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Home Inspections Your Right to Assess a Home's True Condition Before Buying!
Sellers generally convey property using a "disclaimer document." The Virginia Property Disclosure Act (Statute et seq.) requires that residential property sellers of one to four units disclose, upon the resale of any home, all material information about the property being sold, or allows the seller to provide a disclaimer. Listing agents get this Disclosure/Disclaimer (almost all sellers in Virginia provide a Disclaimer) and present it to the purchaser prior to accepting an offer. The Disclaimer states that the seller makes no warranties as to the condition of the property, which means the onus is on the purchaser to check the property carefully, and at their option, make the contract contingent upon the property being evaluated by a professional home inspector. This being said, it is important to realize that all licensees are required by law to disclose any adverse defects in the property actually known by them. Basically, this means that the seller is "disclaiming" any knowledge of the property´s condition. One of the items that a buyer should definitely request in their purchase offer, then, is a contingency for a home inspection performed on the property. This inspection will usually occur one to seven days after the offer is accepted, and it gives the buyer the right to get an accurate technical assessment of a potential future home´s condition before being legally committed to buying the property.
There are clauses that permit a property to be sold in "as is" condition. If a property is being sold "as is," the seller may not fix any problems pointed out in an inspection. In a market where buyers are aggressively competing and bidding for properties, sellers often include an "as is" clause. A word of caution, though: you can never be certain about a property´s potential problems. We always recommend that our clients include a contingency clause that the sale will depend on the results of a home inspection. However, be aware that a home inspection is not a guarantee of a property´s condition.
Regardless of your background, We would never recommend doing an inspection on your own. Typically, inspections only cost one-tenth of 1 percent of the selling price of the home. A good home inspector provides a vital service that gives you security that you have bought a home that will "operate" well after you move in. The inspector should assess the plumbing, the furnace, the electrical system, the drainage of the yard and a host of other issues that most people could not address competently. Unless you are very knowledgeable about structural issues, plumbing and electrical codes, heating and air conditioning, drainage, chimney regulations and roofing practices, inspections are best left to experts. (Even on items that you may feel comfortable with, it is nice to have another set of eyes looking at the house.)
Even if you are buying a newly constructed home, townhouse or condo, We cannot recommend strongly enough that you get a home inspection. The fact that you may pay "megabucks" for a new property does not guarantee that all of the workmanship that went into building that residence is "top-of-the-line."
New home inspections should be conducted periodically throughout the construction process. The inspection conducted during the predrywall phase is most important. At this time the inspector may detect defects that will not be visible after the drywall is installed. Granted, county inspectors will conduct periodic evaluations of a new property as it is being constructed. Due to the rapid pace of new home construction in the Northern Virginia area, though, government inspectors are under serious constraints and cannot spend much time on each inspection. You will want an inspector who will spend hours inspecting your property -- not minutes.
Choosing an Inspector
Your agent can be an excellent source of referral for a good home inspector. Many agents work with an inspector on a regular basis who will provide a sound report in which you can have confidence. Home inspectors´ competence can vary widely. We recommend that you hire an inspector based on his or her credentials. You will want to find a licensed "Class-A Contractor" with a solid background in inspection, who is also a member or sponsor of ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors). The ASHI website is www.ashi.com. As you are deciding whom to hire as your inspector, you should ask the various candidates some questions:
• How long have you been in business? • What is your technical background? • What are your fees? • Do you have error and omission insurance? • What certification do you have? • What is included in the inspection? • How long will the inspection take? • What kinds of details will be provided in the report?
You want an experienced inspector who has examined many homes of the type you intend to purchase. If the home has extraordinary traits make sure that the inspector has looked at similar homes in the past.
What an Inspector Should Do
There are certain things that any good inspector will evaluate. Make sure, though, that your inspector is thorough in his review and checks the following items and systems.
The home´s foundation: the inspector should evaluate the crawl space or basement.
All doors and windows should open and shut properly. If they do not, there may be other structural issues.
The roof, chimney, gutters, vents and fans should all be in good working order.
The plumbing should be checked in the kitchen, baths and laundry area. Try to find out how old the plumbing is so that you will know if it will need updating in the near future.
All electrical systems must be up to code and fully operative.
The heating and cooling systems should be turned on to ensure that they are operative. This should in- clude examining the ducts, vents, heat exchanger and all safety devices.
The ceilings, walls and floors should be inspected for structural integrity.
Insulation should be checked for integrity and depth.
Ventilation should meet all requirements for the house.
The quality of the exterior should be looked at- decks, doors, siding, trim, chimney, stucco and sheathing.
The property should be inspected for any potential indoor environmental concerns, such as radon.
The basement and attic should be inspected.
If the inspector suspects lead paint, they should advise you to get the paint tested by an outside expert.
The inspector should look for FRT (fire retardant) roofing and polybutylene pipes. Pipes made of this material were used for years in new homes in Northern Virginia, and many have broken.
A final note: a general inspector will be knowledgeable about many aspects of a home, but there are some things that an inspector is neither trained nor allowed to do. Your inspector should not tell you what the home is worth, give you advice on whether you should buy the home or offer to make repairs on the home.
Using Other Inspection Specialists
At times, some issues raised by the inspector will need to be addressed by specialists. For certain problems, you should definitely spend the money on a specialist before closing rather than possibly paying the price later. These include structural issues, radon, mold, lead paint and wells or septic tanks.
The potential need for an additional specialist is another reason you will want to be able to trust your original home inspector implicitly. If your home (or the home you intend to purchase) has any of the specific problems listed above, the original inspector will most likely be the one to recommend a specialist and a contractor to resolve the issue.
If circumstances dictate that work must be done to rectify problems in one of these specialty areas, it is especially important that you hire a reputable specialist with a proven track record. We recently had clients who received a contract shortly after listing their home for sale. The contract included the standard "sale contingent on home inspection" clause. The purchaser hired a home inspector who found some mold in trusses in the garage and attic. He recommended a specialist to the buyers to assess the problem. The specialist, in turn, recommended an expensive remedy.
Because of the high estimated cost, we got a second opinion. An experienced home inspector explained to all parties that there are thousands of species of mold; almost all of them are innocuous, and they present no health threat or any other kind of issue other than an aesthetic one. Mold appears in some form in almost every home, on areas ranging from shower curtains to parts of the exterior that are seldom exposed to direct sunlight. He explained further that any mold inspector should take a sample of the mold and send it to an independent laboratory for assessment. Then -- after the lab results came back -- decide on the proper and most cost-effective action to take, if any were required. To make a long story short, after we insisted on getting the mold tested at a lab, it turned out to be innocuous. Our clients avoided a substantial expense that would have been unnecessary.
Aftermath of the Inspection
At the end of the inspection, the inspector should either review the report with you or take you through the home to point out the items that may need attention. You then have the right to ask the seller to remedy some or all of those items -- or you may back out of the contract to purchase the house. Be aware that every house has some issues, though. If an inspector does not find any problems, then you may want to question their competence! No house is perfect. But don´t worry about the "small stuff." For example, if the inspector finds only minimal cosmetic defects -- rust stains in the bathroom sink, a deck that needs "power washing," and the like -- you may agree to correct these items yourself once you move in.
Still, if there are any major problems, it is completely appropriate for you to request that the seller correct them. If any appliance does not work, the buyer may ask for it to be repaired or replaced per the contract agreement. If a deck was not constructed up to code, the buyer may ask the seller to have the deck improved prior to completing the sale or to provide funds in an escrow account to have the repairs done after closing.
The seller can respond to a request for repairs in a variety of ways. They can agree to fix any of these items prior to closing, or refuse on the grounds that the price the buyer negotiated reflected the condition of the residence. Or the seller may offer to settle somewhere in between. For major repairs, the seller may offer compensation at closing and let the repairs be done after ownership has transferred to the buyer. As long as the buyer and the seller can resolve the inspection items to their mutual satisfaction, with everything put in writing, they can proceed to closing.
We're All About Service and Results
Pat Paulas, Drew Paulas and Associates, Realtors Loudoun County Real Estate and West Fairfax County Real Estate
Prudential Penfed's TeamWorks 11864 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 101 • Reston, Virginia 20191 703.909.6333 e-mailtheTeam@eLoudounHomes.com
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