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July 18, 2008


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Flip side: It can be in your best interest to purchase a house that is in need of a new furnace, water heater, etc. If the current owners replaced them just for the sake of selling the house, they likely went with the cheapest available solution. You're better off replacing a decrepit furnace yourself than sticking with a brand new bottom-of-the-line furnace for the next 12-15 years.

You definitely want to follow the inspector around. If you find a good one (get referrals) then they will point out things that will come in handy later. They may not necessarily be problem areas but things worth knowing. For example, when we bought our house last year, our inspector told us such things as: that the roof was fine but predicted how it would eventually wear down and what signs to look for to show that it was breaking down, the insulation level in the attic that was up to code but could be improved (and happy to report that it since has been!), improvements that could be made in the drainage system to take it from acceptable to top notch, and so on. In other words, you want an inspector that won't just verify that things work as they should, but will help you understand how they can work better.

Also, I'd shop around. Call at least three companies. It's hard, but if it's possible try to talk to the inspector directly to see if you can get a sense for how open they are. Your realtor should be able to give you a list, but you should also find out from friends or family who is (or isn't) recommended. When you call, make sure you find out exactly what they do and don't do beforehand. On ours, he didn't go all the way through the attic, just looked through the access panel. Same with the roof, he went on the first level but not all the way to the very top (he used binoculars for that). He also wouldn't turn the sprinklers on as there was still a slight chance of a freeze. We found that this was all pretty standard, but make sure you press them to what they will, and more importantly, what they won't do. They'll usually do those other things, but of course for more money, if those things are areas that you are concerned with, and it helps to know that up front.

The problem with most home inspectors these days (at least in Houston) are they don't climb up on the roof and they want inspect the HVAC (they tell you to call a specialist). The do inspect the roof from the ground with binoculars and they do test the Air/Furnace to make sure they are working properly but they have all sorts of disclaimers and really do a through test.

FMF: Would you mind sharing the rest of your list of questions to ask an inspector? Thanks.

Rick --

Good idea. I'll put some down in another post.

Helpful hint: Don't get your inspector out of the yellow pages. Anyone that is hired to do anything with your house should be found strictly by word of mouth whenever possible.

Tim is right about the roof. Lots of inspectors will neglect the roof. This was the case with my last inspector. From now on, I am going to make it clear to my inspector(s) that they had better be thorough on the roof.

Speaking as someone whose house turns 70 this year (and it desperately wants to retire), I have many painful lessons to share. A most significant lesson is that every item that isn't working correctly before you buy the house becomes an item on your to-do list after you buy the house.

One entry on your list of things to do is to turn on the water. Don't just stop there...turn on everything. Light switches, ceiling fans, furnace fan, air conditioner, sinks, stove, tub. Whatever's there, turn it on and note the results if they aren't what you expect.

Open and close every (EVERY) door and window and note the results and the general condition of the frames. Gently pull on the doors to expose weak hinges or stripped screws.

Move all rugs and loose carpets aside. You know why.

All those notes you're writing? Keep them in a small notebook along with the dimensions of both the widest, longest and tallest furniture you will be moving to a prospective home. Spend a few bucks on a small tape measure to take with you on each home showing. That way you don't have worry about what to do with Aunt Millie's working iron maiden when it won't fit through the rumpus room door. Or whatever.

Also: make your notes with a round pen or pencil. Why? If you detect a slight tilt in the floor, you can confirm it with your writing instrument. Also good for counters.

But the thing that might just save you the most work, the most effort and the most money is to practice pointing and saying in a loud, confident voice, "Hey! What's that?" when you see something that doesn't look right.

If your prospective house makes it through all this, then call the home inspector. Ask him/her what they will look at, then have them add the weirdness that you found.

Sounds adversarial? Yeah. Sounds like I don't trust people? Yeah, I don't trust many people with X-thousands of dollars of my money. Neither should you.

But I have a confession to make: in more than one of the ways I listed above, my house failed miserably. In the end, it didn't matter. We fell in love with the house. More's the pity. And joy. You will too, eventually. No matter what was wrong with it before you bought it.

And yes, after 10 years, my to-do list is still enormous. What's it to ya?

In my experience, JohnH60 is right. Test everything on your own because you genuinely don't know what an inspector will or will not test. Blinds, drawers, kitchen many little annoying things that might be glossed over. Also, if you can speak to the inspector beforehand, try to find out what his/her hot buttons are. That is, will the inspector focus on something to a fault and ignore other issues that could be material?

When buying a property I check out the following in detail:

The roof
Air conditioning
electrical systems/wiring
Condition of floors, windows and doors

Walk around the property and look for cracks and/or settling. Look for drainage/flooding problems.

Sellers are not going to rebuild a property. They will, however, need to make concessions for major issues.

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