Don't cut corners by eliminating a full inspection

STARTING OUT

May 22, 1994|By Dian Hymer

Should I have a new house inspected?

Most buyers wouldn't dream of buying an older home without having it thoroughly inspected. Many new-home buyers feel that, because a home is newly constructed, it doesn't need to be inspected.

First-time buyers who are short of cash might think that passing over the inspection for a brand-new home would be a good way to save $300 to $400. Any house, condominium or townhouse you buy, regardless of its age, should be thoroughly inspected as a condition of the purchase agreement.

One advantage of buying an older home is that it is far easier to spot defects that have developed over time.

Even new homes can have defects, but they may not become readily apparent for several years. Rather than wait until defects surface, have a home inspector with experience inspecting new homes go over the house carefully before you buy it.

If defects are found during inspections, ask the builder to correct the problems before closing.

Don't assume that because the city building inspectors have recently approved the property that this is a guarantee that the house was built correctly or even in compliance with the building code requirements. The builder may have found a way to conceal a serious defect from the inspector.

Also, building inspectors, like anyone else, can make mistakes.

Buyers purchasing a home before it has been completed should ask the builder for permission to inspect the building periodically during construction.

Have someone knowledgeable (a house inspector, licensed contractor, architect or engineer) look at the house several times during its construction: Once when the foundation is going in; again after the framing is complete; when the plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning systems are installed; and, finally, during the finishing stage.

Ask each inspector to document their findings in writing, or take photographs, so that you have a record for a future buyer when you sell.

Ask the builder to provide you with copies of the building plans, the soils report, engineering calculations, copies of any laboratory test reports (for example, tests conducted on the foundation), and any inspection reports generated during construction.

If you have trouble interpreting these construction documents yourself, hire professionals to review them for you. If you have a question about a specific report or document, call the person who issued or approved it and ask for clarification. Make sure the project was built correctly and that the builder didn't cut corners that will compromise the structural integrity of the building.

Some new development builders balk at a request for construction documentation, so include this request in writing as a condition of your purchase contract.

FIRST-TIME TIP: A new house is only as good as the contractor who built it. In addition to having a new home inspected, carefully examine other projects built by the same builder before you go ahead with the purchase.

Interview homeowners who purchased other homes built by the builder. Ask if any defects appeared after closing and, if so, did the builder repair the problems promptly?

If you don't have information about other projects by your builder, ask the builder to provide you with this information as a condition of your purchase contract.

THE CLOSING: Be especially careful if you're purchasing an owner/builder project, particularly from someone who's unlicensed and with no prior experience. These projects may lack the level of quality found in projects constructed under the supervision of licensed architects and contractors.

Dian Hymer's column is syndicated through Inman News Features. Send questions and comments care of Inman News Features, 5335 College Avenue, No. 25, Oakland, Calif. 94618.

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