Book Review
Title: "The Complete Book of Home Inspection"
Author: Norman Becker, P.E.
Publisher: McGraw-Hill, 2011; 384 pages; $19.95

I’m just as into this post-recession, do-it-yourself, consumer-empowerment era as the next guy. But there is a short list of things I think people should steer clear of doing themselves — or even buying at a discount.

Plastic surgery is one. (I’ve asked my family to allow me to take a WebMD-educated amateur’s stab at some very minor, noncosmetic procedures, but they have opted to go the professional route. Go figure.) Legal matters are another.

As you can see, the more critically important the subject matter and risky the maneuver, the less wise it is to do it yourself. So I nearly always encourage people to have professional real estate and mortgage brokers on their side vis-à-vis the market, the other party to the transaction, and the mortgage lender.

One class of real estate professionals we talk about very little, but whose role in a transaction is critically important, is home inspectors. Just as you would read some books and do some Internet research before you meet with and work with a real estate agent or broker, it behooves you to study up before you meet your home inspector and review his or her reports.

Enter "The Complete Book of Home Inspection" (Fourth Edition) by Norman Becker, a licensed professional engineer for more than 35 years and a founder of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

While the book is positioned as a guide for homeowners and buyers to do their own inspections before buying or selling a home, I’d encourage any do-it-yourself inspecting to be done in addition to — not instead of — a professional home inspection.

As I see it, this book empowers laypeople to participate in their homes’ inspections and understand inspectors’ comments and reports in a way they certainly could not otherwise — even giving them the information they need to determine whether there is information missing that they might still need, to understand what’s a big deal and what’s not, and to ask educated follow-up questions that might suss out information they otherwise might never have obtained.

With that said, the inspection process prescribed in "The Complete Book of Home Inspection" is so thorough and so detailed that I’d imagine many an inspector has consulted or used it in their work.

Becker begins by briefing readers on the tools they need to inspect a home, from flashlights to moisture meters, and sketching out the sequence he recommends they follow to physically walk through and inspect a property — inside and out.

Following that sequence, the subsequent chapters drill down into the various elements and systems into which Becker divides a home, starting with exterior elements including (but not limited to) the roof, walls (exterior and retaining), windows, doors, lot and garage.

Becker moves on to advise inspectors and consumers on what to look for and how to evaluate the interior of a property, from attic to basement, and every room in between — down to the level of granularity reflected in his deep coverage of items like insulation, electrical outlets and water pressure.

Becker then covers the electromechanical systems of a home, including plumbing, heating and swimming pool mechanics, and a wide variety of important miscellany ranging from home warranties to environmental issues.

Throughout the book, inspection worksheets and checklists of questions to answer and things to look for, diagrams of what things should look like and photos of all sorts of things (including things that indicate problems, from beetle holes to mildew) abound.

In fact, my biggest critique of this book is that the photos are black and white — and many are quite low in resolution. This diminishes their helpfulness in aiding consumers who want to use them to diagnose and decipher what they’re seeing in real-life properties.

Becker leaves no issue that is important to a homebuyer untouched. He covers the big boys, like foundations and wood-destroying pests, as well as timely niche topics like the Chinese drywall that has necessitated untold millions of dollars in home repairs in certain parts of the country, and the engineered lumber and high-tech, energy-efficiency systems that have only recently begun appearing in homes.

At all points, Becker is beyond comprehensive — so much so that I can imagine the average homebuyer using the book more as a cherished reference than a book to read straight through.

And sellers would do well to use this book as a tool for anticipating what their home’s buyer’s inspector will find and preparing (or repairing) the property to the extent they can afford in advance of listing it — in consultation with their listing agent, of course.

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