Home inspection: The hidden horrors

Seventy seven percent of all home buyers insisted on a home inspection prior to purchasing their property, and 97 percent of that group believe the service was a good value for the price, according to the most recent study conducted by the American Society of Home Inspectors and the National Association of Realtors in 2001.

But did these savvy homeowners buy enough information to protect them at the negotiating table? Ron and Julie Kirchgessner of Greenwood, Ind., certainly wish they'd phoned a few more experts.

Their inspector declared the two-story brick home one of the soundest construction jobs he'd seen, and the home withstood a tornado in the first six months. But the in-ground swimming pool was on its last leg and the 17 trees on the property struggle with diseases. Both troubled areas fall outside ASHI standards for certification.

So the Kirchgessners sunk nearly $10,000 (unbudgeted) into their home between November '98 and June '99, money they believe they could have knocked off the price of the home.

Laws governing mortgage contracts differ, so homeowners don't always get to waive, say, a termite inspection. But when the service is elective, weigh your situation against these factors to avoid "if onlys."

Older homes: If the home is 80 years or older, ask around for an older-home inspection specialist. These experts know to search for unique problems such as packed coal under cement -- a major expense to drill through if you experience drain problems in the future -- and live gas leaking from abandoned pipes in the walls.

"A lot of people have money in their pockets, but they really don't have an idea of what things really cost to remodel," says John Gaweda, owner of John Gaweda RA Architectural Services in Brooklyn.

Houses built before 1980 are suspect for septic system replacement, which is a $20,000 to $40,000 expense. That's why Michael Kuhn, technical director for national inspection franchise HouseMaster, advises these home shoppers to budget between $350 and $450 for an open pit evaluation to dig up the system, pump it out and evaluate the results.

Swimming pools: Nearly 4.3 million in-ground pools dot America's neighborhoods, yet Stephen J. Preins, chair of ASHI National Public Relations Committee and himself an inspector, has never seen an expert show up at any of the homes he's contracted.

Such news makes Frank Goldstein shudder. As a board member of the National Spa and Pool Institute and owner of Chesapeake Aquatic Consultants in Maryland, he knows first-hand the opportunities for chicanery.

Start with the name of the pool builder, since local folks know who has a reputation for particular problems to check for.

Next, effective pool inspections must be done with the pool operational -- count on a $500 expense to bring it to this condition and then re-winterize if you purchase between October and May in a cold climate.

Article continued at http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/mtg/20010614a.asp?prodtype=mtg

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