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Before you buy (or sell), have the house inspected

Home inspection reports can be a simple checklists

Home inspection reports can be a simple checklists or fuller narratives with recommendations. Credit: Dreamstime

A home inspection — which is generally done after a buyer makes an offer — is an important part of a home purchase.

While some Long Island buyers have been forgoing inspections in markets with tight inventory in order to make their offers look more attractive, most real estate agents do not recommend skipping it.

“We, as real estate pros, would never recommend that a buyer forgo an inspection,” says Kelley Taylor, the Huntington branch manager for Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “Quite frankly, attorneys representing buyers will often insist on an inspection.”

Here’s some advice from those in the industry on getting the most from a home inspection.

Hire an engineer

Not all home inspectors are created equal. Lisa Kiefer, an agent in the Cold Spring Harbor office of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, recommends hiring a home inspector who is also an engineer to better advise potential home buyers on structural issues.

“An engineer will know the telltale signs for things to look at and will give advice,” Kiefer says.

Thomas Petracca, the owner of Smithtown-based Petracca Design and Engineering and a licensed professional engineer, says that while hiring an engineer is not a requirement, an engineer is usually able to tell whether certain problems, such as a crack in the foundation or another part of the building, is a big issue or not.

“An engineer would be better able to interpret what they see in the inspection as to whether or not it’s proper or improper and what are the underlying causes of it,” Petracca says.

Hiring an engineer does cost more — usually nearly twice the cost of a home inspection, which is generally $500 to $600 for a typical 2,000-square-foot house, Petracca says.

Should the seller or the buyer make the fix?

If an issue is referenced in the inspection report, Petracca generally advises against asking the seller to make repairs. Instead, he says, renegotiate the purchase price.

“The seller is often not motivated to do a good repair job,” Petracca says.

A seller does have to remedy any electrical problems, problems with the roof and chimney and termite and rodent infestations, says James Haydon, an agent with Coach Real Estate in Smithtown. The inspection report details what a seller needs to do.

“There is a lot of stuff the bank looks at,” Haydon says. “They don’t loan on termites or electrical problems and fire hazards. Sometimes items can be negotiated, sometimes items have to be fixed.”

The efficiency of a pre-inspection

Sellers are encouraged to have their home inspected before listing it for sale so any big issues can be addressed before it’s placed on the market.

“If a buyer knows that someone already inspected it, they may choose to buy your home instead of another,” Haydon says. “If you’re trying to get top dollar for your home, having your home in tip-top shape is going to get you top dollar.”

While a pre-inspection is not as thorough or as expensive as a regular buyer’s inspection, it can allow the seller to remedy issues upfront in a cost-effective way, reduce the number of infractions found during the buyer’s inspection and avoid possible costly renegotiation, Taylor says.

“You could have a $1.50 (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlet that can be remedied, while renegotiation could come to tens of thousands of dollars,” Taylor says.

Covering the basics — plus

Home inspections generally cover structural issues throughout the house and basement, the condition of the plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems, the condition of appliances and septic tanks and whether there is sufficient insulation and proper ventilation in the attic.

Some home inspectors do more.

“I use a moisture meter to peer behind walls,” says Tom Pace of Pace Home Inspections in Setauket, who noted that a recent client decided not to buy a house that Pace found had moisture problems.

Pace advises asking the home inspector if they will be using a simple checklist or whether they will provide a full narrative with recommendations for contractors.

Petracca stresses that home inspectors cannot provide advice on the purchase price of a home. “That’s what the appraisal is for,” he says.

How to find a home inspector

Taylor recommends that buyers hire an inspection firm that their broker or attorney recommends. She also advises going with an inspector with insurance that covers errors and omissions, in the event that there was an oversight in the inspection.

Pace, who worked as a contractor for many years, tells buyers to look for an inspector with a long history in the market.

“You want somebody that pays attention to detail and has been around in the housing industry,” Pace says.

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