It's been said that nothing helps sell a home like the aroma of baking bread or apple pie in the oven. But that's not what David DeSombresmelled.
DeSombre, who is president of AmeriSpec, a Bel Air home inspection company, was inspecting a house with a prospective buyer. He walked into the kitchen, opened the oven door to check that there was no food on the racks, turned on the electric broiler to ensure itworked properly, then continued on while the broiler warmed up.
The smoke detector went off about the same time the smell reachedthe inspector. He ran back to the oven to find a sizzling mess of marijuana and a plastic bag inside. Someone in the house had stuffed itabove the broiler element in the back of the oven, apparently not anticipating the thoroughness of a DeSombre inspection.
Then there was the Baltimore County attic he entered through a ceiling hatch in the teen-age daughter's closet. The attic looked fine, and he noticed some seedlings growing under florescent bulbs up there. It was February. "I see you've started your tomato plants already," DeSombre said to the lady of the house when he came down.
"What tomato plants?",she replied. The "tomatoes" turned out to be marijuana. The grower'sfather, a police narcotics officer, was not pleased.
Those are the kinds of surprises DeSombre occasionally gets -- some can't be repeated in a family newspaper -- as he tries to prevent surprises for home buyers and sellers. His business is to find structural and mechanical problems in a home,
not behavioral problems in its occupants. His background is in construction, not private investigation.
DeSombre, 45, began as a mechanic's helper after high school and has beena carpenter, foreman, superintendent, general superintendent and general contractor. He traveled the country for eight years for a large developer and had his own home improvement company for six years. In 1976 he began doing home inspections part time and in 1988 opened thelocal franchise of AmeriSpec, an Orange, Calif.,-based company.
Since then his business has grown significantly each year, even in what has been called a slow real estate market.
"Consumers are becoming more aware and better educated," DeSombre said. "They want better protection."
What consumers get in a professional home inspection is a visual inspection by an unbiased expert of structural elements, electrical and mechanical systems. Cosmetic repairs are not included.The inspector won't move furniture, roll up rugs and carpet, pull out refrigerators or peek behind wall hangings.
He also won't put himself in danger, though DeSombre once fell through thetiled apron around a Jacuzzi. "The contractor had apparently run out of plywood and just substituted a piece of drywall thinking no one would stand on it."
Another time he discovered that a too short stair tread on a deck was a safety hazard when he misstepped on it and fell, suffering a16-stitch gash in his arm.
Besides offering buyers and sellers a degree of legal protection in case of problems there are other benefits for both. An inspection enables a seller to discover problems and correct them before the house is put on the market. "And they know, as far as disclosure, what the house has to make it more marketable and, hopefully, sell the house faster," DeSombre said.
When the inspection is done, DeSombre provides a list of suggestions to enhance the property's marketability in addition to a written inspection report. He also puts up a sign announcing that the home has been inspected and advising buyers to read the report.
If the buyer is the client, "95 percent of the time the buyer is present" for the inspection, DeSombre said. "He can find out the exact condition the house is in structurally, electrically and mechanically." He encourages questions and provides maintenance tips as they walk through the average two-hour inspection.
AmeriSpec's basic fee, which DeSombre says is typical for this area, is $170 for a house selling for up to $170,000. Eachadditional $1,000 raises the fee $1.
For consumers looking for aninspection service, he advises they rule out any which also do repair work. There may be a conflict of interest. DeSombre's firm doesn't even recommend contractors or make referrals. "We tell people that, because of standards, we don't recommend any contractor other than their own utility company," he said.
Those standards are set by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), a professional organization which also certifies inspectors through a series of examinations and experience requirements. DeSombre, who is president of the Greater Chesapeake chapter, suggests that consumers choose an inspection service which is an ASHI member.
When shopping for a service ask to see a sample written report to see if it is thorough and understandable. Find out how long the firm has been in business and ask if it carries errors and omissions insurance.
Even new houses can have problems and are candidates for inspection. "Usually it relates to something the builder didn't do or was damaged during construction," he said."Even in a new house you can still find broken trusses. It's better to have an inspection done so the builder can correct it, rather thandiscover it six years later and correct it at your own expense."
NOTE: THIS ARTICLE ALSO APPEARED IN CARROLL AND HARFORD COUNTY SUN EDITIONS