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When should you hire a building inspector?

Buyers and owners who want to evaluate the condition of a house can get professional help by hiring a home inspector. These building specialists--often trained as engineers, architects, or contractors--review every aspect of a house's construction, from foundation to roof. Since they don't (and shouldn't) bid on the work to be done, they can pinpoint problem areas without bias or expectation of profit from repairs.

Private building inspection is a fairly new industry, developed as house prices began to soar 10 or 12 years ago. Today, dozens of outfits are listed in the yellow pages for major Western cities under the heading Building Inspection Service. Credentials vary; membership in a professional organization such as the American Society of Home Inspectors or the California Real Estate Inspection Association indicates the firm meets basic industry standards. Some inspectors may also belong to the International Conference of Building Officials.

Several types of service are available: complete inspection of a new or used house for a purchaser; complete inspection for a homeowner concerned with maintenance or future sales prospects; and inspection limited to a specific area or system, such as a roof, foundation, wiring, or plumbing. Cost ranges from $50 to $300 and up, depending on location, square footage, and extent of report. For an overall report on a 2,000-square-foot house, for instance, the free will likely run from $150 to $250.

Most companies request payment be made on site, although you may be able to make arrangements for the fee to come out of escrow.

Choosing an inspector. Faced with an assortment of yellow page listings, you can use these questions to narrow down the choices:

* What are the professional qualifications of both the company and the person who will actually do your inspection?

* How long does inspection take? Most run about 2 hours; generally, the longer, the more thorough. It's advisable to accompany the inspector, so set a date and time when you can be there.

* What areas are covered? An inspector who skips the rooftop, attic, or crawl space, for instance, can miss important clues to a house's condition.

* What kind of report will you get? Some inspectors use a checklist as they work, but many feel that a narrative written report, often 10 to 15 pages, is more helpful to the client. Agree on a deadline for receiving the final report.

You may also want to ask a reliable realtor for recommendations, or to get references from the firm you're considering.

What to expect. When the inspector meets you at the house, you can discuss any problems you suspect. Then, armed with simple tools such as a ladder, flashlight, and electric outlet tester, the inspector will evaluate the condition of all the major systems of the house. Basically these include framing, foundation, and roofing; plumbing, electrical, heating, and cooling systems; major built-in appliances; ventilation and insulation; and building site, drainage, and relevant landscape features.

Although this process may overlap a termite inspection, it is not a substitute. To avoid liability, inspectors may flatly omit any reference to termites or dry rot.

During or after the evaluation, the inspector may briefly discuss problems and recommendations. Within a week or so, you should receive a report detailing the condition of each item, which ones need repair or replacing, and their probable life expectancy.

If you request it, the inspector will give priority ratings to repairs. This tells you which deficiencies should be corrected at once, which may be postponed.
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Date:Nov 1, 1985
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