edited excerpts from
"A Home Buyer's Guide To Reality"

by Lawrence M. Kostaneski, PE
Copyright 1998 Centerline Press

There is much discussion about the merits of having an inspection done before buying a home. Some lenders require it, while with others it's optional. There isn't any universal opinion about inspections, other than a general notion that it is probably a good idea: which it is.

By way of contrast, a Realtor in Cape Cod wrote a few weeks ago to tell me that an inspection done by a friend failed to discover a significant structural defect in a house she bought. Go figure !

This is my professional opinion on the matter, reinforced by conversations with friends in the business, litigation I've been asked to comment on, and listening to numerous stories, good and bad.

A house is not unlike a car, or the human body for that matter. All are a veritable riot of systems and parts, hopefully functioning in harmony with themselves and the environment in which they exist. If you have a serious malady, you will ultimately end up visiting a specialist: heart, bones, etc. The same is true with your car. An oil change is a far cry from rebuilding a transmission or differential.

A house is no different.

So, what do YOU need from an Inspector ? Well, it depends what you want. An electrician or electrical engineer who does home inspections may do a positively marvelous job of telling you that the home does not meet current wiring codes: I couldn't do that. But there may be some difficulty in determining if the lot is flood prone or the water system is dependable: that I could do. Why is this ? Because the areas of expertise are different: one not better than the other, just different.

The homes I've bought I inspected myself, EXCEPT for the electrical and HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling). I had friends in the business do that for me on a quid pro quo basis. Why ? Because we know our limitations and rely on each other for help. Therein lies the problem. There are few inspectors with the education, training, background and experience to detect EVERY potential problem that might be present. Some inspection companies send out teams of individuals trained in electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, as well as residential construction methods. I would expect these teams to do an extraordinarily thorough job: and be expensive as well.

The first thing to do is determine EXACTLY the areas the inspector will evaluate. If you believe this scope covers the things that worry you, and the inspector is reputable, then no problems, mate. If one of these is not true, then you need to keep searching for someone who will serve your needs. Remember, this is NOT about satisfying someone else, it's about satisfying YOU.

If you have a friend or relative who recently bought a house with an inspection, and the information proved satisfactory, contact that inspector. Ask for an example of a report. If you're told they're confidential, ask for one with the house specific information deleted. Anyone who will not share examples of the finished product is not very good at marketing their services.

We all know the incredible investment awaiting those who decide to buy a home. It is always in your best interest to know what you are buying. Future articles will explain the many issues I've found to be important to people over the years. Use that as a guide, remembering the analogy between a house and a car. You can never be too careful or know too much about your next home !

My book, for example, identifies those items I'm not familiar with, and advises the reader to seek competent expertise. But the book is still 150 pages of fact filled (if not fun filled) information that could keep you from making a serious mistake. This information is based on my years of listening to angry home buyers, but ONLY within my fields of expertise: civil engineering, subdivision planning and design and development regulations.

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Mr. Kostaneski is a registered Professional Engineer with over 20 years experience in the design and construction industry, 10 of those as a government regulatory official responsible for resolving residential development problems. He is owner of Centerline, an engineering consulting firm. Comments are edited excerpts from his book, "A Home Buyer's Guide To Reality".

©1996, 1997, 1998 Centerline Press & David Moninger. All Rights Reserved