Saturday, February 21, 2009

“Getting thru the inspection process” could get you in trouble

A recent article in the local newspaper explained the process for a first time home buyer looking to buy the right home. A number of steps were appropriately defined....examining ones wants versus needs, reviewing the funds saved and assessing ones budget to handle the finances that are associated with the exciting and challenging opportunity of finding the "perfect home".

Several steps were explained that one follows along their path to home ownership. Details to interviewing realtors, the article mentioned 6 to be exact, while trying to find the "right" agent that "was in it more for the client's best interest than just making the sale". After evaluating budget parameters, it was then time to interview 6 different mortgage companies to determine which loan program was best for her to help decide the amount of debt that would be most appropriate for the lifestyle she wanted to lead. The search for her dream house seemed to be so much easier with the help of these professionals, with their rational minds prevailing and all the while matching the true needs of the buyer coupled with the budgeted wants that are also sought after in each of our "dream home".

The step of choosing one's home inspector unfortunately was subtly glossed over as being defined as "getting thru the inspection process". This couldn't be a more misappropriate acknowledgement of a very important part of the home buying process. As important it is for someone to find the "right" realtor that seems to be looking at the client's best interest before their own or the "right" mortgage company that can clearly explain the numerous types of mortgage programs with varying qualifying ratios, it's just as important , if not more, to finding the "right" home inspector. Unfortunately, the "right" home inspector for many is the "cheapest". For many home buyers, the interview doesn't get much past, "how much do you charge?" Take time to search for the home inspector that has been trained by an established training organization or has a long history in the business performing home inspections.

In the home buying process, for every constant that lies within an industries' profession, there are just as many variables out there as well. For the last 2 years, home inspectors have been a licensed occupation and as a result, a level of consistency apparently created. What isn't as apparent is that not every home inspector is equal to each other. Granted a minimum standard of knowledge must be known to obtain one's license but what is often overlooked is the inspector's ability to adequately educate a potential home owner that has minimal experience to property maintenance, such as a first time home buyer, on the finer points of how a home's number of different systems interact with one another. More importantly when purchasing a home, these concerns are often overshadow by the potential long term pitfalls or projects that evolve only because the focal point of a pre-purchase home inspection are the more immediate big ticket and safety issues. There is no perfect home....having inspected over 7000 homes, I've still yet to find it. Things are going to happen.

All home owners should consider this as they interview the participants that will be leading them thru this home purchase endeavor. Of all the participants discussed in the article, the realtor, the mortgage person and the home inspector....the home inspector is someone whose unbiased, professional insight and expertise will be sought for many times during the home ownership period. An example we like to give in our training programs is that the home inspector can be compared to our general physician whom we go to for regular checkups and confer with when more challenging physical conditions exist. A doctor's unbiased opinion is paramount in helping us living a long healthy life just as much as the home inspector's ability to assist home owners long after they've purchased their home. When was the last time you chose your doctor because he was the cheapest in town? Everyone should take as much care in choosing your home inspector as you would the other professionals participating in the home buying process. Just as your doctor is a trusted person you can always count on, so should your home inspector. The one big difference is that home inspectors DO make house calls....And why not....You and your house deserve that personal touch long after you move in.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Access Around The House....Just Ask (part 2)

I mentioned access to mechanical items and access areas need to be cleared. It was a bit vague but I guess it did get your curiosity. By mechanical items, I was speaking of the primary components that make up the home's systems such as things like the water heater, heating unit (furnace or boiler), panel box, cooling unit (Air conditioning unit or heat pump) , sump pump (if present) to name a just a few.

Areas that should be cleared would be the attic or crawlspace access panel (if the panels are nailed have the owner remove the panel OR if screws are present but removal may damage to perimeter area, ask the owner to remove the panel as well), underneath sinks (often the location of cleaners, towels), exterior doors (garage passage doors are probably the most commonly blocked door) and under enclosed decks if possible.

As an inspector, you can't expect the owners to "clear" the house of their personal belongings but access to some of these key areas are necessary in order for the "required" (based on your association's or State's Standard of Practice) items to be inspected. If there are items that as defined in the inspector's protocol that need to be inspected and are not, it is the INSPECTOR'S responsibility to either request to have the area cleared, move the items out of the way (if not a major undertaking) or indicate in the report that the specific required item or area was not fully inspected. In many cases when I've asked for an area to be cleared so I can continue with my inspection, either the owner, realtor (s) or even buyers took the time to move the items. Unless the inspector specializes in foreclosed, HUD or vacant properties, most of the houses inspected will be occupied and along with that in a "lived in" state.

The inspector should always remind the parties involved SEVERAL times over the course of the inspection, that there are limitations with any inspection and an occupied home has the obvious limitations of not being able to get to everything. Most people understand this scenario. Just remind buyers that they should take advantage of the final walk thru to view the house when it's empty. At least any obvious concerns will be acknowledged to the seller prior to closing. We always ask our clients to bring a digital camera with them and send us any photos of concern by which we correspond to them before they close.

The empty home where the inspector can get to much more of the components than an occupied home is often looked at as an easy inspection to some people because of the increased accessibility to much of the house;however, the opposite is often the case because there are more accessible components, the inspector will have more potential areas to inspect. Most inspection protocols require the inspector to inspect a sampling of components throughout the house that represents the general condition of those components in the home but more diligent inspectors will take the time to inspect as much of the house as possible to limit the level of missing something that they wish they had found. I can't tell you how many times "my gut feeling" brought me to look at something more carefully than normal only to find out that I was sure glad I did (my client is usually pretty pleased too).

Having performed about 7000 inspections, you learn to work a bit instinctively while following the protocols during the inspection in addition to reflecting on all your past experiences to keep yourself aware of the home's condition.

Remember that the inspection is always about what you're supposed to look at and whether or not is was visible and accessible. If it's not visible or accessible, then it won't get inspected...but the inspector better make sure to detail situation in the report so the client can act in an appropriate manner.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Access around the house?.....Just ask

To all of the home inspectors just starting out one of the most basic concepts to master in this business is the art of communication. A perfect example is to communicate to the parties on the selling side that mechanical items and access areas need to be cleared. Now, keep in mind by "asking" for this to be done doesn't mean that it will be done. Communicating is two parts-talking and listening. I believe a good communicator is more about being a better listener. If your request to have something done is not being met determine a better way to get this message across.

Perhaps reminding the owner upon your arrival before you actually get to these areas is all you need to do. By "politely" reminding them when you get at the home you will often get the results you need. Don't get yourself all worked up waiting untill you're at the point when that part of the inspection has arrived and you realize you can't get to where you need to go. This without a doubt can be frustrating. As a home inspector,don't let it get the best of you.