Any real estate agent worth his/her salt will recommend that you have inspections done before buying a home. That’s good advice. But, completing a thorough home inspection can be easier said than done.

One issue is time. Most sellers want their homes inspected as soon as possible after the contract is ratified. But in active markets, like we’ve seen in recent years, the good inspectors become backlogged. It can be difficult to line up the inspector you want on short notice.

Multiple offers are still common in many areas, although the incidence is waning in areas where the inventories of homes for sale are growing. If you’re in a multiple offer competition for a home you really want to buy, you may need to have the home inspected before you make an offer. This way, you can make an offer that doesn’t include an inspection contingency and have a better chance of winning the contest. Still, this means you need to have the inspection done quickly.

Even if you are successful at arranging for a home inspection quickly, the home inspector may recommend that you have further inspections done by other specialists. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the home inspection process for some home buyers.

Buyers often assume that if they hire a home inspector, they will learn all there is to know about the home they want to buy. Yet, home inspectors aren’t willing to take on liability for issues that are beyond their scope of expertise–nor should they. This means, that in many cases, the general home inspection is just the starting point.

Due diligence is an important part of home buying. Even though you may have a great real estate agent to assist you, it’s ultimately up to you to decide before you make a major purchase if there’s any reason why you shouldn’t. It helps if the sellers are conscientious about disclosing defects. But, that’s not required in all states, and sometimes sellers aren’t aware of problems that you might consider serious. So, regardless of time constraints, or competitive bidding situations, it’s in your best interest to know as much about the property you’re buying as possible before you close the sale. This is exercising due diligence, and it enables you can make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: It’s a good idea to establish a relationship with a home inspector before you find a house to buy. Ask friends and your real estate agent for recommendations. When you find an inspector you like, find out how far in advance you need to make an appointment, and how long it will take to receive a written report. As soon as you decide to make an offer, try to make an appointment for an inspection. Some inspectors won’t make an appointment until you have a ratified contract.

Another aspect of the inspection process that can complicate matters for buyers is the fact that inspectors’ opinions are somewhat subjective. One inspector might see an item as a serious problem; another might minimize its importance.

Recently, sellers ordered a pre-sale termite inspection. The inspector said that the deck should be replaced due to dry rot, but he found no evidence of active termite infestation. Another inspector thought that the deck was fine and should just be maintained. However, he reported active termite infestation that needed eradication. Both inspectors were experienced and reputable.

THE CLOSING: When inspectors don’t agree it’s often helpful to seek the advice of a third inspector.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.


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