Miami Herald: Invest in an inspection before buying

December 14th, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on December 14, 2009.

Planning a home improvement project? There is a lot you need to know before diving in.

Action Line has heard endless horror stories from homeowners who invested thousands into a seemingly straightforward repair or upgrade that somehow devolved into a nightmare. The surprising part is that, most of the time, the problem boils down to what the homeowner didn't do.

In this Mini-Guide, we'll outline some simple but direly important steps you need to take to protect your investment -- and your sanity.

Checklist for going solar

But declining panel prices ans a federal tax credit make now a good time to at least investigate whether solar power might make sense for your home - and your budget.

'If you're thinking that you'd like to go solar within the next few years, right now is the time to do it,' said Lynn Jurich, president and co-founder of SunRun, a San Francisco-based startup that provides solar financing for consumers who can't afford the upfront costs of buying their own solar systems. 'Panels are on sale right now. There's a sweet spot where the state rebates are still relatively high, but the costs have come down.'

A job that only firefighters do

When a suspected lightning strike zapped the West Dade Public Library's fire-alarm system last March, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department made librarians an offer they couldn't refuse: Hire us or close your doors.

The library was placed on 'fire watch, ' an ostensible public safety program that has never saved a life that anyone can remember, but has put at least $4.3 million into county firefighters' pockets since 2000.

Some have compared it to an old-fashioned protection racket.

Your plan for survival, step by step

Making a survival plan


Establish a family emergency plan. Discuss how to prepare for and respond to a hurricane, what to bring if you are evacuated.

Insurers reducing, eliminating discounts for storm fortifications

If you got a discount from your windstorm insurance company for installing shutters and other hurricane protections on your home, you might soon have to give some or all of it back.

Nearly a dozen insurance companies -- although not yet for the state's biggest insurer, Citizens -- are dispatching inspectors to the homes of recipients of wind mitigation discounts to ensure that the discounts, often in excess of $1,000 a year, are deserved.

In many cases they are not, the insurers say. Rather, they resulted from faulty prior inspections -- in some cases, fraudulent ones.

St. Petersburg Times

When you buy a used car, it's standard practice to check the value in the Kelley Blue Book or on, then have a mechanic take a look under the hood.

When buying a house, an even greater investment, it's standard practice to check out comparable sales in the area to get an idea of value, and then what?

You can do a walk-through and note that the back door sticks, but do you know why? It could be a loose hinge, or it could be a sign that something is wrong with the home's foundation.

Unless you're in the building trade, it's not likely you'll be able to pinpoint the problem.

''A good home inspector will look at 800 to 1,000 things in a home,'' says Claude McGavick, a board member with the Florida Association of Building Inspectors. Inspectors follow standard guidelines that tell them what to look at and how to look at it, he says. Here are some tips for finding an inspector, what you can expect from an inspection and how much it will cost.

Home inspectors in Florida are not licensed as of now (that will change come July 1), so word of mouth is one of the best ways to choose an inspector. Ask your real estate agent or friends for a recommendation.

Professional organizations, which train their members and give them ethics and inspection guidelines, offer search tools for inspectors in your area. Here are three places to start:

Florida Association of Building Inspectors,, 800-544-3224.

American Society of Home Inspectors,, 800-743-2744.

National Association of Home Inspectors,, 800-448-3942.

A standard inspection includes a visual examination of the house from top to bottom, according to the Florida Association of Building Inspectors. The inspector will check the heating system, the central air-conditioning system (temperature permitting), the interior plumbing and electrical systems, the roof and visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors, the foundation, basement and visible structure. You should be told about any systems that are near the end of their serviceable life or aren't up to par, and why that may be. In Florida, pay special attention to the roof and to termite damage.

In general, expect to pay about $300 to $500 for an inspection, says McGavick, who also is an inspector with Home Check Home Inspection Services of Bradenton. The size of the house, age, special structures and so on can affect the price. Also, some inspectors include specialty items -- like swimming pool or dock -- as standard and others charge extra. Bottom line: Ask what's included and what the options are -- and be aware of what you might need to qualify for insurance.

Inspections are not mandatory, McGavick says, but ''if the home is more than 30 years old, the insurance company may require a four-point inspection.'' The four areas to be checked are the electrical system, the plumbing, the air-conditioning and the roof. If any one of these is in questionable condition, and the insurance company balks, you likely won't get a loan. On the other hand, if an inspection turns up problem areas, you may be able to use this information to negotiate price.

It's not up to the inspector to tell you whether or not to buy a house. No house is perfect; you must decide which imperfections -- and eventual repairs -- are acceptable.

''Professional home inspectors like to think they don't kill a deal, sometimes the house commits suicide,'' McGavick says. ''A good professional inspector will tell you the condition of the house in a nonalarming way.''