People often find out more about a used car they’re considering buying than a home, says HomeProof president Alexandre Morin. But considering that real estate is the biggest purchase people ever make, they’d be wise to take every step they can to protect themselves.
“Usually the most information you get [about a home] is from your neighbour after you move in or when you go to insure the property and you find out you can’t insure it or there’s a huge premium for some reason,” Ottawa’s Morin says.
HomeProof provides home-history reports indicating whether properties have had problems such as sewer backups, fire, break-ins, floods, or even past grow-ops or meth labs, as well as the date of each incident and the cost involved in fixing it.
“The aim is to save home owners a lot of money and a lot of headaches,” Morin says.
Having a home inspection is a must-do for home owners, says Tony Kazoleas, president of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors.
“People tend to gloss over things -- they see a wonderful view, a house close to the school with a park two blocks away; they get caught up in the aesthetics rather than physical structure,” Kazoleas says.“It’s very important to have an inspection, whether it’s an old place, a new place, a home, or a condo, to save a lot of money and a lot of grief.”
Researching the home inspector or company is crucial too. Ask for letters of reference, what kind of training the inspector received, and whether he belongs to any professional associations.
Some people say never to use an inspector recommended by your realtor, though Kazoleas says this depends on your relationship with your agent.
“If you don’t have complete and utter trust in your real estate agent, then look on your own,” he says.
Bruce Hunter, owner of B.C.’s Hunter & Associates Inspections Inc., advises people ask their inspector for the CAHPI’s national standards of practice right off the bat.
“That tells the client exactly what the inspector does and doesn’t do,” Hunter explains. “Ask the inspector what he’s not going to inspect. Then you can arrange for an engineer to come in and look — say a structural engineer. You have an opportunity to call someone else in to give further opinion if you need it.”
Hunter urges people to take their time going over the inspection report — which he says should be a comprehensive written report and not merely a computer-generated checklist.
“People are usually in a big hurry to get the subjects off [the home offer], especially if there are four or five offers, and don’t take their time,” Hunter says. “I did one recently and heard the realtor say to my client ‘Let me know as soon as possible because I’ve had four other people phone me this morning who want this house.' I could see how nervous she was. I think that’s unethical.”
Common problem areas
Although every home is unique, there are some common problem spots to watch for.
“Seventy percent of homes have bad perimeter drains, and you can get into thousands of dollars to fix those things,” Hunter says.
On the inside, watch for polybutylene (“poly-B”) pipes — which can lead to serious long-term issues and costs.
If the inspection does turn up issues, Hunter provides photographic evidence to prove it — about 60 to 80 photos per home.
“Photographs are worth 1,000 words,” he says, noting that pictures of issues such as mould can be a potent negotiating tool. “The client doesn’t have to argue with homeowner or his realtor over whether there’s a problem or not. The only way to reduce the asking price of a house is to be able to present photographs to the selling realtor that clearly exhibit the deficiencies.”
Some realtors call inspectors “deal killers”, which, in Hunter’s view, is unwarranted.
“If the home inspector finds things that were not reported to you in the original realty feature sheet, then you have been misled,” he says, urging caution if real-estate agents make comments such as ‘This inspector can schedule an inspection on a day’s notice'; 'This inspector only takes an hour and he gives you a report right on the spot' or 'That inspector takes too long to do an inspection.’"
“All of these comments are evidence that the realtor is trying to control the sale and is not working in the best interest of the purchaser,” Hunter says.