Q. We just opened escrow on a new-construction home and were advised against ordering a home inspection, simply because the house is new and was approved by the building department. This seems reasonable to us, especially since the contractor has guaranteed his work for one full year. With all these assurances, there seems no point in spending hundreds of dollars on an inspection if it's not really necessary, but we'd like your opinion before deciding.
A. The belief that a new home is flawless, simply because it is new and was approved by the building department, is an unfortunate myth. Since when is a new product exempt from possible defects? We often hear of new cars recalled by Detroit; sailors can tell you of new boats that have leaked; and sky divers always carry a second parachute, even when the primary chute is new.
As for new homes, anyone who has worked in building construction knows contractors and tradespeople are prone to occasional or not-so-occasional errors and oversights. Having inspected many new homes, I have yet to find one that is totally free of defects, nor have I met any qualified home inspector who has discovered a perfectly built specimen, regardless of the quality of construction or the integrity of the builder.
Even when the builder warrants the work for one year or several years, such assurances are of no benefit unless the defects are discovered. Unfortunately, many construction errors and safety violations do not become apparent for many years. A faulty wiring condition might not be revealed until it damages your computer or causes a fire. Other defects might only be discovered when you eventually resell the property, and a home inspector finds them long after the builder's warranty has expired.
The list of faulty conditions that have been found in new homes is extensive and includes such items as broken roof tiles, over-spanned roof rafters, lack of attic insulation, improper fireplace construction, hazardous electrical wiring, excessive water pressure, fire safety violations, unsafe venting of furnace exhaust, concealed plumbing leaks, faulty site drainage, hot water piping connected to the toilet (can you imagine a steaming tank?), etc., etc.
In one infamous case, a new home was built and approved on a concrete slab without a perimeter foundation. We're not likely to find a major list like this in any one new home, but every new structure contains some undisclosed defects, sometimes few and minor, sometimes a mixture of major and minor.
Many new homes are purchased without a home inspection because they are presumed to be exempt from errors in construction. Considering the high price of a new home, assumptions about the quality of workmanship can be financially devastating. The best advice when buying any home is to take nothing for granted. The cost of an inspection is incidental when compared to the price of real estate. A qualified home inspector will most assuredly find items that need repair, even in an immaculate new home. Better to discover them now than after the close of escrow.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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