In a peculiar ritual of American home-buying, the prospective buyer often knows more than the seller about the home's most serious faults.
The roof is shot? The furnace should have been replaced five years ago? Termites have eaten through the garage's rear wall?
It's all on the home-inspection report commissioned by the prospective buyer after the seller accepts the bid.
"In some countries," says Scott Monforte, president of the Connecticut Association of Home Inspectors, "they'll do the inspection before they put a bid in on the house, which would make more sense."
Not in this state and not in this country. Some inspectors, including Monforte, say it sometimes makes sense for the home seller to schedule an inspection before listing the house. Know any home sellers who hired an inspector?
"They're very rare," says Monforte, who owns SJM Inspection Service of Milford. "But I'd love to see it."
How many before-the-sale inspections has he done for homeowners in the past year?
"I'd say one or two," he says.
Bill Jacques, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, says fewer than 10 percent of homeowners request an inspection before putting their home on the market.
"It's not a popular thing," he says. "It's a very good thing to do, though, because they're looking to minimize the kinds of things inspectors may find that the new owners may ask to have repaired. The [homeowner] can either fix these things or just disclose these things to the buyer. It sets the tone for a better home sale."
Sometimes homeowners don't want to know what ails their house. They just want a quick sale. But knowing your home's flaws can pay off, too.
"Here's my thought," says Monforte. "Find out about it, fix it, and charge more. Maybe you were asking $370,000. You put in a new roof and now I'm going to ask $400,000 or more."
A basic home inspection costs about $500. Additional tests for the septic system, water profile and radon could push it closer to $1,500. A standard inspection evaluates a home's structure, interior and exterior, roofing, electrical system, heating and air conditioning systems, plumbing, insulation, ventilation and fireplaces.
Buyer or seller, if you suspect a problem with a big-ticket item like a roof or furnace, hire a specialist to do a routine check.
"A home inspection is not a detailed disassembly of something," says Jacques, who owns American Inspection Service in Ravenel, S.C. "It's all the visible, accessible areas. When you're trying to look inside a chimney, you have very limited vision of the actual flue. So if you have a certified chimney sweep who can stick a camera down inside there, they'll see all sorts of things the home inspector would never be able to see. Absolutely, that would be the best way to go."
Barry LePatner, founder of LePatner & Associates, a construction law firm in New York, knows enough about the housing industry that he won't take chances. He hired three engineers to inspect a house he eventually purchased earlier this year.
"One," he says, "a home inspector who looks at every single system, looks at the entire house and environmentals and gives you a 35-to-40 page report. I then brought out special engineers — mechanical, electrical and plumbing — to look closely at certain systems like the boiler and hot water systems. Then I had a structural engineer come and tell me it's in fabulous shape. I know enough that I want those separate opinions."
To find a home inspector, use the search tool at ASHI's site (www.ashi.org) or get at least three recommendations from your local real estate agent or friends. Make sure the inspector is registered with the state by visiting the Department of Consumer Protection's eLicensing site (click on "Lookup a License).
"Then get some names of people he's worked for," says Jacques, "who can verify that, first of all, they did the home inspection and that [the people] were satisfied with it."
A response to a recent Q/A (read it at bit.ly/12EFMd1) with Colby Sambrotto, CEO of sell-it-yourself real estate site USRealty.com:
"I sold a house using ForSaleByOwner [where Sambrotto was the former chief operating officer] a couple years ago. After two months, I had only one showing, followed by a lowball offer and a no-show. I then paid an extra fee for an MLS listing. This was actually done through a local agent. Forget about a commission-free sale. Get the listing on MLS.
"Also, be prepared for dealing with agents, all with different tactics. Before listing, research, research and research the market so you set a price right, and know your final sale-price target. Check both recent sale comps and go to open houses. Realize if you find a 'really close' comp on the market, you need to set your listing price at least 5 percent lower to steer buyers to your house.
"I'll never know if this route netted me more than through hiring an agent. However, I could never get a solid feel for an agent. I also preferred maintaining more control of the process."
Jim Reddington, Middletown