Richard Gimigliano bought his first home--a new two-bedroom condominium in Canyon Country--in 1987. The last step before he completed the purchase was a walk-through inspection with the builder's customer service representative.
Gimigliano spent fewer than 45 minutes in the condo. "I didn't know anything about 'walk-throughs,' " he said. "I came from eight years of apartment living."
Two years later, Gimigliano sold his condo and bought a new three-bedroom house in Canyon Country. This time his "walk-through" took two hours.
"This was much more thorough . . . ," he said. "There was more to look at; we (he and the builder's representative) looked into every nook and cranny. The rep showed me a lot of things, such as correct operation of the furnace. He didn't just point to the thermostat."
Most of the items noted in his walk-through were minor--paint overspray and tar drips--and repairs were made promptly.
For most people, the purchase of a home represents the single biggest financial investment of a lifetime, and a walk-through is the final step in the process.
"The importance of this walk-through cannot be overemphasized," said William Marchiony, the author of "The New Home Buyer's Guide."
"It is your best, and perhaps last, opportunity to examine the house in minute detail and point out defects in materials or workmanship to the builder's representative.
"At this point, you still have a considerable amount of financial clout on your side to get these things corrected. The builder wants his money and, before he gets it, you need to accept this house," Marchiony said.
"Look, look, and then look again," he added.
Perhaps one of the smartest things you can do as a new home buyer to prepare for the walk-through is to investigate the builder before you buy the house and put your money down.
"Your home is a major purchase," said Steve Kolb, an information officer with the Contractors State License Board. "I would like to see people spend as much time investigating before they purchase a house as they do when they purchase a microwave or video camera.
"Check out the developer," he said. "Be sure that the questions you ask are as thorough and deep as you can make them. Talk to people who live in an earlier phase. Ask them if they got what they ordered. Did the builder respond to their problems in an expedient fashion? Were the repairs satisfactory? Did they treat (the homeowners) in a pleasant manner?"
After you have purchased the home, but before you do the walk-through, do your homework. Know which features are in the house you are buying.
"Find out which items are standard and which items are decorative in the model," said Eric Brown of the Meyers Group, a real estate consulting firm. Brown did more than 500 walk-throughs in his previous job as sales manager for a home builder.
"Ask a lot of questions beforehand," he said. "How many towel racks should you have? Which lighting fixtures are standard equipment?"
Marchiony advises the new home buyer to schedule the walk-through during daylight hours, and to allow at least 1 1/2 hours for the inspection.
"Don't allow yourself to be rushed by the builder's rep, whoever he may be--customer service rep, building superintendent," he said. "They've been working with the house for at least three months. It's like a piece of sticky tape they want to get off their hands."
Eric Elder, the director of marketing for Kaufman & Broad Home Corp., added that a number of factors influence the length of the walk-through.
"Some inspections take 40 minutes, others take four hours," Elder said. "The size of the home, the level of detail in the home and the level of education needed for operational items in the home all influence the length of time needed.
"I've had some buyers who will just look to see that everything is in place and others who bring ladders and tools," he said. "I've even had buyers who disassembled the forced-air unit to check on filter placement."
Said Les Thomas, a vice president at Brock homes: "A first-time buyer, or a foreign buyer, may take longer for the inspection because they are not familiar with how things work in the home. If there are fewer amenities, it takes less time."
Bring a small electrical item such as a night light or electrical tester on your walk-through. Some experts advise bringing a pair of binoculars to examine the roof. Others recommend bringing a golf ball or marble to check the evenness of flat surfaces and uncarpeted floors. Some even suggest bringing toilet paper to toss in when you flush the toilets.
Eric Brown said he used to bring a small dental mirror to inspect the tops of doors and the moldings.
But, warned Marchiony, "Don't bring the kids and don't bring Aunt Susie. They tend to be distractions from the task at hand."
As you conduct the walk-through, the builder's rep will compile a checklist of everything discovered during the walk-through that requires attention. This written checklist is of vital importance to you and the builder.