Indeed, more than 40 percent of the previously owned homes on the market have at least one serious defect, according to HouseMaster, a major home inspection company with offices in more than 390 cities in the United States and Canada.
"Virtually every 'used' home needs some repair or improvement," said Kathleen Kuhn, CEO and president of HouseMaster. "That's to be expected. But with today's high prices, you want to make sure that you are aware of any major problems in a house you are considering purchasing, and what it will take to remedy the situation."
Drawing from their own findings from more than one million home inspections, HouseMaster says the most serious home defects to be on the lookout for are:
- Failing air-conditioning compressor
- Environmental hazards including radon, water contamination, asbestos, lead paint, and underground storage tanks
- Defective roofing and/or flashings
- Insect infestation -- termites or carpenter ants
- Horizontal foundation cracks
- Undersized electrical system
- Chimney settling or separation
Kuhn says most of these problems can be repaired. However, depending on the specific problem, the cost can be substantial, particularly if the defect involves one of the major systems. The cost could become a factor in whether you ultimately buy the house.
For example, a new air conditioning compressor could cost you up to $1,200. A new roof or repairs can cost at least several thousand dollars. A wet basement could cost up to $5,000 to remedy.
If you enter negotiations to buy a particular house, your agent should advise you to provide a provision for renegotiating or backing out of the contract if a home inspector finds major problems.
"If the property inspectors find that little or no corrective work is required, you have little or nothing to negotiate," say Eric Tyson and Ray Brown in their book, Homebuying for Dummies. "Suppose, however, that your inspectors discover the $200,000 house you want to buy needs $20,000 of corrective work for termite and dry-rot damage, foundation repairs, and a new roof. Big corrective work bills can be deal killers."
If repairs are needed, there are several ways to proceed if you still want to buy the house,
the Dummies book advises.
The sellers can leave enough money in escrow to cover the cost of repairs, with instructions for the escrow officer to pay the contractors as the work is completed.
The lender can withhold part of the full loan amount in a passbook savings account
until the work has been done.
The sellers may give a credit for the work. Lenders may disapprove of this last alternative because there aren't assurances that the repairs will be made.
A home inspection usually costs between $250 and $400. Hire a qualified inspector. Try to get referrals from friends or anyone you know who has had a satisfactory experience with a home inspector. Also, look for affiliations with organizations like the American Society of Home Inspectors or the American Association of Home Inspectors. Both groups require its members to be certified, meet professional qualifications, and adhere to specific business ethics.
Once you make an appointment with a home inspector, it's important to be there.
Your investment of spending these few hours with the inspector could prevent headaches and save time in the future. As the home inspector examines the various systems and components of your home, ask him or her to explain what problems may be encountered down the road, what signs to look for, and how to prevent them. Try to learn how things work and how to maintain them. The inspector may also point out little flaws or oddities that don't measure up to being mentioned in the report, but may warrant keeping an eye on.
Says Kuhn of HouseMasters, "A pre-purchase inspection is your best protection against buying a home based more on emotions, rather than as a sound investment."