Buyers may suppose that if a home is new, it doesn’t need inspecting. New homes can have defects even though there were just built. City building inspectors are human and prone to error like the rest of us. So just because a house received a final completion notice from the local building agency, it doesn’t mean that it’s free of imperfections.

For example, some new homes built after the Oakland Hills, Calif., fire of 1991 did not have adequate crawlspace ventilation. As a result, many of these new homes developed water-related damage such as dry rot and fungus just a few years after they were built.

In one case, an elderly homeowner in Oakland’s Upper Rockridge neighborhood sold her 3-year-old home in order to move to a retirement home. The pre-sale termite report revealed that the entire front stair and porch system had rotted and needed to be replaced. The cost to rebuild was $25,000. A second inspector was consulted who concurred; his bid was only marginally lower.

It never occurred to the homeowner to have her new home inspected by a home inspector when it was completed. If she had, the inspector would probably have pointed out the lack of ventilation under the stairs. There were no vents at all. Ventilation could have been added at that time for a fraction of the cost to rebuild the whole system a few years later.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Systems that are newly installed in an older home can also be defective. Don’t forgo a furnace or roof inspection just because the seller tells you that they were recently replaced. This advice applies even if the seller provides copies of the paid invoice or completion notice from the contractor who did the work.

Owners of a home in the Oakland Hills had their roof replaced within two years of selling. The home inspector who inspected the house thought that the roof looked OK. Even so, the buyer decided to have the roof inspected by a roofer he respected.

The roofer who was thorough and a stickler for detail reported that the roof had not been installed properly. The cost to repair the defective workmanship was $2,650. The further inspection of the roof was done during the buyer’s inspection period. He was able to negotiate with the seller who agreed to give the buyer a credit for the cost of the repairs.

Furnace and air-conditioner installations are often done improperly, sometimes even by a reputable company. Any job will only be as good as the installer.

One seller hired a highly regarded company to install a new central air-conditioning system. After the “For Sale” sign went up in front of his house, he received a call from his neighbor complaining about the location of the condenser unit. The condenser had been installed between the two properties, which created a noise problem for the neighbor.

It turns out that the location of the condenser was a building-code violation. The owner complained to the company who installed the system. The condenser was moved to an acceptable location before the sale closed at no cost to either the seller or the buyer.

Be sure to ask the seller to provide you with copies of invoices and warranties for recently installed systems. Ask the contractors who installed the systems to transfer their warranties to you at closing.

THE CLOSING: However, if the warranty only covers parts and materials, and you’re aware of a problem with the installation, you may get better results by asking the seller to have the situation remedied before closing.

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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