You’ve seen those television programs and magazine articles that offer tips on how to increase the selling price of a home with quick cosmetic fixes. Knowing how to hide existing problems with a little ”lipstick and mascara” obviously helps the seller, but what about the buyer? As too many homebuyers later discover--a coat of fresh paint can hide a world of grief.

To know if a home’s asking price is fair, you need to know what shape it’s in, and most people don’t know what to look for.  A home inspection gives the buyer some leverage to renegotiate the price--especially if the inspection report discloses a major deficiency.  If the problem with the home is something like a leaking roof or leaking foundation, the repairs can be tens of thousands of dollars.

When buying an existing home it’s a good idea to also buy some peace of mind by first having it looked over by an independent professional, to make sure it’s as good as it looks. The first person buyers often look for is a certified home inspector, and often your real estate agent will recommend one.

But—keep these points in mind: Your real estate agent wants to make a sale. The amount of your real estate agent’s commission is also based on the final price. Your home inspection report can be used to renegotiate or lower the final price. It’s not impossible to imagine some home inspectors turning a blind eye to certain problems—to keep the selling price up and to keep up a good relationship with the realtors who give them referrals. You might start to see why it’s best to have a separation between these two parties--the realtor and the home inspector. There could be a conflict of interest, and you need to have independent, unbiased advice.

Don’t let having a home inspection give you a false sense of security—some home inspection reports aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  A homeowner recently gave me with a copy of their home inspection report, and all I can say is, I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.  Even if it were free, I’d say they paid too much.

I’ve seen home inspection reports that are 25-pages or more. They look substantial and seem to be impressive documents, until you read the fine print.

One section of the report explains that because the selling homeowner’s personal belongings and furnishings are still in the home at the time of the inspection, “The inspector is not permitted to move the personal belongings of the present homeowner.  Therefore, the inspector cannot comment on any conditions which may not have been visually accessible as a result.”  

This explains why the inspector missed every major defect that I later found in that home--dangerous electrical junction boxes, defective natural gas venting, mould and exposed plumbing that was completely wrong.  If you want to hide a major defect from a home inspector, no need for lipstick and mascara a towel will do.

Another section states: “the exterior evaluation is based on visual observation”.  It goes on to say that the roof and chimney were “observed from the ground only” and is “limited to visible components observed from this vantage point”. I don’t know what kind of a roof inspection you can do without even getting up on a ladder.

It says: “We cannot determine water tight integrity of the roof solely by a visual inspection…If such an inspection or certification of the roof is desired, we recommend consulting with a qualified roofer.” 

If you want to know if the house you are thinking about buying is safe and sound, spend some time looking for your own certified home inspector, or hire licensed contractors.  Not only can they tell you that the house “looks right”, but they can verify with a higher level of certainty that it “is right”.  Whether it’s electrical, plumbing, HVAC, roofing, foundations, or even mould evaluation, a licensed contractor is qualified to make sure it meets proper building code and safety guidelines.

A licensed contractor can offer two valuable bits of information: Does the system meet minimum building code standards?  If the answer is “no”, what will it cost to bring the home up to safe standards? This is real information you can use for renegotiating the final price—the right price--of the home.

Hiring a licensed contractor maximizes your chances of getting a fair and unbiased evaluation-- not just a surface inspection.