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What's Lurking Behind the Drywall?

There's a reason why 99% of real estate agents recommend that buyers get a home inspection. Nothing's more detrimental to a sale than termites, asbestos, and cracks in the foundation from neighbor Ozzy's ear-piercing band rehearsals.

But it's not just the realtor's commission on the line. Buyers and sellers can also save a bundle with a well-timed, thorough home inspection.

According to the legal website FindLaw (, a professional home inspection should be done after the written offer to purchase has been accepted by the seller. Many buyers make their offers contingent on an inspection. A buyer who finds defects can use the home inspection to renegotiate the terms of the deal either by demanding that the problem be corrected or by asking that the selling price be reduced.

What's good for the buyer is also good for the seller. Sellers can rely on a written inspection to prevent liability charges in the future. FindLaw offers the following suggestions for housing inspections:

Eyeball the property
Even the untrained eye can spot problems. Before making a formal written offer, look for visible problems like water damage and roaches on a rampage. Here's a home-inspection checklist we developed (pdf file) to help guide your tour of trouble. If problems are obvious, you can save money on a professional inspector and pass on a lemon.

Hire a general contractor
A licensed housing inspector should review the roof, plumbing, electrical and heating systems, and drainage. The two or three hours (and $200 to $500 price tag) is worth the peace of mind.

Shadow the inspector
You can learn a lot about maintenance and preservation by sticking close to the pros during the inspection process. You may even want to videotape the inspection or take pictures along the way.

Bring in the specialists
If your property is historically significant, looks like a former nature preserve, or sits in a flood plain or on a fault line, hire a specialist to check for things like pest damages; hazards from floods, earthquakes, or other natural disasters; and even environmental health hazards such as asbestos and lead.

A home inspection will uncover the good, the bad, and the quirky. Before you hire an inspector, make sure he or she is licensed, insured, and experienced. (A good place to start is with the American Society of Home Inspectors at Find out how much it will cost, how long the inspection will last, and exactly what will be inspected and how the written report will be issued. It may also be worth it to go the extra mile and check references.

More resources
Your home may be your biggest investment. Spend some time tending to it. We cover buying, selling, and maintaining your biggest investment in our Fool Home Center. For those currently shopping, don't miss our Make the Deal area. We've got worksheets galore. Trust us, it's worth it to do your homework.

Talk about loans, loud neighbors, landscaping, and everything home-related with others on our activeBuying or Selling a Homediscussion board.

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