June 23, 2002

Inspection saves buyer from worries, hassles

By Karen Maserjian Shan and Lori O'Toole
For the Poughkeepsie Journal

You've found just the house you've been looking for -- it's clean, neatly finished and wonderfully landscaped. It looks good, but how do you know if it's sound?

"Most home buyers, when they're looking at a house, they're just looking at the aesthetics -- do they like the paint job and the landscaping and the layout of the house? Whereas when we're going in, we're not really looking at any of that stuff," said Bill Hughes, president of both Habitat Homes & Building Inspection Services Inc. in Hopewell Junction and the Hudson Valley chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors. "We're looking at the functionality of the house. Does it work as it's supposed to?"

Debra Barton, a licensed associate broker with W.J. Lavery Real Estate in LaGrange, said home inspections help buyers learn things they might not otherwise know about a piece of property they're interested in, including its defects. Among the things most inspectors look ! for, she said, are safety issues, such as bare wires and other items that might not comply with local codes.

"They know what to look for, they know what's a problem, what's not a problem. They're not there to scare you. They're there to educate you and point out potential problems," she said.

Terry Perry had Hughes inspect two houses she and her husband were considering buying, after watching him conduct a inspection of the Town of Poughkeepsie house she had put up for sale last year.

"As a result of his being as fussy and thorough as he is, we didn't buy the first house he did an inspection on because there were some serious issues that we really couldn't get resolved," she said.

The problems, she said, were not apparent to her or her husband, and involved concerns with the home's electrical system, plumbing and foundation. Happily, the inspection done on the City of Poughkeepsie home they're now purchasing, went well and taught her much about t! he property, as Hughes covered issues ranging from very serious to sim ply cosmetic.

"I'd prefer somebody to point out everything to me, everything that's going to be an issue, because it's a lot of money we're spending," she said, referring to the cost of the house.

According to Hughes, home inspectors are not required to be licensed in New York state, so when retaining one, he said, it's important to look for one with plenty of experience, a thorough understanding of home construction and a good reputation. Moreover, he said, it's a good idea to use a home inspector affiliated with a professional organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, whose membership includes only those people who have completed at least 250 inspections done in compliance with the organization's standards.

Barton said most lending institutions don't require an inspection in the mortgage process, but some might insist on a pest inspection or septic or water test, particularly if the home uses well water.

"One thing about the! home inspections is that it is a visual inspection," said Hughes. "An inspector isn't required to go through and dismantle things."

But they do look carefully, he said, checking under basement stairs, around doors and windows, along a house's foundation, at pipes, wires, fixtures and other assorted mechanisms, seeking out telltale water stains, cracks, leaks and other problems.

"Experienced inspectors can tell quite a bit just from very little clues where there might be problems," he said, referring to things like water stains, which could signify a need for further investigation.

When inspecting a house, Hughes follows a 19-page checklist and begins outside, looking at a house's walkways, driveway, siding, windows, doors, roofing, porches, decks and grading, a particularly important aspect of the process. Land improperly graded around a foundation can cause surface water to run toward it and leak into a basement, or, in severe cases, cause hydrostatic! pressure where the foundation walls bow in or crack.

Inside th e house he checks the attic for insulation and ventilation, then goes through the house, room by room, inspecting doors, windows, electrical outlets, lighting and cracks. In the basement, Hughes looks at foundation walls and mechanical systems, including the plumbing, the electric panel, and water and whole-house heating systems.

The process takes about three hours, said Hughes, and usually costs between $400 to $500, including add-on services, such as tests for radon, lead and waters.

TIPS

  • Hire a general contractor to inspect all major house systems.
  • Accompany the inspector during the exam to learn about the house and which problems are important.
  • Consider arranging specialized inspections for pest damage, hazards from floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, and health hazards such as asbestos and lead.
  • Have inspections done after your written purchase offer has been accepted (which should be contingent upon your approving the results of the inspections).
  • www.nolo.com

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