To drive home the need of a professional evaluation (not just an appraisal) of a resale house, Kenneth T. Austin, chairman of HouseMaster of America, enjoys shocking an audience with this simple statement:
"Don't ever, ever buy a two-story house."
After a calculated pause, he goes on to explain. "That's the house where you get one story before you buy it, and another story after you buy it."
Mastering the house hunt as a logical extension to consumer protection could conceivably result in more long-term dividends for the new-home buyer than any other single factor.
Austin's firm, based in New Jersey and active in 27 states and 87 cities, is the nation's largest home inspection and warranty service.
New Disclosure Law
The legislation, in effect since Jan. 1, requiring disclosure of mechanical and structural aspects of a property by the seller is a comforting thought to novice home buyers, Austin said. Even so, he adds, beware of the seller who knows too little about his property, as well as opportunists who are turning into overnight home inspectors without proper training and licensing.
The proper selection of a home inspector cannot be overemphasized, Austin said. He entered the home inspection business in 1971, when the field was in its infancy, and launched HouseMaster of America as a national franchise in 1979.
"As the franchiser, we need to maintain strict quality control. Would-be inspectors are selected on the basis of some familiarity with construction. Additionally, we provide training for all candidates and require that they be licensed by the American Society of Home Inspectors," said Austin, who served on the organization's first board of directors.
The contract of sale normally contains a number of clauses upon which the sale is contingent. Two essential ones, Austin stressed, are a professional inspection of the house and inspection by the buyer prior to property title transfer.
A HouseMaster of America inspection would include a thorough evaluation of the following major elements: the central heating and cooling systems and components; interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, both for structural soundness and absence of water penetration; structural soundness of walls, ceilings and floors, basement and foundation, and proper functioning of built-in appliances.
A check with municipal offices on any conditions that might affect a home purchase (including the availability of federal flood insurance) is in order, Austin said. HMA provides disclosure forms (the owner's questionnaire requiring a history of the property) with each inspection report, and will review any new buyer concerns before closing of escrow at no additional cost to the buyer. The firm is also equipped to provide the prospective purchaser with cost ranges for correction of noted deficiencies.
In California HMA offices are in Culver City, La Crescenta, Camarillo, Carmichael and San Francisco. Other franchises are expected to be operating this year in Anaheim and San Diego.