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Newly built houses need inspections, too -- Page 2

Francis DeSouza, an accountant in Loudon County, Va., had an unsatisfying experience when he bought a townhouse two years ago: Walking through the completed home with the construction supervisor, DeSouza noticed a wet, warped floorboard, which the supervisor dismissed as insignificant. Later, DeSouza had to replace the board.

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DeSouza plans to move out of the townhouse this year. He and his fiancee are having a 3,200-square-foot house built. DeSouza made sure an independent inspector was given access to the construction site. "I knew I needed an expert opinion before they threw the drywall up there," he says.

The inspector was at the site for three hours and found "a ton of stuff" such as cracked floor joists, missing hangers on studs, and missing fireblocks. A county inspector already had passed it.

DeSouza and the construction supervisor later walked through the house together, checking off items on the inspector's list. The builder told DeSouza which problems he would fix and which he wouldn't because they were too minor. After remedies were made, DeSouza went to the site to check. After his OK, the walls went up.

"The pre-drywall inspection was very worth it," DeSouza says. "I recommend it to anyone who doesn't know a lot about building houses." He is considering hiring his inspector to go through the house after construction is finished and right before closing. This is the stage that Welby-Solomon calls "pre-delivery inspection."

At this point, the inspector looks for faults such as crooked walls, missing handrails, trip hazards caused by floors that aren't on the same level from room to room, and bathroom vents that exhaust moisture into the attic instead of outside.

Finding an inspector
A trained inspector can examine newly built houses in addition to older homes. The Web site of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors lets you search for home inspectors by ZIP code.

And sometimes the inspector will find more serious problems. After Duncan Jakes put an offer on a recently built log house outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, his inspector found deal-killing errors. The edge of the concrete foundation slab was supposed to be 14 inches thick, but it was eight inches thick. The second-story floor joists were too small. "Could you imagine my first house party and everyone falls through?" Jakes says. He rescinded his offer. "I feel happy and sleep good at night knowing that ... the engineer I hired did his job," he says.

A few people hire inspectors to examine houses in the month or two before the one-year warranty ends on cosmetic things (typically, there's a three-year warranty on systems and a longer warranty on the structure itself). This inspection isn't as common because owners have lived there almost a year and they already know what's wrong with the house.

Naturally, inspectors insist that it can't hurt to have another set of eyes take another look before the warranty expires. "We would go back and check that things that were brought to their attention (at the pre-delivery inspection) were done," Welby-Solomon says. They check for nail pops, missing handrails and baseboards, and moisture and staining in the attic. They take another look at the electrical systems.

They rarely find anything major. But for anxious owners, the peace of mind could be worth the price.

-- Posted: April 7, 2005




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