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Safety Net for Homebuyers

The facts speak for themselves, more than three-quarters of homebuyers now rely on a pre-purchase inspection to reveal any potential problems with their new homes. That statistic is according to the National Association of Realtors´┐Ż and American Society of Home Inspectors, and it's up from only 10 percent just twenty years ago. And why not? It's far better to pay about $300 on a professional home inspection than to gamble on paying thousands more to repair defects. But is a home inspection infallible? Does it guarantee your home is a model of perfection? Obviously not.

Although a properly performed home inspection is your best bet for finding potentially costly problems with a home's structure and systems, you need to keep things in perspective when hiring a home inspector and reviewing the inspection report. A home inspection is based on a visual assessment that takes approximately two to three hours. Assuming that the inspector is experienced and well-qualified, even the most thorough visual inspection cannot reveal hidden conditions or defects that are not apparent to the naked eye.

What are some things that might escape the notice of a home inspector? In addition to defects concealed behind walls, floors or ceilings, some conditions may only surface at certain times of day or the year. For example, if the seals on a double or triple glazed window go bad and start leaking, moisture may condense between the panes only in the morning. When the home inspector arrives in the afternoon, everything looks fine. But that doesn't mean you won't see telltale condensation when you arrive the morning of moving day. A seasonal issue comes up with wintertime home inspections, when most home inspectors avoid testing the cooling system to avoid damage to the compressor. This should be noted on the inspection report, that a full test was not possible. Or perhaps you make your final walkthrough during a heavy rainfall, and a basement leak that wasn't apparent before suddenly appears.

Despite the vagaries and pitfalls of standard home inspections, homebuyers can reduce their risk by actively seeking out the best in the business. First of all, find out how long they have been in business (several years, hopefully) and then ask the local Better Business Bureau if there is a complaint record on the individual or company. If the record is clean, get at least three customer references and call them. Another key indicator of professionalism is membership in the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI sets certain standards, including what constitutes a thorough inspection, and enforces those standards along with a code of ethics for its members. Finally, ask if they carry errors and omissions insurance.

Ask also to see a copy of a sample inspection report. Look for a narrative description that fully explains each problem-- a check-off box with Good, Fair and Poor isn't good enough! When you receive your report, is the information presented and explained clearly and completely?

Sources used to create this article include Andrew Kleeman and Realtytimes.com.