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How to Get the Most Form Your Home Inspection

January 25, 1998|GARY ABRAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES. Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written about home improvement for The Times for eight years

Savvy home buyers know the importance of hiring a professional real estate inspector to assess the physical condition of the house they are considering purchasing.

Many homes appear in excellent condition to the lay person but may have very costly defects that can be discerned only by an experienced inspector. A good inspection could save you thousands.

Here is a list of suggestions that will help you get as much information as possible from your next home inspection:

* Put time on your side. The typical time period offered for the buyer to obtain an inspection and waive his or her right of refusal due to its outcome is five days. Five days is an arbitrary amount of time, though, and is usually too short if follow-up inspections are needed. Ask for at least 10 working days when you sign the purchase agreement.

* Finding a good inspector will take a little research. Most Realtors will offer their clients a list of home inspectors they have worked with, but often the best way to get a reference is to ask friends and neighbors for names of inspectors they have used.

Read these inspectors' reports to assure that problems are described in understandable terms, not just numeric ratings of conditions. Avoid advertisements or the phone directory when looking for an inspector.

* When you have a few names, call and speak to the inspectors. Ask about experience and license. Although there is no license requirement for home inspectors in California, most qualified inspectors hold a general building contractor's license.

Look for an inspector who has his or her own license and who is not simply working for someone else. Avoid anyone in business less than five years.

Ask if the inspector is comfortable explaining issues to you in person on the day of the inspection. It is very important that you gain a sense of the inspector's willingness and ability to communicate openly and articulately with you.

And avoid shopping by price during your search. For perhaps the largest purchase of your life, price should be the last criterion you consider.

* A real open house. Before the inspection, arrange with the sellers to have any locked closets or storage areas open and available to the inspector.

* On the day of the inspection, arrange to be present at the house and bring a note pad. Your presence allows you to have a first-hand explanation of the inspector's findings and gives you a chance to have your questions answered in person.

Also, bring a camera as the photos may help you recall floor plan specifics for furniture placement, etc.

* Look over the seller's disclosure statement before the inspection. If there are any items of concern on it, bring it with you to show the inspector.

* Ask the seller for maintenance records on heating and air conditioning equipment. If none exist or if records indicate that unit(s) have not been serviced at least once yearly, arrange to have a heating and air-conditioning technician come in during the inspection period to do a full technical test of the system(s).

Full technical testing is beyond the scope of most home inspections and without it, you may unknowingly be getting into some expensive repair problems.

* Arrange a free safety check of all gas appliances from the Gas Co. This is a little-known service recommended on every home at least once yearly and could help reveal potentially dangerous conditions. The price is right, too.

* Under warranty? Ask the sellers if any warranties are still in effect on any appliances, fixtures, hardware, roof or any other portion of the home. Be sure to obtain the written warranties.

* Water woes. Find out from the sellers if there have been any drainage problems around the property or leaks into the structure during the time of their ownership, even if repairs have been done.

This is valuable information to have, as such problems often return, and they are very difficult and often impossible to ascertain during dry weather.

* Ask for a list of repairs performed on any aspect of the property by the sellers. Generally speaking, the more information you have about the house, the better.

* If there is a pool, speak to the pool service people. Find out about the repair history on the pool. For added peace of mind, hire another pool technician to assess the condition of the pool and to test the water for proper chemical balance.

* Check with the city. Ask the local building and safety department about any problems on record relative to the property or structure.

* Ask for copies of building permits on any additions or remodeling work evident in the house. Be wary of unpermitted work as it could be a safety hazard and/or become a problem for you some day when you sell the home. Sometimes permits can be obtained after the fact. Check with your local building and safety department.

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