Even a new house needs inspecting

Inspector's Eye

May 20, 2001|By Dean Uhler

Home inspections have been an important aspect of residential real estate transactions for decades. But is it necessary to carry out an inspection for a new home?

Many buyers of new houses assume that hiring an inspector on their behalf would not be cost-effective. They point to the warranties the builder is required to give, the warranties that come with new appliances and the assumption that any defects will be found by the city or county code inspectors.

But warranties have limitations. Builders may be less motivated to service a home after closing, or an economic downturn could cause the builder to go bankrupt.

Appliance warranties can be voided by installation defects, and defects may go undiscovered by the new owner. City and county inspectors are at the construction site for brief periods of time, often only a few minutes.

The elusive defect

No inspector, whether government or private, can find every defect, and how many defects are found is often a matter of time.

A private inspector can take a great deal more time, albeit at a monetary cost to the homebuyer.

Also, government inspectors are not focusing on workmanship - it's a pass-fail exam, and the government inspector must pass a builder's workmanship even if it merits a grade of "D" rather than "A."

There is rarely a shortage of defects to be found in new construction, and some of them are significant. For example, I have seen a surprising number of improperly fastened asphalt shingle roof surfaces on new houses.

Warranty sometimes voided

The manufacturer's warranty on the shingles probably will be voided if patches of shingles blow off because nails or staples were driven right through the shingles, which is common because of excessive force from nail and staple guns.

Homebuyers can protect themselves most effectively by having an inspection performed at various stages of construction, such as a framing and mechanical inspection before drywall, and a punch list inspection just before the builder's pre-settlement walk-through.

While your builder may be mildly offended that you feel the need to check his or her work, most recognize that finding defects early in the process helps everybody.

Also, it may be less disruptive and more effective to have staged, professional inspections performed, rather than try to monitor construction by hanging around the building site yourself.

The Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General, which registers homebuilders and provides mediation assistance in disputes with homebuilders, recommends the use of inspection services during new- home construction.

The division's Web site, which offers information on builder registration and buyer rights and remedies, is www.oag.state.md.us/homebuilder.

Inspector's Eye

Dean Uhler has been a home inspector for more than 12 years and is president of Baltimore-based Boswell Building Surveys, Inc. Uhler is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and is the treasurer of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of ASHI.

Questions, with name, address and daytime telephone number, about homes and home inspections can be faxed to 410-783-2517, e-mailed to real.estate@baltsun.com or mailed to Inspector's Eye, Second Floor, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278-0001.

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