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Flipping Houses: Lining Up a Home Inspector

Whenever you make an offer on a house, make the offer contingent upon the house passing inspection. Then, have the home professionally inspected. This contingency ensures that you don't get stuck holding the bag on any of the following big-ticket items:

  • Damaged foundation or other structural anomalies
  • Electrical wiring problems
  • Broken sewer lines, poor plumbing, or aging septic systems, especially if the house has been vacant for some time
  • Leaking, nonfunctioning, or nonexistent gas lines
  • Poorly functioning furnace or central air conditioning units
  • Leaking or ramshackle roof
  • Termite damage
  • Health hazards, such as lead-based paint, toxic mold, radon gas, asbestos, and hazardous insulation
  • Neighboring structures built on your property. Always check the survey to make sure that the homeowner didn't agree to allow the neighbor to build his new garage ten feet over on your property.

Although most buyers hire private home inspectors, city inspectors are another —perhaps, preferable — because they tend to be more thorough and they're well-versed on local building codes. The city inspectors in our area show up as a team that typically includes a plumber, an electrician, a heating and air-conditioning specialist, a builder, and someone who specializes in zoning. You get a thorough inspection and a complete write-up for about the same price you pay a private inspector. If the inspection uncovers problems, you can sign off on the recommendations, agreeing to make the necessary repairs after you take possession. However, not all towns and cities offer inspections, and some offer them only for new homes, so this option may not be available to you.

If you decide to hire an inspector, you can crack open the Yellow Pages and find listings for dozens of home inspectors in just about any area of the country. Finding a qualified home inspector, however, is a challenge. Begin by asking your real estate agent or other real estate professionals you know for references.

NACHI (the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors) is a nonprofit agency that works toward educating and ensuring the quality of home inspectors. Its Web site features an online referral service that you can search to find certified home inspectors in your area.

When you have a few leads, contact your candidates and ask them the following questions:

  • Are you certified, licensed, and insured? Certification and licensing ensure that the inspector has the basic qualifications for the job. Insurance covers any serious defects he may overlook.
  • How long have you been a home inspector? Length of service is often, but not always, a good indication of experience and expertise.
  • How many homes have you inspected? "One or two," isn't the answer you're looking for. A busy home inspector is usually busy because she's good.
  • What did you do before becoming a home inspector? Someone who's a retired carpenter or home builder is probably a better candidate than, say, a burned out dance instructor.
  • Do you have references I can call? If the inspector has a good track record, people don't hesitate to provide positive references.
  • Do you recommend remedies or simply identify problems? Look for an inspector who's had experience in construction. The builder who constructed my home made an excellent home inspector and actually moved into this field full time. His approach was to not only point out problems but also recommend repairs and renovations.

You don't want a home inspector who makes mountains out of mole hills. He can deflate your balloon of enthusiasm with a thousand pin holes. Don't nitpick a great deal. A homeowner who's selling a property at a clearance price often does so to avoid the costs and headaches of making repairs. Nitpicking can ruin your chances of acquiring a great piece of property. Also, don't hire your inspector as your contractor — such a move only tempts your inspector/contractor to find more problems with the property.

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