A Sound Inspection

The home inspection is a key step in the home-buying process- here's how to benifit from the experience.

When it's time to get up close and personal with your potential new home, don't worry if your knowledge of its inner workings begins and ends at the front doorknob. That's where the housing inspector comes in.

We got down to the nitty-gritty with two Northeast Ohio experts on the subject of home inspections, to help you get the most out of your experience. Here are some valuable tips we learned from Jim Nemastil, president of Nemastil Home Inspections in Cleveland, and James Jagger, president of Buckeye Home Inspections. Nemastil has inspected more than 10,000 homes since joining the industry in 1981, and Jagger has inspected more than 9,000 homes since he started in 1987.

1| Be prepared. Go to the bookstore or library and pick up a book on home inspections to familiarize yourself with the process. Or, go the Web site of the American Society of Home Inspectors, www.ashi.org, and take a virtual home inspection.

2| Make a list of any items at the house that you are concerned about. Ask the inspector about things such as water spots in the ceiling or the age of furnace. While the home inspector will likely point these things out, by identifying it beforehand the inspector can give additional attention to the issue.

3| Show up, mentally and physically. Plan to be on time and invested the process - it typically takes between two and three hours. Ask lots of questions. A good inspector is going to be interested in explaining to a client what's right, what's wrong and what's marginal, and be able to give you an idea of the age of the components of the house.

4| Be aware of deal breakers. It's unethical for home inspectors to tell you to buy or not buy a house - they approach the house in terms of what is or is not mechanically or structurally sound. It's up to you to figure out whether you want to take on certain challenges, and whether or not you have the funds to do so. Foundation problems, the need for a new roof, out-of-date electrical systems or plumbing, and heating and cooling repairs or replacements are all major repairs that take time and money. Minor repairs include toilets that run, faucets that leak, minor electrical repairs and broken light fixtures.

5| Get estimates. Home inspectors will try to give you an idea of how much an issue in the home might cost to fix, but if you are facing potentially major repairs, you need to get estimates before you agree to purchase the house. Contractors' fees vary widely so it's important to shop around.

6| Consider additional tests for radon, lead or mold. Although not part of a standard home inspection, it's never a bad idea to test for something such as radon, which is odorless, colorless and tasteless and impossible to detect without testing. Someday you may be the one selling the house, and you run the risk that a future buyer will want a radon test. If they find elevated levels then, you're stuck paying for the mitigation system.

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