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Home inspectors don't have X-ray vision, but they look at everything from top to bottom - inside every cabinet, behind every door, opening all windows, flipping each light switch, turning on every faucet and flushing every toilet - to see more than someone with 20-20 eyesight.
"I look for the hidden things," said Kyle Ernst, owner of House Check Inc., a home inspector for prospective buyers in the Pikes Peak region for 14 years. Some things hide in plain sight, while others take more effort to discern.
The reason for being so eagle-eyed is to determine the condition of a house before buyers make it their home.
Ernst said he charges $220 for his inspections. Some charge more; some charge less. But inspectors say it's well worth the money because a thorough inspection can potentially save buyers thousands of dollars in repairs later.
"A lot of people don't know what to look for. They walk into the house and think it looks great, but they can't see the electrical," said Bonnie Abrams, who, with husband, Rob, owns a local Pillar to Post home inspection franchise. "They think they want to save money by not having the house inspected, but they don't always know what to look for in the foundation or the plumbing or the roof shingles. We see the inspection as an opportunity to educate people more about the house."
Ernst agreed that many buyers see inspections as just an extra expense.
"In my experience they love the house. I go in and I might find all kinds of things wrong with it, which kind of bursts their bubble," he said. "In the long run, skipping the inspection could cost thousands."
An inspection also can provide an escape hatch from a contract if a seller isn't willing to fix a problem or budge on the price to accommodate the cost of repairs - provided the contract is written so the sale is contingent upon an inspection.
Steve Willis is president of the Southern Colorado Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors, ASHI. He's in his fifth year as an inspector after spending 35 years as a homebuilder. He says electrical issues are the most common problems he sees.
"With this big of a purchase, it's foolish not to have an inspection," he said. "It's a way to get peace of mind that the house is in good shape."
New homebuyers won't always scramble around in a dirty crawl space, musty attic or on a steeply pitched roof - all things most accredited inspectors do. Ernst said he checks everything and he invites - even encourages - the home buyer to join him on the inspection. He said he not only follows the standards set by ASHI, he goes above and beyond them. He added that most ASHI-accredited inspectors do more than what's advised by ASHI's code of ethics and practices.
Abrams said Pillar to Post has a number of requirements for its franchisees, including carrying errors and omissions insurance and membership in one of the national organizations. The Abramses are members of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI).
When it comes time for the inspection, make sure to be there, even if your real estate agent wants to be present as well. Inspectors agree that it's most important for the buyer to be there.
"It's a chance for them to really walk around the whole house and take a look at things they probably didn't consider," Ernst said.
He always begins his inspections on the roof. Then he walks the perimeter of the house and maneuvers through the crawl space before going to the garage. There he examines the electrical panel.
"I pull that cover off and look to see what the wiring looks like. I can tell if somebody has messed around with the electrical. I can see if there's a safety concern," he said.
From the garage, he heads to the kitchen where he checks all the stove burners, the garbage disposal and dishwasher. Every cabinet is opened, all the plumbing is scrutinized and he turns on every light switch. "ASHI only requires us to check one outlet in every room, but I check every single one. I go through every inch of the house." He checks all bedrooms, bathrooms, windows and attic. On his last stop, he examines the furnace and water heater.
His biggest concern, he said, is safety.
"I know most of the home inspectors here in town and they're all honest," he said. "Yeah, we want to make money, but the biggest thing is to make sure the homes are safe. We want people to know they're safe so they can sleep at night."
Ernst is not a fan of taking photos during his inspection because he considers it an added expense for the buyer. If buyers are with him on the inspection, they can take photos with their cellphones. There are times when photos are necessary - for example, if the buyer is out of state.
Ernst is quick to note he is not an appraiser, engineer or code inspector. Nonetheless, he knows a safety issue when he sees one.
"It's good to have a pair of eyes that come in and get an independent evaluation," Ernst said. "It's good to have a separate set of eyes specifically and exclusively for the buyer."
finding an inspector
Colorado does not require inspectors to be licensed, so how do you find someone who is qualified? Experts say:
- Look for inspectors who are members of an accrediting organization such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, ASHI, or National Association of Home Inspectors, NAHI. The organizations offer accreditation and continuing education.
- Ask how long the inspection will take, when the report will be available, what the report will look like and what is the inspector's experience. On average, an inspection should take at least two hours. "If someone says they can go through the house in an hour, you may not want that person," said Steve Willis, president of the Southern Colorado Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors. "This isn't something to rush through."
- Real estate agents may provide contact information for one specific inspector, or offer a list. "People should remember that the inspector is working for them. It's best to find one on your own," said Kyle Ernst, owner of House Check Inc.
- Make sure the inspector carries insurance.