Cars can be big purchases. Boats can be big purchases. But a home? For most of us, that's about as big as it gets. In fact, this granddaddy of all purchases can leave us so financially strapped that it may be tempting to try to save money by skipping a home inspection. That, however, would be a bad idea. Consider these tips. 1Recognize why this step matters. Especially if you're on a tight budget, you don't want to be hit with any surprises shortly after moving into your new home. An inspection will help you learn as much as you can about the property's condition before you're locked into anything.
2Don't try to go it alone. Most potential home buyers become emotional about homes they really want. That can make an objective, honest inspection harder than you might think. Also, you might not know all you need to know about how structural and mechanical systems in a home are supposed to work together.
3Know the drill. It's typical to arrange for an inspection right after you make an offer on a home. Your real estate contract should state that your purchase is contingent upon the inspection results. The inspection should include a visual examination of these areas: structure; central cooling and heating; plumbing; bathroom; laundry; electrical; safety devices; kitchen and appliances; attic; insulation; ventilation; roof; grounds, and parking.
4Hire a pro. Ideally, your inspector should be an engineer or an architect. Talk to at least three inspectors, and ask about their training, experience and membership in professional associations, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (www.ashi.org), the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers (www.nabie.org) or the National Association of Home Inspectors (www.nahi.org).
5Know how much to budget. It can cost $350 to $500 for a visual inspection of a 2,500-square-foot home that is less than 50 years old. Most inspectors charge extra for radon testing, termite inspections, and well and septic inspections. If you're buying a brand new home, have the inspector scrutinize it at each stage of completion.
6Ask about warranties and insurance. Find out if your potential inspector has insurance for liability errors and omissions. For an extra fee, some inspectors may warranty their work.
7Be present on inspection day. Most inspectors will be happy to let you tag along, and that's a good idea. You'll see imminent problems firsthand and get tips on maintenance and repairs.
8Understand the time commitment. A careful inspection should take two to five hours. As inconvenient as it may be to do so, try to be there for the whole thing.
9Written report is key. While it's valuable to hear the inspector's observations, a written report is more important because you can use it as a bargaining tool to negotiate the sale price. And as the homeowner, you can refer to the report when you plan projects and repairs.
10Spell out important details. Make sure you agree on the format of the written report and how long it will take for the inspector to complete it. The inspector should deliver the report directly to you, and only to you.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org); American Society of Home Inspectors (www.ashi.org/customers/); Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org)