How to choose a home inspector – and make sure he’s on your side

New Construction Corner

Tom CorbettBuying residential real estate tends to be an adversarial process. The professionals involved – real estate agents, mortgage brokers, attorneys, appraisers and home inspectors – don’t always have homebuyers’ best interests in mind.In my 22 years as a home inspector in Chicago, I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend. Real estate agents often operate with the tacit expectation that home inspectors will help them close a deal. In return, these inspectors get referrals from agents, bolstering their business.

Speaking up about this practice hasn’t made me any friends among real estate agents. But I’m with Sy Sims, the clothing magnate with those ubiquitous TV ads: educated consumers are the best customers. To help educate you as you go forward with the home-buying process, I’ve compiled a list of steps you’ll want to go through as you’re choosing and working with your home inspector.

These tips are culled from my experiences. I’d recommend talking to your attorney – an advocate familiar with your specific circumstances – before following these or any other suggestions.

Choose the right inspector. Do not get a referral for a home inspector from your real estate agent. You need an inspector who doesn’t have an interest in helping the agent close the deal. And make sure the home inspector you choose will not only point out deficiencies but give you budget figures for each repair. Agents often don’t refer these inspectors because lists of repairs force them to negotiate with the seller, which they’re often loathe to do.

Make sure your inspector is licensed, in business for more than five years, and a member the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Sign a fair contract. If you’re buying an existing home, you need one inspection. This typically happens after the contract is signed and you’ve put down a $1,000 deposit. Seek advice from your attorney before signing any contract without a provision that allows you to negotiate “latent or material” deficiencies in the home.

Never put more than $1,000 down when you’re signing a contract. An agent recently convinced one of my clients that another buyer would snatch up the home if she didn’t put down $25,000. After she’d already forked over that sum, I discovered termites. The seller disputed my findings and refused to release the $25,000. It took my client three years to get the money back, and she paid significant legal fees.

Get a thorough inspection. You’ll probably spend three to six hours at your inspection. Insist that your inspector walk the roof if it’s accessible, since roofing problems are often hardest to identify. By law, an inspector must give you a report within 48 hours or two business days.You’ll probably spend three to six hours at your inspection. Insist that your inspector walk the roof if it’s accessible, since roofing problems are often hardest to identify. By law, an inspector must give you a report within 48 hours or two business days.Expect to sign a limitation of liability contract. Inspectors’ standards by law are visual, not technical, so we won’t see everything. For example, we can’t rip open the walls to look for water damage, we can only try to spot the tell-tale stains.

Negotiate. Based on your inspector’s findings, decide what you’re willing to negotiate with the seller. After the negotiation, notify the agent and seller that you’re bringing your home inspector with you on the walkthrough before closing. You don’t really need to do this, but it’s a good idea to say you will. If you really distrust the seller, you actually should bring your inspector.Based on your inspector’s findings, decide what you’re willing to negotiate with the seller. After the negotiation, notify the agent and seller that you’re bringing your home inspector with you on the walkthrough before closing. You don’t really need to do this, but it’s a good idea to say you will. If you really distrust the seller, you actually should bring your inspector.For a new-construction home, I recommend having three inspections, one just after the foundation is laid, a second shortly after the drywall and major systems are installed and a third right before you close.

Hurry up and wait. You’ll probably be eager to get settled into your newly constructed home, but resist the temptation to move before every last nail is in place – or you might end up paying for hefty repairs (which are really items that the developer should have finished). I regularly see homebuyers lose $10,000 to $20,000 by purchasing property that is substandard. And consider homeowners’ warranty insurance that covers the failures of systems and components in a building during the first few years of occupancy.

Tom Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc, a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work. E-mail your construction questions to Tom at Inspection@Tomacor.com

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