Building A New Construction Home? Get An Independent Home Inspector

Q: I am getting ready to buy a newly constructed home. Do I need to get an independent inspector to inspect the house during various phases of construction?

If so, where can I hire a good, qualified inspector, and how much can I expect to pay?

If I hire an independent inspector, do I need to include an inspection clause in my purchase contract? I’d like some protection so if the inspector finds something wrong with the house, I don’t have to close until everything is fixed.

A: I often wonder why home buyers think that new construction means built perfectly. After all, new construction isn’t built by robots in a factory. It’s built a stick and a brick at a time. Even in a high-quality job, mistakes happen.

The short answer to your question is yes. Yes, you should have your new home inspected at various points during the construction. You should make the builder aware that you are going to do this, and, if you haven’t finalized your contract yet, put it as a rider that both you and the builder will sign.

The rider should address how many times during construction and at what points you will want to have a professional home inspector come through. Ideally, you’d like to inspect the site once the foundation is poured, when the house has been framed, after the house has had the electrical and plumbing installed (but before the drywall is put up), and before closing.

You want to make sure that the rider states that the home must pass its final inspection, and that the builder will correct any problems before closing. If something has to be fixed after closing, you want the right to keep back some of the cash in an escrow account, as a holdback.

Your real estate attorney, and I sure hope you’re using one, can help you with the language.

As for finding a good professional home inspector, you can ask your real estate agent for a few referrals, and ask your friends, relatives and neighbors as well. You want someone who is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) because they have the most rigorous membership requirements of all the home inspection non-profit organizations. If your state licenses home inspectors, then you’ll want to make sure you hire someone licensed. Being bonded and insured is also helpful.

Take the time to interview the professional home inspector over the phone. Ask about how he or she conducts the inspection. How long does it take? What is covered? How is the report handled?

Here are the answers you should expect to get: You want a written report (not just a checklist) and a decent home inspection should take at least 2 hours for a single-family home. The inspector should go into the attic, basement, crawl space, check outlets to make sure they’re wired correctly, check for moisture, and check the home for dozens of other issues.

You should be on hand for each of the inspections. Come prepared with a pad and pen so you can take notes on what needs to be done. Consider purchasing a digital camera to keep track of the progress.

As far as cost goes, a good professional home inspector typically charges between $350 and $1,000 per inspection, depending on the size and complexity of the project. You may be able to get some sort of discount if you hire the same inspector to inspect your home four times as it is being built.

Q: My wife and I have recently started the very early stages of looking for a home. Since we didn’t know what we wanted, we drove around our area to a few new home communities to see the models they had to offer.

In your book “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask,” you mention that if you visit a new home community and do not sign in under the broker’s name you may not be able to bring a buyer’s agent into the deal later.

At the time we drove around, we didn’t have a broker. We were just looking for ourselves. Now, we’ve decided we do need an agent, but haven’t chosen one yet.

Once we select an agent will we have trouble getting the developer to recognize that we are now represented by a buyer’s agent?

A: You may indeed have problems bringing in a broker now, because the development could argue that you were unagented when you first saw the property.

The way to counter this is to state politely, but firmly, that if the development will not recognize your agent, you will not buy a home there. Tell the development’s sales associate that you very much like the community, but wouldn’t think of buying something without the assistance of an agent.

While the real estate market may be hot in your area, most developers won’t want to see a potential sale walk away over the buyer’s share of the sales commission (which the developer has already budgeted for).

Of course, if the developer refuses to budge, you’ll have to make a decision about whether you want to buy in a community where the developer treats buyers that way.

Jan. 19, 2009.


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