Home inspectors see a house for what it really isBy John Handley, Special to the Tribune
January 4, 2013
What are the secrets of that house you're thinking of buying? What's in the basement, in the attic, on the roof? Are mechanical systems working properly?
As buyers gradually jump back into the housing market, a thorough examination of a dwelling is an essential step toward homeownership. It can increase confidence about the condition of a property and save thousands of dollars down the road. Risky deals like foreclosures and short sales require even more scrutiny.
|Ed Miehlke and Bill Hayes of HomeTeam|
That's where a home inspection comes in.
"Home inspectors lay all the cards on the table," said Doug Hanscom, broker associate with ReMax Properties in Western Springs.
Like doctors, home inspectors give thorough physical exams. They probe the ins and outs of residences and make detailed reports. What they uncover can make or break a deal.
Illinois law requires home inspectors to be licensed by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Trade organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors and the National Association of Home Inspectors promote high standards of practice.
Home inspections cost an average of $350 for single-family homes and $300 for condominiums, but they can pay for themselves if serious defects are discovered. In that case, the buyer and seller can negotiate the cost of repairs. Roofs can be deal-breakers because of the $15,000 to $30,000 replacement cost.
The No. 1 problem discovered in inspections is water intrusion, frequently from leaking roofs and basements, according to home inspector Ed Miehlke.
"Home inspectors are like general practitioners. We check out a house for a couple of hours. If we need more information, we call in a specialist — a plumber, electrician or other expert," said Miehlke of HomeTeam Inspection Service of Arlington Heights.
The standard inspection checklist includes electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems. Siding and roofs are evaluated, as are foundations and interior walls and ceilings. Doors and windows are checked for tightness.
"The age of a property tells us what to look for," Miehlke said. "Older houses may have issues with cracked foundations and wiring."
"We give buyers three choices of home inspectors," said Chris Downey, a real estate agent with Koenig & Strey in Winnetka. She noted that sellers must report pre-existing defects in a disclosure statement that covers major components. Downey said home inspections are especially important for young, first-time buyers not seasoned in how to evaluate a house.
"Usually, people don't make an issue about small things, like a few cracks that don't have a structural cause. But in the case of a major problem, the buyer and seller may split the cost," she said.
What issues do the pros often encounter?"We check certain building systems that have had problems in the past. One of them is a certain brand of circuit breaker panel that was popular in the 1950s and '60s," Miehlke said. "Asbestos frequently was wrapped around ductwork from the 1950s to the '70s. Some Chinese drywall has a high sulfur content."
Miehlke said he finds mold in as many as 10 percent of houses his company inspects. "Mold occurs because of lack of ventilation in an attic or basement," he said, noting it can cause respiratory problems and allergies.
Elevated radon levels are found in an average of 30 to 40 percent of homes in the Chicago area, Miehlke said. "Radon is a naturally occurring gas from the breakdown of uranium. It's easily corrected by venting the gas with a pipe from the ground to above the roof," he said.
A valuable tool in home inspections is a thermal imaging camera, which detects heat loss. "It can't see through walls, but it measures temperature," said Jack Schubert, managing inspector for Windy City Home Inspection Inc. in Highland Park. "When water evaporates, it cools the wall, and that can be measured," he said.
Schubert said flaws also are common in new construction. "We find small stuff like electrical outlets that aren't properly grounded. One new house needed a furnace filter replaced because it was clogged with sawdust."
An inspection of a gut rehab of an older house includes making sure the landscaping doesn't angle running water toward the foundation, Schubert said. He noted that some sellers pay for a prelisting inspection in order to make repairs that will increase the value and marketability of their house.
Even after all flaws have been reported, Schubert estimated that 95 percent of homes continue on to closing. "Our reports don't sugarcoat the house, but they rarely torpedo the deal," said home inspector Bill Hayes of HomeTeam Inspection Service of Schaumburg. "We take the emotions out of the transaction."
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