|Fall Real Estate 2003
Publication Date: Wednesday, October 8, 2003
Look before you leap
by Karen Imamura and Nisha Ramachandran
Vatsala Sarathy bought her house in Palo Alto three years ago,
she had a home inspector look over the property. Among the things
learned: The air conditioner was not on level ground. It wasn't
a serious problem, but it was one that Sarathy says she wouldn't
known about without that inspection.
Home inspections often take the surprises out of buying a
new home. Inspectors are trained to identify problems that may not
be visible to the prospective buyer or seller. A basement that has
flooded will leave telltale signs, such as water marks or mildew.
A tree that is growing alongside the house and has branches touching
the structure might lead to deterioration later.
While other people say, "location, location, location, we say location,
location, condition," said Bruce Howe, Palo Alto-franchise owner of
HouseMaster, a home inspection company located in both the U.S. and Canada.
Local real estate agents agree that home inspections are helpful. "This
way, both buyers and sellers are aware of the issues that have to be addressed," said
Manlynh Rummler, an agent at Alan Pinel Realtors.
Locally, it is standard practice for sellers to conduct both a general home and
"In this market, where we are surrounded with such sophisticated buyers
and sellers, it is really unusual not to have a home inspection," Rummler
For a seller, house inspections are a way to identify any issues that may creep
up during a sale and to potentially fix those defects before the property is
listed. Many real estate agents will get bids on the work that need to be done
on the house, such as roof or chimney repair, so that both the seller and the
buyer know how much repairs will cost.
"The seller gets an inspection before putting the home on the market so
they won't be surprised after the fact," said Suzanne Jonath,
a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.
Home inspections by the seller can also speed up the purchasing process. When
a property comes on the market and there are more than two bids on the house,
a seller may use that house inspection to give competing buyers a general idea
of what the property is like. This way, a buyer may offer to bid on the house
without taking an extra few weeks to analyze the property personally
"If you know you're going to be in competition with another buyer, sometimes
it's hard to know what the property is worth without that inspection," said
Dante Drummond, a Coldwell Banker agent in downtown Palo Alto,
who has been in the real estate business for 25 years.
Real estate agents recommend that buyers also undergo their own home inspection
prior to purchasing a property in addition to whatever the seller may offer.
"There aren't any disadvantages to home inspections. Buyers should always
use due diligence when buying a home," Rummler said.
Buyers can obtain a better understanding of the property and address any problems
that may occur with the home with a home inspection.
"Home inspectors try opening and closing every door -- those kind of things
that are kind of mechanical but can be an issue once you buy the house," said
Sarathy, who is looking for a new home in the area.
"A home inspection can be pretty technical sometimes, but it's up to the
buyer to decide what should be fixed by the seller, what the handyman fixes and
what they (the buyer) can live with," she said.
Home inspections also allow what might seem like a significant problem to be
looked at objectively
"The buyer may see something that is very alarming and they may consider
it to be something that is far more serious than it really is," Drummond
Not knowing what condition seldom-used items are in is easy to overlook for homeowners.
Plumbing leaks or duct work under the house might need attending to, but the
current owners might have not noticed a tiny change in water pressure or ventilation.
"There are a lot of broken chimneys in this area, after the '89 earthquake," Drummond
said, explaining that the inspector will go onto the roof and be
able to rock the chimney back and forth.
Buyers typically conduct at least a general home inspection, which will detail
the overall condition of the house, and a structural pest control report, which
could reveal problems such as dry rot or conditions that could cause infestation.
Drummond also recommends that buyers conduct a pool inspection if applicable
and a soil inspection if the property is located on a hill.
A typical inspection by HouseMaster takes about two and a half hours while inspectors
look at about 400-500 items and complete a 21-page report that covers a variety
of things. Instead of being at the mercy of the seller, buyers are able to see
exactly what condition the house is in. All parties involved are encouraged to
come along in person on the inspection.
"They will get more value from the inspection if they can actually see the
things," said Howe, referring to the buyer, seller and real estate agents, "instead
of having the items read back to them verbatim."
An inspection done by HouseMaster can run anywhere from $350 to
$400 or more depending on the size of the house.
Nisha Ramachandran is an editorial intern at the Weekly. You can e-mail her at rramachandran @paweekly.com.