If you are going to spend top dollar for a house, you want a golden goose and not a turkey.
Now, that doesn't mean the house has to be perfect. You are going to spend some money after you move in -- industry experts say an average of $6,000 within the first six months -- but wouldn't you rather focus on new curtains, paint and additional storage than on a furnace or a new roof?
Although sellers cringe merely at the mention of it, and some residential builders continue to set up obstacles to it, you should not forgo a professional home inspection by a reliable inspector.
By reliable, we are talking about inspectors who belong to associations that establish strict requirements for membership, including professional experience, as well as standards for inspection.
The American Society of Home Inspectors and the National Association of Home Inspectors are two such groups. Each maintains a list of members on its website.
Before an inspector begins work, he or she is required to provide you with a list of what the inspection will entail so there will be no misunderstandings or lawsuits.
For example, the National Association of Home Inspectors excludes inspections for termites or termite damage, indoor air quality, or the potential (including mold) for the indoor air to cause illness, and states unequivocally that the inspection and report are based on "visual observation of existing conditions of the property at the time of inspection."
So the report is not a guarantee, nor will the inspector be liable for any repairs or replacement of the inspected property or its contents.
Just because you hire a home inspector doesn't mean you should close your eyes. As a buyer, you must have as intimate a knowledge of the house as possible when you reach settlement.
If you buy a property, you should hire a termite inspector; reports are required by just about every lender anyway. Make sure the inspector looks for all pests, since it isn't much consolation if you don't have termites but you do have rats, squirrels, carpenter bees, and raccoons, and no one notices.
Some termite-inspection companies provide a guarantee -- six months to a year, typically. When the time is up, you will receive a notice from the company suggesting re-inspection.
You are under no obligation to have the house re-inspected. But if you do and the inspector finds termites, have that fact confirmed by another inspection firm before you take any further action.
Some states require each seller to fill out a disclosure form about the property being sold that is provided to every prospective buyer. In states without such laws, real estate companies often urge a seller to fill out a disclosure form anyway.
In some cases, the disclosure laws shift the legal responsibility from real estate agents to sellers in the existing-home market.
A lot of sellers aren't totally aware of a problem, especially if they've conditioned themselves into believing that it doesn't exist.
You need to put defects in perspective. For example, how many people will acknowledge having a wet basement? Usually the answer is, "Not me," because even though they sometimes get a little water in the basement, they've conditioned themselves into believing that it only happens to the neighbor.
Many basements are damp, and the presence of water does not necessarily indicate that the foundation has a structural problem.
The purpose of a foundation is to hold the weight of the house, not to act as a retaining wall. Even if there is an obvious water problem, it doesn't mean that the foundation is not doing its job. It simply means that the drainage around the foundation needs be corrected, which could mean re-grading or cleaning the gutters.
Anyone with mold concerns should hire an inspection firm to take samples of mold spores for lab testing.
Disclosure issues arise because buyers don't understand the process, or their rights, or what to expect from a real estate agent's services.
Safety, a good neighborhood, a fair price, affordability and cost-effectiveness, and high resale potential are the five primary areas of buyer concern. But because Americans generally don't move very often, the typical buyer tends not to be aware of everything involved in a house purchase.