Career Advice - A Community Blog

Erik Larson writes about the job market, resume improvement, and career advice

Why You Should Always Inspect Real Estate Before You Buy

Written by Erik Larson, Community Blogger | Feb 2, 2018 12:00 PM

You've just bought your first house. You're overjoyed at the prospect of the years of happy memories you're going to make with your family in your new home. Not too long after moving in, however, you discover a litany of problems that the seller must have forgotten to mention to you: termites, toxic mold, leaky pipes, unreliable heating, and more. You can avoid this nightmare scenario by having a professional home inspector inspect the property on your behalf prior to closing. Otherwise, you will need to seek the aid of a lawyer to fight for remedies from the seller.

Can't I Take the Seller's Word for It?

Yes and no. Most jurisdictions across the United States require sellers of real estate to disclose material defects to a potential buyer. This means that a seller is prohibited from letting termite infestations, frequent basement flooding, and a bad roof go unmentioned during the negotiations. However, in many cases this disclosure requirement doesn't extend beyond material defects to lesser, but still important, issues that may still affect your decision to buy. Moreover, you shouldn't naively assume that every seller will comply with the disclosure requirements. Therefore, it is very important that you have the property inspected before you buy, and make your actual purchase of the house contingent upon the results of the inspection.

Cursory, Comprehensive, or Both?

As mentioned above, buyers are entitled to inspect the property themselves, and also to hire a professional inspect to sweep the property for defects. During your personal inspection of the house, do not go overboard with a laundry list of unreasonable complaints and requests. You shouldn't be trying to back out of the deal because you don't like the wallpaper in the dining room, or demanding that the seller go room to room tightening loose doorknobs. The purpose of the inspection is not to force the seller to make every square inch of the home absolutely flawless and in conformity with your every aesthetic proclivity. Instead, you are trying to quickly discover material defects - major, structural problems that would inhibit your ability to use and enjoy the property. 

If, like most home buyers, you are not a professional home inspector, then you'll definitely want to hire one to take a look at the house for you. Do not simply rely on the fact that the seller hired an inspector who said the property is in ship-shape. There are more than a few "seller-friendly" inspectors who will not provide a truly independent assessment of the house's condition. A competent inspector, hired by you and therefore looking out for your interests, will do a thorough search for any material defects and make sure that you have an accurate picture of the home you're about to purchase. 

Never Settle for Less than the Best

Do your due diligence when hiring inspectors. If your state requires a license for general home inspection, make sure your inspector has that license. Otherwise, look to see if the inspector belongs to a group that maintains minimum standards of performance and quality for its members. In addition, not only do you want to make sure the general inspection is done by a qualified, reputable professional, you also want to make sure that special defects are inspected by properly licensed professionals. For example, your general inspector might uncover signs of toxic chemicals or asbestos but lack the qualifications to officially comment on it in his report. Therefore, you will need to get an opinion on this defect from a licensed specialist.

Final Thoughts

As a quick note before we part ways, keep in mind that all of the preceding pertains to physical defects in the property. There are other critically important matters that should also receive a thorough inspection, such as whether there is a cloud on the title. Make sure you do all your homework before making a massive investment like buying a house. If you make sure to get all the proper inspections done and double check with a lawyer before closing on the property, you should be able to sleep soundly - with a sound roof over your head.

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