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Home Inspections Gain Favor of Prudent Buyers

June 11, 1989|DAVID M. KINCHEN | Times Staff Writer

Renee and Angelo Daddario were so eager to buy their first home that when they saw the ocean-view house in San Pedro, they bought it without a second thought--or a second look.

The $330,000 Tudor-style house on 27th Street seemed just right to the Daddarios, who had saved $70,000 for the down payment.

But shortly after they moved in, the roof started leaking so badly that the Daddarios had to replace not only the roof but much of the drywall in the room below the leak.

"When we replaced the roof at a cost of $2,000, we were told that the flat portion of the roof was substandard, basically roofing paper over cold tar," Renee Daddario said.

At that point, the Daddarios did something that more and more Californians are doing these days when they buy a house--they had it checked out by a home inspector. The two- to three-hour examination typically costs between $200 and $400 and includes a detailed, written report.

"That's when we learned that the house had been remodeled improperly, with inadequate framing, electrical work, roofing and heating," she said of the inspection by Bill Ross of Goldenwest Home Inspectors Inc., Huntington Beach.

"The (inspection) report cost only $200, and was so comprehensive the electrical contractor and the general contractor used it as a guideline to bring the house up to code, a job that cost about $13,000."

Five years ago, home inspection--a visual examination of the systems that make up a house, from the foundation to the roof--was such a minor part of California real estate transactions that many telephone directories didn't have a classification for inspectors.

Today, however, as a result of consumer protection measures, a significant and growing percentage of existing houses--and even some new homes--are inspected at the time of sale.

Of the 385,000 existing homes sold in California in 1983, only about 8,000 were inspected, according to Skip Daum, executive director of the California Real Estate Inspection Assn. (CREIA). Last year, at least 165,000 of the more than 550,000 existing houses sold in California were inspected, he said.

In December, 1986, CREIA had 70 members; last year, its membership numbered about 300, or about 25% of the 1,200 home inspectors active in California, according to CREIA President Kevin O'Malley.

Nationally, the Washington, D.C.-based American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) had about 900 members and candidates two years ago. The number increased by more than 50% to more than 1,400 at the end of 1988.

O'Malley, president of Network Home Inspections in the north San Diego County community of Vista, attributes the rapid increase in the number of inspections and inspectors to the real estate disclosure law that took effect Jan. 1, 1987.

Moe Jones, with the Burbank Board of Realtors, said the law prompted many brokers who were indifferent--or even hostile--to home inspections to commission checkups to protect the seller from lawsuits alleging that major defects had been hidden.

He added that agents representing the buyer commission inspections to protect the buyer from defects that aren't obvious.

"Since the disclosure law went into effect, every (real estate) agent is far more aware of his or her responsibility . . . to determine the condition of the house," Jones said. "From what we've seen, this has resulted in far more home inspections."

About 80% of home inspections are ordered by brokers, with the buyer paying for the report. Most of the rest are commissioned directly by the buyer, according to Fred J. Lucas, director of business development at AmeriSpec of Orange, a home-inspection franchiser.

Among home inspectors, the most common background is construction, said AmeriSpec's Thomas Carroll. About 75% of the inspectors are contractors or have worked in construction fields. Others come from engineering, architecture and municipal building inspection.

Home inspectors are not licensed in California, but both ASHI and CREIA require a potential member to perform a number of inspections--with the exact number determined by the candidate's prior education and experience--before being admitted to membership.

Home inspections were widely used in the East before Californians learned about them, and it used to be a rule of thumb that only older houses needed to be inspected, said ASHI spokesman John J. Heyn.

"Houses on the East Coast are often older . . . and usually have basements, with all their moisture problems," he said. "The weather is also more severe, making it important for buyers to determine the condition of the roof and the heating system."

It's probably a good idea to inspect any house, regardless of age or price, said Les DiFrancesca of Specific Property Inspection, Los Angeles. A contractor who has been inspecting homes since 1985, DiFrancesca estimates that new homes account for only 2% of his work.

"(But) just because a house is new and expensive doesn't mean that everything is correctly done," he said.

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