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Buyers, sellers may benefit from use of home inspectors

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by Paul Schreiber

SBJ Contributing Writer

Buying or selling a home requires attention to a property's physical details. To this end, specific items, such as the state of a building's wiring, the condition of a roof and the adequacy of insulation, can be examined by inspectors hired to render an accurate assessment of the property's general condition. This survey can assist both buyer and seller by providing useful information from a third-party perspective.

Buyers and sellers use home inspections for separate reasons.

It gives the buyer "the option of backing out of the deal if certain kinds of defects are found and if the seller then refuses to fix those defects," said Lowell Martin, owner of American Residential Inspection Systems (ARIS) Home Inspections.

For the seller, it provides an assessment of a property's condition before it's listed. With this information, the seller can more competitively price the house.

There's also a legal issue that makes obtaining a home inspection a reasonable choice for sellers, according to Jim Medley, owner of Morning Star Home Inspection Company.

"It limits their liability," he said. In Missouri, sellers must sign a "real estate sales disclosure notice. They have to disclose all known defects on the house."

He noted that inspections often uncover latent defects, problems "not visible to the normal home buyer."

Defects of this type often involve termite and structural damage, foundation cracks and roof problems, according to Martin. To this list, Medley adds electrical and plumbing irregularities as frequent problems discovered by sound inspections.

Securing the services of a reputable home inspector requires some diligence as there are no state qualification criteria for professional certification.

"In the state of Missouri, there's no regulation at all," said Mary Susan Gabler, co-owner of Advanced Home Inspection Systems.

"Anybody could put out a sign saying they're a home inspector and have no background knowledge," she added.

Often inspectors cite previous work experience in residential construction or remodeling as their edge in critically evaluating properties.

Still, "a buyer is at some risk when they choose a home inspector," according to Martin. "It's a real good idea for them to interview the home inspector." Customers should check an inspector's background, liability insurance, and any guarantees he or she may offer.

In addition to a general inspection which examines items like water flow around a house, wood rot, structural cracks or anomalies, exterior windows and doors, crawl spaces, the sewer system, heating and air conditioning, framing and plumbing there are other, more specialized inspections.

Often, for an additional charge, septic tank, well water, and radon testing can be done, as well. And for older homes, a lead inspection is an important consideration.

There is some variance in the price of a general home inspection. Charges may be a flat rate, or can be based on a property's square footage or its selling price. Additional costs may be involved depending on the number of heating or air conditioning units to be inspected.

Medley noted that inspectors should be "third-party neutral. It's a major conflict of interest when somebody offers to do repair work plus an inspection for you."

He said the buyer or seller should be free to go along on the inspection if he or she wants to, and that an average house should take at least three hours to survey.

He also recommended the individual see the type of report the inspector uses before choosing an inspection service. This will clarify the areas the inspection will cover beforehand.

In the end, a home inspection won't necessarily find every problem or guarantee that future problems won't occur.

"The thing with a home inspection is to see if things are working for the age of the house or for the age of the appliance," Gabler said. "You're looking to see if something is not hazardous and it's in working condition."

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