When my wife and I decided to purchase a new construction home, we did what most prudent shoppers do: we researched areas and schools, analyzed the economic growth potential of the town, “got a feel” for neighborhoods, and checked out the reputation and quality of local homebuilders. What we almost failed to do was hire an independent home inspector prior to closing, but we took the advise of family and friends, and did it anyway.
Given that the house was “new” construction, we were naive in thinking that everything would be perfect, or at least in such great shape, that any minor flaws later discovered would be just that, minor. Suffice it to say, the additional expense of hiring an inspector was well worth it. For example, the first “minor” item that our inspector discovered was the presence of small punctures across our roof. It was determined that the cause was likely from foot traffic during the application of the shingles by the crew working on it. His recommendation was that these (damaged) shingles should be replaced. While he was up there, he also noticed that some of the shingles were loose, and could be easily lifted with 2-3 fingers.
Another area of concern was in our attic; we specified a certain level of insulation, which in the construction industry is measured in terms of an “R” factor (i.e. R-30 insulation factor in our case would be approx. 15.2 inches of insulation) In reality, we only had about 12.5 inches of insulation, which by my math calculations was almost 3 inches shy of the goal. It may not seem like much, but we did pay for a higher amount of insulation when we selected our upgrades at the beginning of the home-buying process.
Other items included: a misaligned interior door (that hit the frame when closed), lack of electrical power in three kitchen sockets, dirty drain pan as part of the A/C system, damaged outside water faucet, gaps around bath faucets that needed caulking, and a few other minor flaws. Unbelievable as it was to us that so many things could be wrong, I questioned “how” and “why?”; while our builder was extremely responsive and addressed (fixed) every item within two days, they explained that it was not uncommon for these things to happen, and here is why:
The main reason is that the builder hires a General Construction Manager, often referred to as the “GC”; this is the person or organization who is ultimately responsible for coordinating all aspects of the construction process, including but not limited to: ordering supplies, hiring contractors and subcontractors for framework, plumbing, mechanical and electrical engineering, roofing, landscaping, etc. What this means is that at any one time, a variety of contractors could be working on building your home. In addition, and this is particularly true in newly constructed communities, the contractors or sub-contractors being used, might also employ different crew members from day to day. For instance, if an employee of the roofing contractor is out one day, that roofer may pull one of the guys from another house that doesn’t need him, to go work on your house. This could occur with any contractor at any stage of the building process, thus adding a dimension of unwanted inconsistency during the construction of your home.
Another possibility could be that since these contractors work on so many homes, many of them with the same or similar floor plans and elevations, there tends to be an aspect of the job that is mundane because of its repetitive nature. That could potentially lead to mistakes, laziness, or even indifference during the performance of their workmanship. So is it worth the added expense of hiring an Independent Home Inspector? We think so; I consider the set-back of $450 minor when compared with the possibility that I could have found myself replacing a roof, having higher energy bills, or a broken-down A/C system because I failed to have these things checked out.
Finding a Home Inspector is relatively easy and affordable. You can obtain a quick list from your local Chamber of Commerce or Yellow Pages, or even the Internet. We have been quoted in the range of $350 – $500 in the Fort Worth, TX area, and I imagine they are similar throughout the U.S. Some factors may affect their fees, such as square footage of the home or additional services, like lead-paint testing (likely not needed for new construction based on current regulation), water testing and radon testing. The best choice is one that you are comfortable with in terms of price, reputation and service. Many inspectors provide prompt on-line reporting with photos, which was very helpful for us as we were relocating from across the country and were not able to attend the inspection.
As a final thought on purchasing a new construction home, don’t assume that an inspection guarantees everything is perfect. They do provide disclaimers about what they do not inspect for and there is the chance that they missed something as well (hopefully not!). Another item to consider is that an inspector may not know about other items you specified with you builder. For example, we wanted the tile in our entryway to extend all the way towards the center of the house, near where the family room began, where it would be met by the carpet we chose. Well, when we arrived at the house (after the home inspection), we discovered that the builder mistakenly ended the tile short of where we specified, in the foyer. Fortunately, we had a very reputable and responsive builder, and they offered to either correct the problem or compensate us in some other way. We ended up leaving it as is, and convinced the builder to install two garage door openers with sensors and remote controls, at no additional cost!
Some builders are not as nice or willing to be flexible, so be prepared for anything, even with new construction homes!