Q: I've heard horror stories from friends who, after closing on a house or an apartment, discovered problems such as water in the walls, toxic mold and even termites. What can I do to make sure this doesn't happen to me, and how do I go about hiring a top-notch home inspector?
A: In a white-hot real estate market, there's a temptation among buyers to rush the buying process by bypassing a home inspection - or just to not spend time to find a good inspector. That's a mistake that could cost you thousands of dollars.
"It is pretty much a sellers' market, but buyers shouldn't give up their inspection rights. You don't want to get caught in the buying frenzy," said Bill Sloan, president of the Council of Residential Specialists, a subgroup of the National Association of Realtors.
First, before even searching for an inspector, buyers must make sure their contracts contain language that makes the deals contingent upon satisfactory inspection reports.
Then, they need to find someone who is both an experienced and objective home inspector who will act as a detective, pinpointing any problems from faulty fireplaces to rotting wood. Barry Stone, a home inspector from San Luis Obispo, Calif., who has a national syndicated column called Ask the Inspector said home buyers just "don't do their homework because they don't have any idea what these experts can do."
Mr. Stone says one of the best ways to find a home inspector is to ask local real estate agents to supply names of people with a reputation for thoroughness, or so called "deal killers." Those people are the ones who don't let any problem go unnoticed. And be careful about using home inspectors recommended by your own real estate agent - who might be more concerned about sealing the purchase than helping you be sure your new home is sound.
Buyers also can find a list of accredited home inspectors from the National Association of Home Inspectors' Web site (www.nahi.org).
Rob Paterkiewicz, executive director of the association, urges buyers to be wary of inspectors who also offer to do repairs, since that represents a conflict of interest.
Before hiring a home inspector, buyers should find out the following:
Once you have hired your "detective," industry experts urge buyers to be there while the inspection is being conducted.
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