Q: We are about to make an offer on a brand-new house. One of our friends said we should hire a professional building inspector to check it out just like we were buying an old house. That doesn’t make any sense to me. The house is new; what could be wrong with it? Do you think it’s necessary to pay for an inspection when you are buying new construction?
A: A house is a complex maze of structural, heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems. It is not unusual for a subcontractor to inadvertently miss a step in the long, complicated construction process, resulting in some kind of defect or system malfunction. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at a low-end “affordable” house or an expensive custom home, “stuff happens.” In fact, the more complicated the house, the easier it is for someone to accidentally miss a step that may result in a problem at completion. Home buyers are becoming better educated about this, and the legal wording in most purchase and sale agreements now advises buyers to seek a professional inspection of the property.
The fit and finish work of most new homes is usually very good. The problems typically occur in the subsurface work, where the builder may not be as disciplined. Here are some problems that professional inspectors have told me that they have uncovered in brand-new homes:A home where the electrician failed to properly torque the lugs that secure the electrical wires in the service box. When the inspector opened the box as part of his inspection, he saw loose wires and sparks flying. Not a good thing!
- New homes occasionally have improperly designed or improperly installed furnace flues. This can create serious health risks.
- Another relatively common problem area is the crawlspace under the house. Sometimes construction debris is left behind. In other cases, the crawlspace may be poorly graded and have an inadequate vapor barrier, causing water to pool under the house. Standing water attracts wood-destroying insects and may lead to rot.
- Sometimes workers fail to connect the mechanical systems properly. For example, inspectors have found bathroom and kitchen fans that vent into the attic rather than into outside air as required by code, plumbing fixtures that are not connected to the drain system, a shower stall that dumped water into the crawlspace, etc.
Most brand-new homes have to go through a shakedown period in which problems are discovered and corrected. But if you are the buyer, it is better to have the problems fixed BEFORE you take title to the house, rather than having to chase down the builder later.
A professional inspection report provides an objective overview of the house. Discussions between the builder and buyer can sometimes get a little heated toward the conclusion of a purchase transaction, so it’s helpful to have a neutral third party point out the problems that need to be solved. Fortunately, most builders are quick to correct defects once they have been identified in a good quality building inspection report.
While it’s true that many home buyers have purchased new homes without an inspection and did not experience problems similar to those described above, why take the chance? In my opinion, a professional home inspection is a relatively inexpensive insurance policy when you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a brand-new home.
Steve Tytler is a licensed real estate broker and owner of Best Mortgage. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.