Home inspections are a routine part of the home-buying
process, but not every home problem is routine.
Ron and Julie Kirchgessner of Greenwood, Ind., certainly
wish they'd phoned a few more experts.
Their inspector declared the two-story brick home
one of the soundest construction jobs he'd seen, and the home withstood
a tornado in the first six months. But the in-ground swimming pool
was on its last legs and the 17 trees on the property struggle with
diseases. Both troubled areas fall outside the routine -- the American
Society of Home Inspectors' standards for certification.
So the Kirchgessners sunk nearly $10,000, unbudgeted,
into their home -- money they believe they could have knocked off
the price of the home.
Laws governing mortgage contracts differ, so homeowners
don't always get to waive, say, a termite inspection. But when the
service is elective, weigh your situation against these factors
to avoid "if onlys."
Older homes: If the home
is 80 years or older, ask around for an older-home inspection specialist.
These experts know to search for unique problems such as packed
coal under cement -- a major expense to drill through if you experience
drain problems in the future -- and live gas leaking from abandoned
pipes in the walls.
"A lot of people have money in their pockets,
but they really don't have an idea of what things really cost to
remodel," says John Gaweda, owner of John Gaweda RA Architectural
Services in Brooklyn.
Houses built before 1980 are suspect for septic system
replacement, which is a $20,000 to $40,000 expense. That's why Michael
Kuhn, technical director for national inspection franchise HouseMaster,
advises these home shoppers to budget between $350 and $450 for
an open pit evaluation to dig up the system, pump it out and evaluate
Swimming pools: Nearly
4.3 million in-ground pools dot America's neighborhoods, yet Stephen
J. Preins, chair of ASHI National Public Relations Committee and
himself an inspector, has never seen a pool expert show up at any
of the homes he's contracted.
Such news makes Frank Goldstein shudder. As a board
member of the National Spa and Pool Institute and owner of Chesapeake
Aquatic Consultants in Maryland, he knows first-hand the opportunities
Start with the name of the pool builder, since local
folks know who has a reputation for particular problems to check
Next, effective pool inspections must be done with
the pool operational -- count on a $500 expense to bring it to this
condition and then re-winterize if you purchase between October
and May in a cold climate.
The specialist should evaluate the expansion joints,
inspect ladders and diving equipment, and examine any pool covers.
Goldstein checks the pump's rated amperage and voltage under load.
He also gauges the pump's vacuum, and checks the filter for costly
leaks. The heater -- a $1,600 stumbling block the Kirchgessners
later discovered -- should fire smoothly.
"I once inspected a pool where the current homeowner
advertised a heated pool, but then he disconnected the heater from
the system because it was so rotted out it was inoperable,"
Goldstein says. "I've helped some people reduce a home's selling
price by $8,000."
Plan to spend between $75 and $125 for the pool inspector's
Trees: It never occurred
to Joanne Sammer to examine the trees surrounding her Brielle, N.
J., dream home until a Norwegian maple tree fell into it two months
after she closed. She was lucky to escape with her life and a $2,100
bill to repair the roof damage.
But to rub salt into the wound, the arborist she chose
to address the mess knew how to find her -- he'd previously cleaned
up another tree that had crashed into the second story.
Homeowners bidding on acreage that contains mature
trees (older than 15 years) or evergreens -- pines, junipers, spruces
-- risk purchasing borers under the barks, as well as scale bugs,
bag worms, spider marts and other killers.
You can either produce several hundred dollars a year
for treatments for each ill tree or shell out $1,000-plus to remove
each after it dies.
The latter strategy quickly devalues your property,
says Richard Glover, the arborist who owns Richard Glover's Tree
Service in Indianapolis.