Many people overlook the importance of hiring a home inspector. It is an underrated but crucial part of the home-buying process. You may feel you can use a relative or friend that is handy or has done repairs on his or her house. He or she may even be a contractor. This is a great person to bring along with you while you search for houses. However, if you want to avoid a costly mistake before writing a large check and undertaking a mortgage, you should hire a professional inspector before closing the deal.

Where to start?

Every home should be inspected before the contract being signed. Even if it is new construction, there still may be flaws and things that need to be fixed. Co-ops and condos also should undergo a thorough inspection by a professional, even though you are paying maintenance and common charges. First, the owner of a condo owns the airspace within the walls. Therefore, you are responsible for the maintenance and repairs inside of the apartment. Second, if it is a small building or the cash reserve isn’t large, a major project will have to be funded, and higher monthly charges are likely. Third, there could be a problem, such as a leaky roof, that could cause major damage down the road.

You can find an inspector through a referral from your real estate broker. Alternatively, you may seek a reference from a friend or through the two agencies that certify and train home inspectors, the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). When interviewing inspectors, some questions to ask include his/her experience in home inspections, qualifications/licenses, and prior experience. During the process of hiring an inspector, it is a good idea to ask for a sample report to know what you can expect, and how each one differs.

It should cost about $500 to $750 for a typical New York City apartment, but it will vary by size. The inspector should have errors and omission insurance in case he/she misses something significant.

What does it cover?

An inspection typically takes two to three hours. During that time, he or she should be checking for a variety of things. One of those is water leaks, including from the roof (if a top floor apartment), as well as terraces and windows. If it is a private home, the inspector should walk on the roof as well as go into the crawl space, if there is one, along with looking at fireplaces, the attic, and the foundation. The electrical system, HVAC, and general interior/exterior are usually part of the basic services covered. Electrical panel covers should be removed and examined, windows opened and closed, walls, ceilings, and floors should be checked for defects, as should the water pressure and draining. The inspector may also test the appliances. Additional services that may be offered are tests for radon, termites, asbestos, mold, and lead.

It is a good idea to accompany the home inspector while he/she is conducting the work. You can ask questions while the process is going on. Moreover, seeing the problem is quite different from reading about it. The inspector should not offer to do the repairs. Providing both services is a clear conflict of interest, and should serve as a warning flag.

Next steps

The inspector should send you a detailed report after completing the service. It is at this time that several things can happen. If there is a problem, particularly a major one, you can decide to walk away from the deal without penalty. You can also ask for the price of the repair to be credited to you, or have the homeowner fix the problem before the closing. If you are still interested in purchasing the home, it might be advisable that you receive the cost of the repair and pursue fixing it yourself. The seller could also play hardball, at which point you will have to decide whether you still want the home.

Conclusion

A home inspection is worth its weight in gold. This is likely to be the costliest purchase in your lifetime. Finding out issues ahead of time is a wise investment.

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