Professional punch list now can save buyers money later

Recently, when a Tomacor home inspector tried to complete a home inspection with our client the builder became outraged. “You can’t bring that guy in here!” he said. When the inspector pointed out that professional property inspections were standard procedure for buyers, the builder threatened to call the police if the inspector didn’t leave.

Needless to say, our rather soft-spoken condominium buyers were befuddled, confused and intimidated.

Just what are a buyer’s rights? I’m not an attorney, but I have completed more than 10,000 home inspections. Based on my experience, and the terms of most contracts, you should be able to do the following procedures when buying new construction:

Complete a pre-drywall inspection of a new home or freshly rehabbed building with a home inspector. In some ways this is the most important inspection you can undertake. Generally, the walls and floors of the building are open and uninsulated at this stage, providing complete and full access for your inspector. He should be able to determine if the electrical system is installed properly, the plumbing pipes are properly secured, and the heating ductwork is properly sealed per Chicago code.

If deficiencies are discovered, your developer or contractor may not want to alter his deadline for hanging the drywall. The home inspector can become a huge pain in the rear if he is interfering with the scheduling. The buyer needs to make a decision: What’s more important, quality control or the move-in date?

Complete a punch list, or “deficiencies list,” with an inspector before closing. Buildings and building environmental issues are a very complicated business. Unfortunately, many buyers fail to get a professional “punch list inspection” before closing – and potentially lose thousands of dollars in the process.

Once buyers have sold their current home and moved into the new place, they may be held responsible for creating problems that really are a result of a contractor’s mistakes or unfinished work. After the closing date, though, it’s hard to say who should be blamed for many problems.

Finish your punch list inspection, including common areas, within the first year of ownership. Most developers are used to inspections of common areas, but some may discourage you from such an inspection, believing that it’s “not your responsibility.” Just the opposite is true. Once you close, you own part of the common areas and have every right to inspect them.

If you fail to get a unit and common area punch list inspection before taking possession, get it within six months of possession. Remember, though you may be preoccupied with the “incompletes” and “errors” in your unit, problems in the common areas could cost you dearly in the future if ignored. New and rehab construction warranties in Illinois are good for a year after your date of possession. Any common area or unit problem you discover must be reported to your developer within that year.

Responsible builders will address whatever problems need to be solved in the home you buy. Some, however, have been known to send in several layers of “repair” tradesmen who don’t know much about what they are fixing but can help prepare a defense in the event of a lawsuit. Some unscrupulous developers say, “I kept sending tradesmen over there to fix the problem.” They don’t mention the fact that they sent the cleanup guy to fix your oven, roof or woodwork. His repairs fail, but such a developer maintains a paper trail showing his “sincere intent.”

His intent no longer needs to be expressed after twelve months because that’s when his “state-owed” responsibility ends. Reputable builders will take care of your punch list, so look closely at developers’ track records in making a purchase. Some outfits have been known to disappear, closing down their LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) the day after the last condominium is sold and leaving no one to address your problems.

Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, www.Tomacor.com, a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work. Questions can be emailed to TCorbett@Tomacor.com.

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