What's the big deal about home inspection?

"My real estate agent keeps harping on home inspections. She insists that I get one for the house I'm buying. The last time I purchased a home (1975), nobody mentioned anything about inspectors (which saved me a few hundred dollars), and things worked out just fine without one. According to my agent, it's a big mistake to close escrow without an inspection. To me it seems like a needless expense. Please explain: What's the big deal, these days, about home inspection?"

In the years since your last home purchase, disclosure of property defects has become the primary focus of most residential real estate transactions. During the mid-1970's, home inspectors made their quiet debut on the real estate scene. Gaining gradual recognition over the past 10-15 years, they attained prominent acceptance as a distinct and essential profession.

To those who approach real estate with the old "as-is" mind-set, the advantages of home inspection are not immediately apparent. But make no mistake a thorough inspection can shield you from costly discoveries after the close of escrow. It's one of the best consumer protection services available.

Every home, regardless of age or quality, harbors a small, medium, or large list of defective conditions; some obvious; some only apparent to those who know how and where to look. When you hire an experienced, qualified home inspector, there is no question as to whether unknown defects will be found; but rather what, where, and how serious, dangerous, or expensive the defects will turn out to be.

Most homebuyers spend fifteen minutes to an hour walking through a home prior to making an offer. At best, this provides a general impression of the overall physical condition. But what about foundations and structural framing, attic construction, insulation, ventilation, and roof conditions. These are just a few of the hundreds of considerations included in a home inspection.

Above all, let's not forget building safety. An inspector can alert you to red flag issues involving the electrical wiring and fixtures, fireplaces and chimneys, gas fixtures such as furnaces, water heaters, cooktops, and ovens, railings at staircases and decks, tempered safety glass in required locations, and automatic reverse of garage door openers.

Furthermore, an inspector can forewarn you of problems involving faulty ground drainage, defective plumbing, substandard construction, firewall compliance, building settlement, leakage, general deterioration, inoperative fixtures, and so much more.

Clearly, your agent understands this process and the importance of equipping you to make an informed purchase decision. Be thankful that she's working to protect your financial interests. With a detailed home inspection, you will know what you are buying, before you buy it. And that could save you thousands of dollars and years of regret.

"The home we're buying has brick fireplace with a gas log set-up; that is, a gas burner and cement logs. We'd like to burn wood logs instead, to get some heat in the house, but we're wondering what problems this might entail. What is your advice?"

The crackle of a traditional log fire can certainly provide a cozy and romantic ambiance to your living room. But contrary to common belief, a masonry fireplace provides very little heat to the interior of a home. If you stand near a wood fire, you will enjoy the warmth of radiant heat, but while this is happening, the convection which draws smoke up the chimney is also drawing the warm air from within your house, sending it in the direction of Santa Claus after the stockings have been stuffed.

If you wish to heat your home by burning wood, the best approach is to install a fireplace insert. Basically, this is a wood-burning stove, specifically designed to be set into the combustion chamber of a fireplace. To determine which insert model will fit your fireplace and provide the greatest amount of heat per volume of wood, consult a certified chimney sweep.