Monday, June 27, 2005

Eliminating Inspections: What Could Go Wrong

There are plenty of inspections a purchaser could select in the home buying process. The most well-known inspection, is of course, the home inspection. This is the one where you get together with someone that knows a lot more about houses than you do, who arrives with a flashlight, ladder, screwdriver, and hopefully a T-shirt long enough to hide any unsightly crevices during the process, and meander through your future home to find all the defects you care to discover.

After all, who would want to purchase a lemon, right? Who would be that stupid? It's interesting, in market's across the country, buyers are paying more attention to their car purchases (for roughly $20,000) than they are the house they're buying (roughly, average national price $200,000 -- but of course, in the Washington, DC, area, it's more than double that amount).

But what are you to do in a scenario where the ultimate goal of the purchaser and his/her agent is to get the house, period? Forget good price, condition and location -- just get the darn thing. How can a buyer protect him or herself?

It's not iron clad, but here are a few suggestions you can take with you in that next competitive home visit. Some Realtors are going to be very irritated at my answers, but, hey, this is war.

Treat your home visit more like an inspection when you walk through it.
Along with your agent, take a couple of tools -- a flashlight and a receptacle tester, at least. As you go through the house start testing a few things like you would while buying a car. No honest car owner would be upset if someone asked to look under the hood, crank the engine, goose the gas pedal and to take it for a spin -- you would be thought crazy if you didn't.

Since many jurisdictions are in seller markets, keep in mind this visit may be your only chance to make sure all the toilets flush. With your flashlight, start looking in crevices, nooks and crannies throughout the house.

While you don't want to "invade" someone else's property, at least do a little prodding to make sure the basics are in working order. Turn on every light switch. Try every faucet and spigot. Open every cabinet. Pull out all drawers and test all doors. If accessible, open a few windows. Look around the base of hot water heaters and furnaces for leakage of water or any other fluids -- oil, rust, etc.

Insist on an information-only inspection in your contract.
What this means is that you basically want to know what you're getting into, but you're not making the contract "contingent" on a satisfactory home inspection. What you'll be able to do with this contract, however, is to determine if certain items that are supposed to be working even without a contingent home inspection are actually in working order.

In the Washington, DC, area, that would be Paragraph 3 of the Regional Sales Contract. Plumbing, electrical, appliances, heating/air, etc., must be in working order even without a home inspection. Sellers would be well advised to accept such an inspection so that they don't receive letters from attorneys when the buyer moves in and finds problems with these systems later.

In conjunction with this type of inspection, the buyer should invest in a home warranty (roughly $350 - $500) to cover these systems in the first year of the homeownership. While the policy will carry various provisos and limitations, it can help provide piece of mind for the new homeowners.
I've seen many homeowners who's policies more than paid for themselves through the repair or replacement of an air conditioner, heat pump or certain appliances.

As the market continues at a heated pace, buyers need to take matters seriously and try to inspect what they expect in their home purchase.

Published: June 24, 2005

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