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When we bought our house, the eight pages of home inspection notes came along with it. Following our real estate agent's advice that one inspection was enough, we didn't hire our own inspector. The result? When we moved in, we discovered dangerously exposed electrical wires running under the sink, and a leaky upstairs toilet that sopped into the kitchen ceiling which, with a mere poke, crumbled like Humpty Dumpty.

We've all heard the horror stories of unwelcome house warming presents: feasting termites, stinky mould, asbestos, rotting floors, leaky roofs, structural faux-pas. There can be substantial safety issues when it comes to a poorly maintained or badly renovated home.

Some people pass on home inspections (OK, I admit, we blundered into that category), not wanting to waste the hundreds dollars on a house they might not get. We learned the hard way that saving a couple hundred cost us a few thousand more.

In the unregulated world of house inspections, no two are of the same quality or cloth. Some call themselves a home inspector after completing a cursory two-week course. Others have years of construction experience upon which to draw. With it being a relatively new profession, there is no standardized training as you would find with paramedics or police officers, but the issues they deal with can be just as life-threatening. Although there is a new national program called the National Certification Program, which is sanctioned by the CMHC that is attempting to set some standards of qualifications and training.

In the meantime, how do you choose?

According to Wesley Dodson of Safe Homes Canada, the inspector's background is of utmost importance. Look for someone with an architectural, engineering-based or construction background. Dodson cautions that "a drywaller of twenty years suddenly turned home inspector may not be as qualified as a person whose experience involved several processes on a construction site." That means Uncle Larry, who just completed graduated from his home inspection course after being laid off as a packager, doesn't make the list, even if he will give you a deal. Michel Cicciarella of Beach Reno Bros. advises to look for "experience specific to your needs. Older houses require a different skill set than newly-built suburb construction."

This is no time for a quickie. In home inspection terms, a one hour is not enough. "It is reasonable to expect that a newer, average-sized home will require approximately two and a half hours of inspection time," says Dodson. "Older homes, century homes, unique structures or homes which contain crawlspaces will typically take a greater amount of time to inspect." So be wary of the inspector who can fit into your busy schedule between lunch and yoga.

And apparently, it's unrealistic to expect to know absolutely everything about the house you're buying. "Homeowners often are looking to the home inspector as a sort of soothsayer," says Cicciarella. It's frustrating to face the fact that are no magic crystal balls. Inspectors cannot open up walls to look inside.

But it's perfectly reasonable to ask the home inspector to climb into the attic or get down on all fours to enter a crawlspace. According to Dodson, "In my experience, some very significant and costly issues would not have been identified if I did not go where many inspectors do not." That includes climbing the roof.

It may feel like you've thrown away money if the inspection turns up issues that are deal breakers. A good house inspection will not only prepare you for the work that lays ahead, but also carries weight in the price negotiations when making an offer.

Walking away from the proverbial house of cards that felt like the castle in the clouds is sometimes hard to do. So before like us, you pooh-pooh the idea of getting your own, unbiased inspection done, just think: four hundred dollars vs. four hundred thousand.

 

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