How do you protect yourself and your family from the horrors of structural defects, radon, lead, asbestos, water contamination and the like? Obviously, by having a strong inspection contingency provision in the contract of sale. This clause should include a comprehensive and specific list of the conditions to be covered, e.g. structural, termite and wood-boring insects, damage from them, environmental (radon, carbon monoxide, asbestos, lead, urea formaldehyde), well, septic, toxic waste, and buried fuel tanks.
The report is of no value to you unless the inspector clearly specifies in writing what must be done to correct any defective conditions and the approximate cost of repair. In order to be in a position where you can negotiate with the owner, you should require the written report within the time limits set forth in the contract. Buying a house is no task for the faint of heart and everything is negotiable.
WHAT ARE “INACCESSIBLE AREAS”?
One tricky way that home inspectors attempt to detract from their potential liability is to designate certain areas as “inaccessible,” because either the owner has stored items covering the foundation, roof, eaves, attic, or there are areas covered by sheetrock or other construction. The prospective buyer must atend the inspection, if possible, and insist that such “inaccessible areas” be kept to a minimum. Otherwise, the inspector has an “out” if he fails to detect a substantial defect that you, as the unwitting new owner, will inherit.
The following is a list of specific areas of the home which your home inspector should include in his list of areas to inspect:
- General Exterior – including visual inspection of roof, gutters,. chimney, siding and drainage.
- Attic – including visual inspection of sheathing, insulation and ventilation.
- Basement and Foundation – including visual inspection of structure and evidence of water problems.
- Electrical System – including visual inspection of service line and interior of main panel, and sample testing of outlets, fixtures, and switches.
- Plumbing System – including visual inspection of supply piping, drain piping and hot water heater and operation of tubs, showers, sinks, toilets and dishwasher.
- Central Heating – including visual inspection and operation of heating system.
- Central Cooling – including visual inspection and operation of cooling system (weather permitting).
Depending on what items are contained in the home being purchased, additional testing should be made with regard to the following:
- Radon and carbon monoxide testing.
- Wood-boring insect inspection and damage from it.
- Water analysis for potability (safeness to drink) and pressure.
- Septic dye test of system and laterals.
- Lead and asbestos testing.
- Pool Inspection for cracks and settling, liner problems and inspection of filtration system and motors for efficiency.
HOW TO CHOOSE AN INSPECTION COMPANY
Before you hire a company to perform the all-important pre-purchase home inspection, check its credentials, speak to prior customers, and ask a lot of questions. Some home inspection companies offer a free sample report, inspector biographies and other pertinent information for review. When you hire a company, make sure that it agrees to advise on corrections and give estimates as to the cost of repair. A “no risk guarantee” is offered by some home inspection companies, but this is of no avail unless the company is financially stable. If you are not satisfied with the physical inspection and report, for instance because there are too many “inaccessible areas” or no estimates as to the cost of repairing major defects, you should request a refund of the inspection fee.
Incidentally, even if the seller offers you a homeowner’s warranty, this is no substitute for a pre-purchase Home Inspection by a competent home inspection service.
THE CONDITION OF THE PROPERTY
If you are buying a resale, if it is anything other than a “handyman’s special,” you have a right to reasonably expect that it will be in good repair and that the plumbing, heating, electrical and air conditioning systems (if included) will be in working condition and that the roof and basement will be free of leakage and seepage. Certainly you have a right to receive a structurally safe and environmentally sound dwelling. That is why you are paying for an inspection that is appropriate and adequate to give you a good idea of what you are buying. But that is not enough.
You must ask the seller and his representative, the broker, many questions.
The seller and the broker have a distinct duty to answer your questions about the past condition of the property, particularly on matters such as past leakage; water or other damage from structural defects, storm, flood, fire or other causes; past infestation; contamination; lead; radon; water potability or septic problems; underground fuel tanks; and whatever else you can think of asking or that you suspect or that you are curious about. However, if you don’t ask, the seller and broker ordinarily have no duty to disclose except as to latent (hidden) defects known to them.
If you do not receive a “disclosure statement,” then it is a good idea to keep a list of defective and non-functional items and environmental concerns so that you can check off this information against the written findings of the inspector, which are calculated to reveal evidence of past negative conditions. Now is the time to deal with this critical consideration rather than to have to sue later for fraud.
You absolutely must take an active role in purchasing your home. It is up to you, however, to decide which items must be taken care of by the seller and if the seller refuses, which items can be compromised and which will result in your canceling the contract.
THE PRE-CLOSING INSPECTION OF NEWLY CONSTRUCTED HOMES
Sellers of new homes as a rule do not permit any inspections other than a pre-closing inspection. So, in most development contracts there won’t be a structural or environmental inspection and probably the only inspection (other than the lender’s appraisal for mortgage purposes) will be the walk-through or pre-closing inspection of the newly constructed home. You will list the unfinished and non-functional items, and the builder will agree in writing to repair or correct them within a reasonable time. Ordinarily builders will not agree to escrows to secure such corrections.
Off-site improvements are usually covered by a surety bond posted by the builder with the municipality.
PRE-CLOSING INSPECTION OF RESALE HOMES
There are three purposes of the pre-closing inspection: (a) to ensure that all the required repairs have been adequately made; (b) to confirm that all systems are in operating condition; and (c) to confirm that there has been no damage or deterioration beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Remember, the inspection made by your building inspector was done as of a given date. The pre-closing inspection, which is preferably done after the seller has moved (but this is usually impractical), should be performed immediately prior to closing so that any problems can be addressed and resolved when you pay the balance of the purchase price.
Sellers of existing homes are not held to the same standards as builders, but they have a responsibility to reasonably maintain the property between the time of the contract and the time of closing, when they have had exclusive control of the dwelling.