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Dream House or Money Pit? A Professional Home Inspection Should Be Non-Negotiable

by Jesse Jurgenson

One of my favorite aspects of working as a Financial Counselor was having the opportunity to direct a free pre-purchase homebuyer education course for our non-profit family service organization. This was an in-depth look at all of the steps in the home buying process with the goal being to reduce the stress involved and get households started out on the right foot with one of the most important financial decisions they will make in their lives. We brought in several outstanding local professionals such as a mortgage lender, insurance agent, home inspector, housing assistance coordinator (my community at the time had down payment assistance programs available), and a real estate agent to discuss their role in the purchase process. This also gave our participants a chance to ask questions of the professionals in a non-sales environment. We consistently received feedback from our participants concerning what part of the program they found most enlightening or helpful. More often than not our clients would tell us that hearing from the home inspector was one of their favorite and most helpful sessions as unknowingly purchasing a home in need of substantial repair, or a “money pit”, was among their main fears. The comparatively small cost of a professional home inspection may prove to be a very wise investment if it helps you avoid such a nightmare scenario.

Beauty is only skin deep

While it is understandably an exciting time when you feel that you have found the right home, it should also be a time to take a step back and look past the new coat of paint and shining fixtures. Do you own self-inspection by looking for items such as sloping floors or bowing walls, signs of water damage, missing roof shingles or gutters coming loose, or any other signs of general wear and tear. Unless you are an expert in home repair, this is about as far as most of us can go. Correctly understanding the importance of this decision to purchase or not to purchase will have on your financial future should lead you to find someone who is an expert.

A good professional home inspection will aide a buyer in understanding exactly what they are about to invest in. Not all sellers know about problems with the house or honestly disclose them to potential buyers. State laws can vary greatly in terms of what type of disclosures the seller must complete which means that the best plan is to always protect yourself. A professional home inspection should be a universal examination of the condition of a home. While the specifics of each inspection may vary from inspector to inspector, at a minimum I would strongly suggest that all of the below items are inspected for potential problems:

  • Roof
  • Heating and cooling systems
  • Foundation and structural
  • Exterior components (driveway, siding, vents, decks, doors, etc.)
  • Attic and crawlspace
  • Mold and moisture
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Garage
  • Doors and windows
  • Appliances

Other additional inspections may also be recommended depending on the type of home you are looking to purchase or your geographic location. These may include a termite or pest inspection, radon testing, well water testing, oil tank testing, and septic tank testing. Your inspector may or may not be qualified to inspect these additional items so it would be best to ask before you decide which inspector to hire. A thorough inspection should take at least 2-3 hours and cost between $200 and $500 depending on the size and age of the home.

I would also suggest that you plan to accompany the inspector around your potential home and take notes for future reference. This is a valuable educational opportunity to see your home through the eyes of an expert and gain insight on not only issues that may be present but also how to properly care for and maintain your home so that you continue to be happy for years to come.

You’ve convinced me, now how do I find a professional home inspector?

Some states do have a licensing process in which they may require individuals to have differing qualifications ranging from passing an examination, passing a background check, owning professional insurance coverage, maintaining continuing education requirements, or completing a specific number of comprehensive inspections prior to awarding the license. A listing of current laws may be found in the resources immediately below this article1 and a simple search of your state government’s website or your favorite search engine should get you to the right place for a listing of properly licensed home inspectors. Unfortunately, Missouri does not have any specific regulation regarding someone calling themselves a home inspector so it is up to the consumer to decide by asking the right questions.

First, I would recommend that any potential home inspector is able to provide proof of completion of an examination offered by the American Society of Home Inspectors2, the Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors3, The National Association of Home Inspectors4, or the International Code Council5. Additionally, The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) suggests you ask the following questions of your potential home inspector6:

  1. What does your inspection cover?
  2. How long have you been practicing in the home inspection profession and how many inspections have you completed?
  3. Are you specifically experienced in residential inspection?
  4. Do you offer to do repairs or improvements based on the inspection?
  5. How long will the inspection take?
  6. How much will it cost?
  7. What type of inspection report do you provide and how long will it take to receive the report?
  8. Will I be able to attend the inspection?
  9. Do you maintain membership in a professional home inspector association?
  10. Do you participate in continuing education programs to keep your expertise up to date?

As a home inspector cannot possibly inspect every inch of a home or predict the future, they are not there to give you the official go ahead to purchase the home or not. That decision is entirely up to you. Their role is to make you the most informed buyer possible based on their expert advice and what they are able to observe. What you do with that information is up to you and your real estate agent. As most offers to purchase a home are contingent on an acceptable home inspection, finding potential issues now may allow you to walk away from this particular home and find another one that is more to your liking. However, even issues that are discovered in the home inspection may not be deal breakers as repair costs may be used while negotiating for a lower purchase price.

Resources:

  1. Listing of current state licensing regulations http://www.homeinspector.org/stateregulations/
  2. American Society of Home Inspectors (http://www.ashi.org/)
  3. Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors (http://www.homeinspectionexam.org/)
  4. National Association of Home Inspectors (http://www.nahi.org/)
  5. International Code Council (http://www.iccsafe.org)
  6. Ten Important Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/housing/sfh/insp/inspfaq

Guest contributor Jesse Jurgenson is an AFCPE Accredited Financial Counselor and past Financial Counseling Supervisor with an NFCC certified non-profit family service organization. He is also a current Ph.D. student and Graduate Instructor in the Personal Financial Planning Department.