I’m not into the “Idiot’s Guide” books — probably because I don’t like to think, after 15 years of writing about real estate and home improvement, that I am an idiot.
Of course, you may disagree with that assumption, as many do.
That’s why I was prepared to toss aside the press release from HouseMaster, the national home-inspection franchiser, touting the book veteran inspector Mike Kuhn has co-authored, titled Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Home Inspections, published this month by Alpha Press.
Since I’m in the midst of writing my first book and planning to start another almost immediately after this one is finished, I know what a grueling exercise it can be — especially if you already hold down several full-time jobs.
What piqued my interest was Kuhn’s suggestion, which is reaffirmed consistently by my readers, that new houses can be just as flawed as older ones.
Of course, that would mean more business for home inspectors. But this concern about new construction is not without justification.
No matter how experienced the builder, his or her employees and the subs are, they are only human and thus are prone to error.
They forget. They lose work orders. Materials arrive late or end up on back order. The weather is bad.
They rush to finish things to make deadlines.
In an effort to build their businesses, they can often bite off more than they can chew and then choke.
What this means is the consumer can end up on the short end, even though that isn’t what the builder had planned. Both buyer and builder suffer — the buyer with an “incomplete” house; the builder with an unhappy buyer who won’t recommend the builder to his friends, family and co-workers.
In areas where there is healthy competition for buyers, this can kill a business.
Some builders go to extravagant lengths to make good. One builder I know will go as far as buying back the house from a dissatisfied customer, realizing that reputation is more important than a few hundred thousand dollars.
Another builder actually went into a house 10 years after he had built it, and when it was on its third owner, to replace a front step that really was the owner’s responsibility.
Since the 3 houses I’ve owned were completed between 1848 and 1929, I’d have had to do a lot of digging to find the builder. So I just fix things myself.
Just as I recommend that every new-home buyer hire a lawyer to read over the contract with the builder before he or she signs it, I heartily encourage every new-home buyer to hire a qualified inspector as well.
By qualified, I mean an inspector who specializes in new construction and who has a rapport with new-home builders.
That’s not to say the inspector and the builders should be pals. The inspector should, however, be known to and have a resume that a builder respects.
Respect means that the builder will not feel pressure, or will dig in his heels along the way. I’ve heard of instances where a buyer has hired an inspector, and the builder has done everything in his power to tie the inspector’s hands.
This includes limiting the window of opportunity the inspector has for a thorough search, as well as refusing to make changes that the inspector has recommended.
That’s one reason for the lawyer. The lawyer has to spell out the inspection provisions in the contract before it is signed, just to make everything crystal clear.
In a very few cases, a builder may be trying to hide something. In most situations, however, it is simply a matter of hurt feelings — “you don’t trust me.”
It is just business. You need to convince the builder that the inspector’s presence is insurance for both of you, as well as an extra, educated set of eyes looking for things that might have been missed.
Now builders will argue that this is why they hire site superintendents. I’ve known some very good ones. But they are human, they have a lot to do and can make mistakes.
That is equally true of an inspector, who, even if the builder doesn’t limit the inspection time, is on a clock.
When you hire an inspector, get a clear picture of what he or she is going to look at, since the list is not all-inclusive. If you have a concern that is not on the list, request that the matter be addressed, and expect to pay extra or be told that you will have to hire someone else to take care of it — a roofer, perhaps, or a structural engineer.
Written by Al Heavens