Home inspections: What they tell you and what they don't

Home inspections
(©istockphoto.com\Justin Horrocks)
After a long search, finding the perfect home feels fabulous. But before you order change-of-address cards, there’s one more hurdle to overcome: the home inspection.
During the process, a licensed Maryland inspector will evaluate the home, making sure it complies with standards established by the state — from working windows to functional plumbing. However, those standards are simply a baseline. A good inspection will go beyond minimum standards, especially when homeowners know what questions to ask.
Allan Grub of Columbia-based 4U Home Inspection says homeowners should start by asking whether their inspector will examine the attic. “It’s more important than asking if they get on the roof,” he says. “If there’s a leak, you’ll see it from the attic.” Also, while in the attic, inspectors can examine the state of insulation.
The level of moisture in a home is an important piece of the inspection — and something that starts with a look outside.
“A lot of people don’t understand how important grading on the exterior of the house is,” says Chris Wittstadt of Baltimore Home Inspections. “It’s a big cause of water in basements and damage in the foundation.”
Wittstadt and Grub agree that home inspectors should be encouraged to do a thorough investigation of homes’ electrical systems, especially in older structures.
“Make sure your home inspector goes over the electrical panel very strictly,” advises Wittstadt. “A lot of accidents can happen with electrical panels — including fires.”
Before the inspection, Grub recommends asking the agent and seller whether the electrical panel will be accessible to the inspector. “I can’t get to some because people build walls in front,” he says, explaining that as a home inspector, he can review only the parts of the home he can access.
And home inspectors can’t always cover every base. Some, but not all, are also certified termite inspectors; Wittstadt suggests that hiring a professional to check for termites is worthwhile.
Grub also recommends asking for a radon test. “It’s not part of a home inspection, but you should do it,” he says. “Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, behind cigarettes.”
To find a great home inspector, start with one of the two national associations governing the profession, says Wayne Curtis, a real estate agent with Re/Max Advantage Realty. “Make sure they are licensed and a member of ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) or NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors),” he says, noting that home inspectors should provide homebuyers with a sense of security and confidence about their new homes.
“Do your homework – don’t just hire the first person you find,” confirms Wittstadt. “You get what you pay for.”

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