Home inspections by licensed experts have become fairly common in today’s real estate transactions—checkups, performed by experts usually requested by prospective buyers, but often sought by homeowners who want to make sure their house meets basic standards. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) was formed in 1976 as a nonprofit organization to help set professional guidelines in the growing field of home inspections. Applicants undergo extensive field training and a written exam before receiving certification by the state, and they are required to keep up their skills through continuing education to maintain their license.

Today’s homes are becoming increasingly complex systems involving not only structural sciences, but mechanical, electrical, and even cyber systems. Not too many years ago, inspectors came from the ranks of retired carpenters or unemployed construction workers, and they checked the roof for leaks, the fireplace for creosote, and the plumbing and electrical systems. Today it’s not that simple. The 21st century checklist contains numerous areas that also focus on health and safety as well as building durability.

Basic building codes adopted by each state and locality, have evolved over the years to ensure buildings are solidly constructed and have safe and sanitary plumbing, heating and electrical systems. There may also be environmental concerns such as radon gas, lead paint, or asbestos. While a certified house inspector is not trained to correct environmental problems, he or she will know the signs and indications that indicate more professional work is warranted.

The Pelham Weekly talked recently to Carolyn Cassidy, owner of Benchmark Home Inspection LLC, and also an ASHI Associate Home Inspector who lives in Pelham. It should be pointed out that real estate brokers/agents may not recommend a particular inspector, according to the ethical standards adopted by ASHI. Generally, when a buyer is genuinely interested in a particular property, the real estate broker will suggest a list of qualified inspectors to choose from, or the buyer may have another referral.

Home Inspectors recognize that time is often critical and will schedule their inspections to meet short real estate deadlines. Pelham’s Cassidy says she is prepared to inspect a home on 1-2 day’s notice and prepares her written reports within 24 hours.

Not too long ago, inspectors carried around a clipboard with a multi-page checklist. Not with today’s technology. Often the only equipment will be an iPad and a digital camera. Software applications are available that are programmed to reflect ASHI’s Standards of Practice, giving the inspector up-to-date reference points. The program Carolyn uses is called Horizon by Carson and Dunlop.

When asked what the most common problem inspectors find with houses on the market, Carolyn answered simply, “the roof and the basement.” Wherever possible, she climbs onto the roof to check out its condition, unless there are slate or clay tiles which could break. (Carolyn carries a ladder in her SUV just for roof work.) And of course, a thorough check for interior moisture is also made.

One of the first stops an inspector makes is to check with the local building inspector to find out if there are any open permits or records on file, such as an oil tank having been removed. Sometimes a minor modification made without a permit will violate setback requirements in the zoning code and result in fines or costly remediation.

The role of a real estate home inspector differs somewhat from a village building inspector who is charged with approving permits and enforcing building codes. The house inspector will point out any unconventional carpentry, electrical or plumbing work, and recommend that the owner bring in a qualified contractor to insure the house meets standards. No one can see behind walls where there may be electrical problems, but the inspector can check whether the circuits are properly grounded. If that test fails, then the homeowner will be advised to bring in a licensed electrical contractor.

What was one of the more unusual problems Carolyn spotted during an inspection? “Well, this one house had a partial basement with a closed-off crawl space. I got the owner’s permission to remove the plywood covering, opening up the crawl space. Not only did I find loose copper plumbing, I found a makeshift column supporting the kitchen load of the center island.”

At one time, preparing a report to the owners could take several days. However, with technology, inspectors today can turn out a final report within 24 hours. The prospective buyer can quickly make decisions on their offer, or ask the seller for more remedial work.

From her Pelham base, Carolyn covers the lower Westchester area and suggests to her clients that she will require about three hours on site to inspect the average house. She can be reached online at bhihomeinspect@gmail.com., or at 914-441-2851.

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