Home Inspectors, and why you need to be smarter than them.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

You're buying a house!  Nice!  You've probably been shopping a while, probably doing a lot of figuring out what you need and don't need. Probably have seen a lot of crappy places but you finally found The House!  It is pretty exciting when that happens.  A brief word of caution though, don't move into it in your head until you have those keys in your hot little hands. 


Around here in these parts we get an attorney review period right at the top after agreeing to a contract which includes setting up a home inspection, but it also gives a buyer time to back out for whatever reason, if feet get cold or what have you.  Most importantly is that home inspection. If it goes awry or if some issues come up, you can renegotiate or cancel the whole deal.

Ah home inspections. So you tag along with someone covered in tools for a few hours while they seemingly comb through every part of your new-home-to-be, stressing you and the seller out.  You never seem to have a good inspector filed away in your contacts list so you rely on your realtor or someone you know for a good one.  There's nothing wrong with that at all, despite what some real estate web sites might tell you.  But it can be true, some of the things they say, if you hired a shady agent to begin with.  In having bought four properties in Chicago and having sold three, I haven't had a bad inspector or any major problems.  Until buy number four.

I had to work the day of our inspection which, no matter what I'm working on or doing in the future, I will never miss a home inspection again, if I hire an inspector again.  I'm not saying this guy was bad, he wasn't.  And I'm not saying Mike didn't pay attention or isn't house-smart.  It seemed like the guy did a thorough job.  I received a bazillion page report, all fancy with photos and such.  He went over stuff with Mike and taught him a few new things.  

I think my frustration lies in the fact that we pretty well have no heat or a/c on our second floor, among other things such as the hot water heater incident I mentioned in another posting.  You have to get all the way up to the registers, which are in the ceiling upstairs, to feel just a slight whisper of air coming out.  That's a big problem.  It gets silly hot and silly cold here in Chicago, so as a result, the second floor is not comfortable.  Or it is, but only for two weeks in the spring and fall.  What's worse is thinking about resale.  I don't even want to contemplate that.

The problem for me is what inspectors don't check.  If you read the fine print, there's a long list of things that you would expect them to be checking but they don't.  I never realized that, even in all my years of buying and selling.  I paid them a chunk of cash and trusted them to thoroughly inspect the property.  And believe me, they don't point out what they don't check.  Granted they do miss a few things here and there but when it's something huge and important like your HVAC system, all they check is if it works, if it turns on.  They're not required to make sure it actually works, if it functions properly, like say, on your second floor.  Mmm hm, you see where I'm going now.

Do not rely solely on your home inspector to check everything.  You have to be proactive.  I feel like a new age-y weirdo saying that.  Be sure you study up on home systems (which it wouldn't hurt you to do anyway since you're buying a house) before the inspection.  Be that paranoid home buyer and be snoopy.  Ask a million questions.  If they're going too fast for you, make them slow down.  If the inspector doesn't check something, check it yourself.  Plus, here in Chicago, if you want the house checked for mold, you have to hire a separate additional inspector for that.  Open every window, every drawer, bring an electric meter if you have to.  Don't dress up -- wear your grubbiness and comfy shoes and get on in there.  They might get annoyed with you but hey, you're the one making the gigantic financial commitment to a stacked pile of bricks and wood, you need to know.  It's an adversarial situation anyway, make the most of it.

I'll probably have one more HVAC company come out to take a look.  The first said, uh, I dunno, bad duct design?  The second said our furnace was undersized but it's not.  I tried a little camera thanks to my friend Eric but couldn't get it through where I needed to.  There's a gap in a duct by the furnace so I'll try his camera again when the heating season winds down a bit (and buy him more beer for that, too) but I know it won't go up the chase.  Knowing the flipper and his cheap smarmy ways, it was some guy off the street who put in the whole system and it's just a million ways bad.  Where does that leave us?  I don't know yet. 

Be smart, people.  Be smart. 

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