A systematic physical inspection of the home is a routine aspect of the home buying process in our market. The right to this inspection is outlined in Section 10 of the standard Colorado purchase contract and it is rarely waived. Inspections can be performed by the home buyer or by anyone the home buyer selects, but generally the inspection is performed by a professional home inspector hired by the home buyer.
The Home Inspection
There is nothing wrong with having your uncle-the-contractor take a look at the home, but don’t use your uncle as a substitute for a professional inspector. It also may not be a bad idea to hire an electrician, plumber, structural engineer or heating contractor to look at the systems they specialize in, but don’t use this as a substitute for a general inspector who will look at how all these systems work together.
You need to be aware of two things when selecting and working with an inspector. First, there are no licensing or training requirements for inspectors in Colorado. Anyone can run an ad in the yellow pages and immediately become a “home inspector.” There are national associations and national franchises that may guarantee some basic level of competence from their members, but referrals from people in the industry are probably the best means of assuring you are working with a good inspector. However, you also need to be aware that inspectors are in a very difficult position within the industry. Most receive the bulk of their business through referrals from real estate agents, agents who only get paid when home sales close. While most inspectors do a good job of representing the interests of the buyer, the pressures and potential conflicts of interest are real.
My recommendation is to hire an inspector who has extensive experience in the inspection business and who will spend 2 to 4 hours in the home. This will cost between $200 and $300. I also think you’re better off if you talk with the inspector about the results of the inspection without the seller or any real estate agents present. Both you and the inspector may feel more comfortable to speak openly under these circumstances.
Homeowner Projects and Building Permits
A good inspector should be able to identify most hazards that the remodeling owner has built into the home, but it is also a good idea to check with the local building department to see if the owner obtained building permits for any work that’s been done. The inspections performed by the building department during construction provide some assurance that the work was done properly.
Termites and Other Pests
Builders are now required to test for expansive soils and a wide range of construction practices are used to mitigate the potential effects of expansive soils. Many experts contend that the impact of expansive soils on most homes will have already manifested themselves on homes more than three to five years old. Experienced inspectors are well versed in looking for signs of such damage. An important caveat, however: If you or your neighbors do anything to change the landscaping, or otherwise cause more water to accumulate near the home, you may create new problems. With new homes, you should try to obtain a copy of the builder’s soils report and verify that the builder has followed the engineer’s recommendations on construction practices. Be very cautious if you are considering finishing a basement in a new home, since movement of the basement slabs could be extremely costly. The Colorado Geological Survey (303-866-2611) has several useful publications on expansive soils and construction practices.
Well tests are a routine part of the purchase process in mountain and rural areas. Ideally, a well test should provide information on the storage capacity of the well, how rapidly water flows into the well once it is drained, and the rate at which water is delivered to the home by the well pump and the piping system. The storage capacity of the well is a critical but often overlooked issue in evaluating a well. If a well is 400 feet deep and water fills the well column to within 50 feet of the surface, the well may contain enough water in storage to provide for a family’s needs for a day. If water flows into this well at the rate of a half-gallon a minute, it may provide plenty of water. In contrast, water flowing into a 50 foot well at the rate of 3 gallons a minute may not provide adequate water if you run the shower and the dishwasher at the same time.
The major difficulty in testing a well in connection with a home purchase arises from the variability of well productivity depending on the weather and time of year. A well that is providing plenty of water during the rains of May could be dry as a bone during an August drought. Records from previous well tests that the seller may have on file, or records from the initial licensing and permitting for the well, can provide useful supplementary information.
Be forewarned that many wells in the Front Range are permitted only for water usage within the house. The property owner cannot use well water for lawns, gardens, or livestock. Call the Water Resources Ground Water Information desk for information on permits (303-866-3587).