If you are a buyer who feels his heart sink while watching the "incidental"
costs rise, close your eyes, grit your teeth, and write checks. There are very
few home buying expenses that you can avoid in any case, and, where you can
cut corners you might, aside from buying that pricy bedroom set, regret your
penny wise approach later. Fail to buy owner's title insurance or add
additional coverage beyond the minimum hazard insurance required by your mortgagee
and risk that cost cutting will come back and bite you in a very sensitive place
in the future.
Home Inspections are one of those home buying expenses you can avoid but probably should not. Depending on where and what you are buying, pest, radon, mold, or lead paint inspections may or may not be critical. Some will be the seller's responsibility rather than your own (especially true of septic inspections). But please find enough money in your budget to employ a reputable housing inspector to do a visual inspection of your home before you sign the final contract. This is as important for a new house as it is for one being resold!
Home inspections are a relatively recent phenomenon. Back in the day insecure buyers would ask a tradesman friend or a parent who was "handy" to take a look at a potential purchase before making an offer but mostly they crossed their fingers, hoped for the best, and plunged ahead. For most people this worked out just fine. There was always something that went wrong in the first weeks or months of home ownership but it was usually minor and was considered the cost of doing business. However, there were new homeowners who began to strip off wallpaper only to have the plaster come with it; others who found that the hulking furnace in the basement that was merely taking up space when they bought in July was still merely taking up space in January. Roofs, cills, garage doors, appliances, electrical, heating, and plumbing systems were unfathomable hazards that a buyer could only wait out or pray for.
Then, about 30 years ago, home inspections were born. They were, at first, a convenience. They quickly became an industry. Early home inspectors, in my experience at least, were retired building inspectors, trades persons, or contractors looking to supplement seasonal work. There were no standards, little organization, and few regulations. Still, real estate agents sensing to need to reassure shaky buyers, particularly those considering older homes, piled on board and customers soon followed.
And if an idea emerges can a franchise be far behind. By the late 1980's the phone book was loaded with home inspectors; local one-man shops, two or three person companies, and large national franchise operations that offered training and marketing support to local McInspectors for a fee. By this time home inspection contingencies were a regular part of home purchase offer forms in many areas.
There are two reasons to have a qualified home inspector look at your new home. The first is obvious: You want and need to know the current condition of the house you are buying and whether there are any time bombs ticking away, ready to blow your budget right out of the water.
The second is less obvious but just as important. A good home inspector will teach you about your house; what the systems are, how they work, and how to keep them working. The level of confidence a home inspector can instill in a home buyer, especially one without any construction knowledge or innate do-it-yourself skills will be worth the cost involved.
However, not all inspectors are particularly interested in or good at this tutoring aspect so please pay attention as we talk, down the line, about how to interview and hire an inspector.
Home inspections are not terribly expensive in the overall carpal tunnel scenario of buying a house. There is, however, a wide range of fees and these are compounded by a lot of add-ins to a basic inspection that you may or may not want or need.
A basic inspection - and we will detail what is usually involved here later - will probably cost $400 to $700. There are a lot of regional differences but the basic fee can also be impacted by variables such as whether the inspector will actually get up on the roof, crawl into the attic or include a radon test. Some inspectors use these tasks as a marketing ploy (I know one who would insist on getting on the roof despite the slope, the weather, or the horrified face of the home seller). As we talked about when we discussed radon in January, you can do your own radon test for about $35.00 and, if you have the seller's receipt for the installation of a three year old roof there is little need to pay extra to support your inspector's extreme sports fetish.
You may also need a septic inspection or want a lead paint or mold check. If your inspector proposes to do these inspections make sure that he is qualified (and in some cases this means licensed or certified). This will increase the cost of your inspection but might be more cost and time effective than calling out a separate professional.
Local custom sometimes requires that the seller shoulder the cost of an inspection. Not a good idea. The inspector is naturally going to protect he who writes the check. Put yourself in the catbird seat. Maybe you can trade off this expense for some other concession from the seller, but getting straight information is critical so hire your own inspector.
Next we will talk about what constitutes a good inspection; how to hire a qualified
inspector, and what state laws and regulations exist to ensure that you get