Dear Barry: In a recent column, you recommended home inspections for brand-new homes. This was eye-opening advice for us, but unfortunately, we learned it too late. We bought a brand-new home about six months ago and assumed there was no need for a home inspection. The building department had just approved the construction, and the home was covered by a one-year builder’s warranty, so we saw no need for an inspection. Our new neighbor, on the other hand, did hire a home inspector. Nearly a dozen defects were reported, and the builder repaired all of them. This makes us wonder what a home inspector would have found in our house. Now that we’ve taken possession without an inspection, what do you recommend? –Bill and Anne

Dear Bill and Anne: A pre-purchase home inspection is essential when buying a brand-new home, but don’t despair. The window of opportunity is not yet closed because the builder’s warranty is still in effect. The contractors who built your home are still required to correct any defects that you discover and bring to their attention. What matters now is that these discoveries be made.

As stated in previous articles, most purchasers of new homes fail to obtain a professional inspection. Instead, they trust that new homes are unlikely to have defects and that any imperfections will inevitably become apparent during the warranty period. These two assumptions have caused financial loss and mournful regrets for many buyers of new homes.

“Brand-new” means clean, shiny, unworn, aromatic, and sanitary. It does not mean defect-free. The Trojan horse was brand new, but it should have been inspected. Homes are built by people, and regardless of experience, skill, knowledge, integrity, and good intentions, all people make mistakes. That’s the one guaranty that never fails.

Then there is the question of building department approval. Municipal building inspectors provide services that are limited by the time available to perform an inspection. Building departments are typically under-staffed and over-worked. An inspector might have as little as 15 minutes to evaluate a home. Furthermore, municipal inspectors have no liability for defects that are missed during their inspections. Therefore, the motivation for thoroughness is missing.

With home inspectors, the situation is much different. A competent home inspector spends two-and-a-half to four hours on-site, time enough to access and inspect all pertinent areas of the home. As members of the private business sector, home inspectors do not enjoy the liability protections that shelter bureaucratic agencies and their employees. Hence, they are motivated to perform thorough, comprehensive inspections.

A competent home inspector–someone with years of experience, substantial credentials, and a reputation for thoroughness–can provide valuable financial protection to the owners of new homes. The missing ingredient is public awareness of the need to inspect newly built homes. As long as the warranty period is in effect, owners can present a list of repair needs to their builder. When the warranty expires, the opportunity is lost. Defects discovered after that time become the homeowner’s responsibility.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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