Hiring a qualified home inspector before you buy

By , staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Any woman buying a home today should be sure she has it properly inspected before making a financial commitment. Since housing is the largest single investment most people ever make, it is advisable to determine quality and condition and have any serious structural and mechanical defects revealed before making the purchase.

Inspections are done by many persons, some far more qualified than others. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) was founded in 1976 as a non-profit, voluntary organization of professional home inspectors to establish uniform standards of practice and to ensure compliance with a strict code of ethics. Goals included establishing formal inspection and reporting guidelines and giving consumers a guarantee of quality and professionalism.

To eliminate any possible conflict of interest, members are forbidden to be involved in the sale of real estate or to refer clients to service companies or contractors for any specific repair work recommended after the inspection.

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While methods of inspection and preparation of reports may vary, every ASHI inspection must include an evaluation of the central-heating and air-conditioning systems, interior-plumbing and electrical systems, roofing, insulation, ventilation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, and foundations. The fee for home inspections on small- to medium-sized houses, co-ops, or condominiums can range from $100 to $200. It can run somewhat higher for larger homes, or when pools and special structures are included.

Such a home inspection tells a buyer the present condition of the house, co-op, or condominium and which items will be in need of immediate or near-future repair or replacement. Although not required, some ASHI inspectors also indicate probable life expectancy of various systems and structures and (especially valuable to a first-time home buyer) the location and function of the systems in the home.

By determining the condition of a house, home inspectors often help consumers to make informed decisions and save money since the sale contract can often be renegotiated to allow for necessary repair work. At the same time a complete and impartial report on the condition of the home helps the seller and broker fulfill a moral and legal obligation of disclosure to the buyer, thereby limiting their liability.

Consumers can check local Yellow Pages for the names of ASHI home inspectors. Or they can write to the American Society of Home Inspectors, Suite 520, 1629 K Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20006 for the name of the ASHI inspector nearest them. They can also order from the above address a helpful maintenance guide and checklist entitled ''Maintaining Your Home.'' Send $1 and a stamped, self-addressed business envelope.

The society offers these tips for selecting a qualified home inspector in your area:

* Try to meet the inspector in person. Ask for his fee schedule and find out exactly what that includes.

* Ask to see samples of his written reports. If feasible, compare the work of several individuals before deciding.

* Ask for references, including past clients, lawyers, and realtors. Inquire about his professional education and experience, remembering that years of actual trade experience often make a better inspector than a license or degree.

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