Buyers often assume that if a house is new there’s no need to inspect it. What could possibly be wrong with a brand-new house? You’d be surprised.

Following the 1991 firestorm that destroyed thousands of homes in the hills above Oakland, Calif., contractors from around the country moved into the area to take advantage of rebuilding opportunities. The planning department was overwhelmed. Inspectors rushed from one job to another.

Problems that showed up mere years after these new homes were completed were often due to faulty installation of windows and doors, improperly flashed decks over finished living areas, and lack of proper ventilation.

One elderly homeowner rebuilt her home in Oakland’s Upper Rockridge neighborhood after the fire. The house looked great, better than it had looked before the fire. However, it wasn’t built as well.

When the owner decided to move to a retirement facility, she sold the house. To her surprise, the termite report revealed that the one-story front stair system was severely damaged by wood pests and needed to be replaced at a cost of more than $20,000.

The waterproof membrane had not been installed properly; there was no flashing and no ventilation. Water penetrated the stair system. The area under the stairs couldn’t dry out. The damp wood frame provided an ideal environment for wood pests to do their damage.

Several years after rebuilding, another homeowner discovered that the doors, windows and terraces hadn’t been properly installed. The house exterior, windows, exterior doors and terrace had to be rebuilt. The homeowner successfully sued the contractor, but it was a time-consuming hassle, and necessitated moving out of the house during the rebuilding process.

Many real estate agents provide forms for their clients to read and sign. These include strongly worded advisories to inspect the property thoroughly. Many inspection reports specify what is and is not included n the inspection. For example, wood-destroying pest (also known as "termite") reports usually don’t cover mold. Home inspectors often don’t inspect spas, irrigation systems or security systems. And they usually don’t check the permit record. …CONTINUED

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Most buyers don’t read reports and contract documents carefully. It is important to do so. This means read over every word, including disclaimers. If an inspector or your agent recommends a further inspection, follow through and hire the appropriate professional to check out the system. Check directly with the local planning or zoning department for answers to pertinent questions that might affect your decision to buy a property.

A further inspection could yield good news, as home inspectors tend to err on the side of caution to limit their liability.

For example, one home inspector who inspected a home in the Oakland Hills reported that the older roof needed to be replaced and recommended consulting a licensed roofing contractor. The roofer said the roof needed repairs but didn’t need replacing.

In another instance, the buyers’ inspector reported that the furnace needed repair to keep hot air from escaping into an area that didn’t need heat. The seller recently paid a heating contractor to make repairs to the furnace. The work was still under warranty. There was no repair cost incurred by either the buyers or sellers.

Failing to complete a further inspection can have serious consequences. You could have a difficult time getting financial help from the sellers after closing if a further inspection was recommended and you did not have it done.

Some buyers don’t want to pay the cost of a further inspection, especially if the cost is high. In some cases, the sellers might be willing to share the expense of a further inspection with you.

THE CLOSING: Weigh the cost of the further inspection against the possible cost to repair the defect. The cost may be minimal seen in that context.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."


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