"The house was in really run down condition and I wanted it inspected to make sure that it was structurally sound," Mortillaro said.

Bill Hughes, president of Habitat Homes & Building Inspection Services in Hopewell Junction, inspected the home and found that while it was in need of repair, it was structurally sound.

Hughes checked the house inside and out, Mortillaro said, including the electrical and plumbing systems, the roof, chimney, house foundation and more. Hughes also tested the home for radon and had a professional pest control expert inspect the house for termites and other pests.

Although no severe problems were discovered, when the appraiser from Mortillaro's bank looked at the home, she saw signs of a ceiling leak and insisted on having a certified roof inspector affirm the roof would last for at least two more years. The roof was inspected accordingly and determined as sound. Now Mortillaro is finalizing paperwork for the purchase in anticipation of closing shortly.

"Once I knew it wasn't going to collapse, it was pretty much a 'honey-do' list," said Mortillaro, of his repair and improvement projects.

While banks don't necessarily require a home to be inspected before issuing a mortgage, Hughes said, it's smart for home buyers to have a house they're interested in purchasing inspected first.

"With the price of houses these days -- everything is at least a quarter-million dollars -- $400 or $500 on a home inspection seems to make a lot of sense," he said.

Hughes said a home inspection usually takes two to three hours. He begins on the outside of a home, checking the grading around the house and gutters to be sure water isn't being directed toward the foundation, and looks at the home's siding, roof, windows, doors and chimney.

Inside, each room is inspected, including the attic and basement. The home's mechanical systems -- heating, electrical, plumbing -- are also inspected.

Houses are tested for carbon monoxide and excessive moisture and may undergo separate, additional tests on the environment, depending on the circumstances. They are done at an additional cost to the inspection and include a test for radon, a natural gaseous byproduct that can build up in homes and eventually cause lung cancer.

Tests for water can be done for bacterial and chemical contaminants, particularly if the house is located in a high-risk area for such pollutants. Hughes said septic testing is available, as are tests for mold.

Illustrated report

Hughes' findings are written up in a 25-page report, illustrated with photographs of the house, that he gives to the home buyer.

"When we do find problems, we identify what those problems are, explain why it's a problem and explain what should be done about it," he said.

"Even a house that's in very bad condition, it may be a good deal for somebody that has the ability to deal with that," Hughes said. "I just have to explain what's there in a language that people can understand what they're getting."

While a whole-house inspection isn't required in the house-buying process, it does reveal the physical conditions of a house, making it a smart investment for a buyer, said Karla Rauch, associate broker with Houlihan/Lawrence-Lavery Real Estate Centers in LaGrange.

Nowadays, she said, some home-sellers are hiring inspectors to check out their houses before they put them on the market. In this way, should a problem with the house's water, septic system or any other issue be discovered, it can be dealt with ahead of time.

"They're spending, whatever it is -- that $400 or $600 -- to have a home inspection done, but they're spending that money up front, sort of as a caution," Rauch said.

Typically, once a buyer's offer for a house has been accepted, he has the house inspected within seven to 10 days, Rauch said. Among other things, terms of the offer normally include that the home inspection must be favorable. Still, if a problem is discovered, usually the buyer and seller will negotiate a resolution. For example, the seller may pay to repair the problem.

"If it's a very severe problem it could affect the deal," Rauch said. "A home inspection is a two-part process," she said. First, it tells a buyer the house's condition, so he knows exactly what he's getting. Second, the inspection addresses maintenance issues, so that the buyer knows how to protect his investment for the future.

Karen Maserjian Shan can be reached at

Inspect the check list

At minimum, a professional home inspection includes:

- Foundation: How is the structural integrity? Is there evidence of cracking, shifting or moisture problems?

- General construction: How is the quality?

- Exterior: Any repairs or maintenance needed?

- Plumbing: What is the overall condition of the system? Any evidence of leaks or water pressure problems?

- Electrical: Are there any dangerous situations or apparent code violations?

- Heating and cooling systems: How old are the systems and have they been properly maintained? Are the systems adequate for the size of the house?

- Interior: Do doors and windows open and close properly? Are floors firm and level?

- Kitchen: Are appliances functioning properly?

- Baths: Is the floor solid? Is there any evidence of previous or current water leaks?

- Attached structures: What is the condition of any attached structure (sheds, decks, garages, etc.)?

- Roof: How is the condition of the roofing structure and shingles? How old is the roof and how much longer is it expected to last?



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