- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

A purchaser can choose among plenty of inspections in the home-buying process. The most well-known, of course, is the home inspection. This is the one where you get together with someone who knows a lot more about houses than you do, complete with a flashlight, ladder and screwdriver, and meander through your future home to find all the defects you care to discover.

After all, who would want to purchase a lemon, right? Who would be that stupid? It’s interesting: In markets across the country, buyers are paying more attention to their car purchases than to the houses they’re buying.

But what are you to do in a scenario where the ultimate goal of the purchaser and his or her agent is to get the house, period? Forget good price, condition and location — just get the darned thing. How can a buyer still be protected?

It’s not ironclad, but here are a couple of suggestions you can take with you in that next competitive home visit. Some Realtors are going to be irritated with my answers, but, hey, this is war.

• Treat your home visit more like an inspection. Along with your agent, take a couple of tools — a flashlight and a receptacle tester, at least. As you go through the house, start testing a few things, as you would when buying a car. No honest car owner would be upset if a prospective buyer asked to look under the hood, crank the engine, goose the gas pedal and take it for a spin — you would be thought crazy if you didn’t.

Because many jurisdictions are in seller’s markets, keep in mind that this visit may be your only chance to make sure all the toilets flush. With your flashlight, start looking in crevices, nooks and crannies throughout the house.

While you don’t want to “invade” someone else’s property, at least do a little prodding to make sure the basics are in working order. Turn on every light switch. Try every faucet and spigot. Open every cabinet. Pull out all drawers, and test all doors. If they’re accessible, open a few windows. Look around the base of water heaters and furnaces for leakage of water or any other fluids — oil, rust, etc.

• Insist on an information-only inspection in your contract. What this means is that you want to know what you’re getting into, but you’re not making the contract “contingent” on a satisfactory home inspection. What you’ll be able to do with this contract, however, is to determine if certain items that are supposed to be working even without a contingent home inspection are actually working.

In the D.C. area, that would be Paragraph 3 of the regional sales contract. Plumbing, electrical, appliances, heating/air, etc. must be in working order even without a home inspection. Sellers would be well-advised to accept such an inspection so they don’t receive letters from attorneys when the buyer moves in and finds problems with these systems later.

In conjunction with this type of inspection, the buyer should invest in a home warranty (roughly $350-$500) to cover these systems in the first year of homeownership. Although the policy will carry various provisos and limitations, it can help provide peace of mind for the new homeowners.

I’ve seen many homeowners whose policies more than paid for themselves through the repair or replacement of an air conditioner, heat pump or certain appliances.

As the market continues at a heated pace, buyers need to take matters seriously and try to inspect what they expect in their home purchase.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate since 1989. He is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions or comments to his Web log (https://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com).

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