Even though housing inventory is in short supply, real estate experts advise never forgoing a home inspection. If you think that you should wait to have problems fixed afterward, you may be in for a big costly surprise—and undertaking.
Yes, someone else may grab the house you’re eyeballing in its “as is” condition without an inspection. But often it is better and less costly to wait. Another house will certainly come along.
More important, you may have dodged a bullet since the purchaser may discover afterward major fault lines in the foundation, unsafe electrical wiring, or termites chewing away at beams and other wooden structures, all issues that typically come to light thanks to a thorough inspection.
But know, too, that there are times when having a traditional home inspection is insufficient. That may be the case with older homes that have been remodeled yet the work wasn’t done as a buyer had hoped. In such cases, it might be prudent to bring in a structural engineer who can “drill down” deeper to check structural elements of the house and the quality of the construction itself. In fact, some real estate experts suggest hiring an engineer from the get-go, even though some charge more than an inspector.
Home Inspector vs Structural Engineer
Whomever you hire, it’s best that the person is knowledgeable about conditions in your area that may affect the home such as weather or topography. In California where real-estate broker Sue Archer Reynolds lived before she relocated to Tampa, Fla., she and the inspectors she hired knew that earthquakes could cause houses to move, settle, and leave cracks behind. “The inspectors needed to check certain size cracks to be sure there weren’t sink holes. They wouldn’t see such cracks under carpeting or other flooring but might in a garage or driveway,” she says.
Here are more critical reasons for an inspection and how to be sure it’s done right:
- Having an inspection can be an important contingency in a sales contract. It can provide a legal out if there’s a significant problem that the seller won’t correct, Reynolds says.
- It represents a fraction of the cost of a home. The national average for a home inspection is about $400—possibly higher or lower, according to the home’s location, size, and age:
- An inspection often uncovers problems otherwise not known. Many problems surface after a house has been lived in if it’s brand new or since last sold, but a skilled inspector may note problematic construction or changes, says Steve Wadlington, president of WIN Home Inspection in Franklin, Tenn., which has 190 franchises in 32 states.
- Any inspector or engineer should have the right credentials. In some states that may mean a license or it could involve membership in a national organization. For example, many inspectors are members of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) or National Society of Home Inspectors (NSHI). Structural engineers may be members of their state National Council of Structural Engineer Associations (NCSEA).
- Consider recommendations from friends, relatives and professionals like attorneys or accountants to avoid possible conflicts of interest. Although it may not be common, it can happen if a real estate pro and inspector or engineer are eager to get a sale done. Or, if real estate salespeople want to be helpful and make a recommendation, they should at least make a few suggestions, so the buyer can be the ultimate decision maker.
- Check that an inspector or engineer hired carries errors and omissions insurance or similar coverage. This will help in case a problem surfaces that they should have seen and relayed, says Wadlington.
- Understand that given all due diligence there’s still a wide range of skilled expertise available. Most inspectors and engineers are going to be very thorough, but there are some—as in any profession—who may take only a cursory look. Ask in advance: How many years have you been in business? Are you familiar with area building and remodeling codes? Are you experienced in working with this type of construction—new or old or remodeled?
- Have the inspection done after signing a contract and having it accepted. That way you avoid extra expense as a buyer in case the sale falls through. Some sellers also now have their homes pre-inspected before they put them on the market. This way they showcase their house in the best shape possible—and before buyers or even other Realtors (R) see it.
- Before signing the home inspection contract, go over what’s in it to allay concerns in advance. Many contracts are boiler-plate, but they still can be adjusted. A buyer may wish to rewrite wording to limit the inspector’s responsibility, for instance, though some inspectors and engineers may not agree. Doing so could leave them open to possible legal exposure. Check, too, what recourse the inspector or engineer offers if problems arise afterward that should have been spotted. Some may refund their fee.
A buyer should accompany the inspector or engineer hired as they examine the home. This way they can understand issues visually and in person rather than just by reading a report. It’s also good if their salesperson accompanies them so they’re all on the same page. Most inspectors will make suggestions about changes needed and regular maintenance, as well as snap photos or take a video.
- A buyer or their rep should avoid having a seller or their rep present. This way the inspector can talk more openly with the buyer and their rep about the condition.
- A buyer should know what to go to the mat on. Some larger cost issues may be worth fighting for—or having a listing price reduced—such as for a new HVAC system or other costly repairs, says Wadlington. “It really should come down to high cost items and those that affect the safety of the home and its residents, such as fire and structural hazards,” he says.
- An inspector or engineer may make a recommendation regarding any specialists to hire. They may not be familiar with certain problems that arise, but most likely know who can be hired to provide more information or even an estimate for repair such as a new roof.
As with other home matters, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Read more about what matters at Global Real Estate Education Network.