Don’t buy home without professional inspection

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
by Janet Hamous

When it comes to buying a home, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure. And that’s why area real estate agents tell prospective buyers about home inspection.

“Most things are obvious to the buyer,” said Delores Dalke, owner of Real Estate Center in Hillsboro. “As you walk through a home, you can see if there are spots on the ceiling and if there has been water.

“But there are things that people who are not in the business don’t know to look for. For example there may be a cracked basement, but if it is finished and has been paneled, the average person would not know what to look for.”

Dalke says she “absolutely” recommends home inspection to buyers. In fact, the Real Estate Center automatically includes inspection on its purchase contracts. The buyer can waive the inspection, she said, but they must make a conscious decision not to have an inspection done.

Home inspections generally cover all of a home’s major systems, including structural systems, exterior, roof systems, plumbing systems, electrical systems, heating and air conditioning systems, interior, insulation and ventilation, fireplaces and solid fuel burning appliances.

In addition, tests may be done for environmental or health problems such as radon gas, asbestos, mold, fungi, bacteria or lead based paint. Other inspections look for wood infestation.

“The buyer is there when the inspection is done,” Dalke said. “Not only do they get a written inspection report but a verbal one as they go through the house. The inspector will point out problems and what can be done about them.”

Although many problems are fixable, the inspection occasionally uncovers a problem that is significant enough to halt the sale. Dalke has seen several such deal-breakers in her career.

“The ones that I have seen were due to faulty basement walls, the structure of the roof and a cracked furnace,” she said.

Dalke offers buyers a list of inspectors who work in the area, and often makes the inspection appointments for them.

Brent Voran, owner of Voran Home Inspections of Newton, frequently inspects homes in Marion County.

“Ninety-five percent of the time, I do it for people who are purchasing a home,” he said. “The other 5 percent are sellers who want to make sure there are no glitches. And I get a few people who call me out of the blue to do an inspection of their house so they have a blueprint for what they should concentrate on.

“When you buy a house, it is the biggest money investment you will make. A lot of people do more research on a new camcorder or TV than they do a house. They like the way the house looks, but they really haven’t looked at it to determine if it is decent.

“Most people don’t have a clue how a house works and what kind of expenses you can get into fixing something,” he said.

Voran likens the job of a whole-house inspector to that of a general practitioner physician.

“A whole-house inspector can do everything like a general doctor,” he said. “You don’t have to hire all these different specialists. That is the beauty of getting it all in one package. Then if I find a problem, I refer to a specialist.”

Voran encourages clients to come along on the inspection.

“It is a learning experience,” he said. “I tell them what I am doing and why. They learn so much and can ask questions.”

Sometimes, even he is surprised at what he finds.

“This is an amazing business; you see so many crazy things,” he said. “This past summer, I found some beehives under a house. They were true Winnie the Pooh beehives.”

Voran frequently sees the results of “do-it-yourself” projects attempted by former homeowners. And then there are the haunted houses.

“There have been cases where people swear they have ghosts, and they’ll tell me to watch out for the ghost,” he said.

“In one case, a lady said she had a ghost, and it would do things like move the vacuum cleaner and steal pennies, but it did no harm. I went into the attic. It was covered with the insulation that makes footprints when you walk on it.

“I shined my flashlight into a corner of the attic, and I could see a pile of pennies on top of the insulation. There were no footprints leading up to it. A chill went down my spine, and to this day I don’t know what it was.

“I think she may have been right about the ghost.”

Voran said a thorough inspection takes about three hours. He approaches it systematically, starting at the roof and then proceeding through the attic and the rest of the house, studying each system as he goes.

Although Voran carries around a tool bag of testers, meters and other tools of the trade, “my flashlight and eyeballs are my biggest tools-as well as being curious and thorough.”

Voran writes his report on a computer as he goes along. When he is done, the customer gets a multi-page report that includes general information about the house, such as the age of the roof and systems. The report also includes digital photos.

“Then I talk about the various problems the house may have, from minor things to more serious ones. I focus on major expenses and safety issues. I find all kinds of things that are real killers,” he said. “Bad wiring, carbon monoxide…”

Voran sees some common problems on a daily basis. Rainwater drainage, furnace conditions and electrical systems are frequent problem areas, he said.

“Some things I can’t see on visual inspection,” he added. “I always explain what I did do and what I didn’t do.”

Voran does about 400 inspections a year.

“I would say on about half the homes we find something of significance,” he said.

Voran defines significant as something that would cost more than $500 to fix.

“If there is a major problem, usually the buyer and seller sit down and hash through the issues,” he said. “Some sellers say ‘nope, I’m not going to fix it,’ but usually they are very interested.”

Voran says his job is to present the facts about a home, not to tell the client whether to buy it.

“Sometimes you want to take them by the hand and say ‘don’t buy this house,’ but I can’t tell a person not to buy a house,” he said. “You have to be real careful with people’s hopes and dreams. But if I find a major problem, such as a basement caving in, and I feel they are biting off more than they can chew, I will tell them so. I try to give them a ballpark estimate of the cost to fix something or hook them up with a professional who can answer their questions.”

Avoiding future surprises is the primary aim of home inspections too, Voran said.

The average cost for a home inspection is $250. Specific costs depend on the age of the house, the number of heating and air conditioning units, whether it has crawl space, and other factors.

The decision to spend $250 on a home inspection may be a difficult one for home-buyers facing down-payment costs, closing costs, and costs to decorating the new home.

But Voran thinks it is money well spent.

“Having an inspection helps eliminate problems later on, and avoids having something pop up six months later,” he said

“Most Realtors recommend that the buyer get an inspection,” he added. “Sometimes the Realtor suffers because a sale is lost, and I think it says a lot about a Realtor to take that risk.”

Voran advises customers to carefully screen an inspector’s credentials before having the work done. Some states have licensing requirements for home inspectors, but Kansas does not.

“ASHI (The American Society of Home Inspectors) certification is helpful, but it is not a requirement,” he said. “If you want to make sure you are getting a professional, talk to someone who is certified. There are a lot of people out there who will do an inspection and they don’t have any training or tools,” he said.

Voran recommends using the ASHI Web site at ASHI.org to locate a certified inspector in your area who will do a thorough and high quality inspection.

“This work is like being a detective,” he said. “If there are problems, you take the pieces and put the puzzle together. I enjoy helping people. I have probably saved people some heartache.”

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