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From the Real Estate Center Self-Help Law Center

House Inspections

Before you finalize your house purchase, you'll want to be sure the house is in good condition. Here are the first steps to take.

Inspecting the physical condition of a house is an important part of the homebuying process. In some states, such as California, buyers may have the advantage of a law that requires sellers to disclose considerable information about the condition of the house, as well as potential hazards from floods, earthquakes, fires and environmental hazards. But regardless of whether or not the seller provides disclosures, you should have the property inspected for defects or malfunctions in the building's structure such as the roof or plumbing.

You should first conduct your own inspection. Ideally, you should do this before you make a formal written offer so that you can save yourself the trouble should you find serious problems. There are several useful do-it-yourself inspection books available.

In addition to inspecting the house yourself, hire a general contractor to inspect all major house systems, from top to bottom, including the roof, plumbing, electrical and heating systems and drainage. This will take two or three hours and cost you anywhere from $200 to $500 depending on the location, size, age and type of home. Accompany the inspector during the examination, so that you can learn more about the maintenance and preservation of the house and get answers to any questions you may have, including what problems are important and which are relatively minor. Depending on the property, you may want to arrange specialized inspections for pest damage, hazards from floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, and environmental health hazards such as asbestos and lead.

Professional inspections should be done after your written purchase offer has been accepted by the seller (which should be contingent upon your approving the results of one or more inspections). Be sure you get a written report of all inspections.

If the house is in good shape, you can proceed, knowing that you're getting what you paid for. If inspections discover problems -- such as an antiquated plumbing system or major termite problems -- you can negotiate with the seller to have him pay for necessary repairs, or you can back out of the deal, assuming your contract is properly written to allow you to do so.

Tips on Choosing a Home Inspector
A reliable personal recommendation is the best way to find a home inspector. As the buyer, you want someone who will be thorough and tough, not someone who is willing to overlook small problems.

Be careful about asking your real estate agent for a referral. After all, your agent is almost surely anxious that your deal go through and therefore may recommend an inspector not overly persnickety about identifying problems. Make sure your real estate agent knows you want an inspector who is especially thorough. You might also ask a real estate professional not connected with your sale whom she would hire to inspect a house she was buying.

You can also get local referrals and valuable FAQs about home inspections from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) at Inspectors who are members of ASHI must pass technical exams, meet specific standards of practice and, as a condition of membership, are not permitted to do contracting work.

You'll want to get at least two or three specific bids from reliable home inspectors who have been highly recommended. You want the work done well, so you don't necessarily want to accept the cheapest bid. Before finally deciding whom to hire, get several references and check the status of each individual's license and any outstanding complaints with state licensing agencies. Check with your state consumer protection agency.

Be sure to ask the inspector about their liability insurance coverage including "errors and omissions" (E & O) or malpractice insurance that covers inspector negligence.


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Revised: March 13, 2002.

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