We're talking about houses, of course.
A home inspection is like the morning after, when you take a hard look in full daylight at what looked so attractive last night. Because you're nobody's fool, you've made an offer to buy the home contingent on a satisfactory inspection. This contingency is your escape hatch if things get ugly.
Finding a qualified inspector is your first hurdle. Home inspectors aren't licensed in Georgia (or in most other states), so ask your real estate agent and your lender for recommendations. Ask a prospective inspector for three references and check them. You can also contact the American Society of Home Inspectors (www.ashi.com) for a referral. All inspectors affiliated with ASHI must meet and maintain certain standards of experience and training. Fees vary depending on geographic area, the size of the house, its age and special services required, such as radon testing, but generally range between $250 and $400. For peace of mind, go along with the inspector when he visits the home -- you can ask questions and he will likely tell you a lot more than he will actually put in writing.
The inspection report describes each system (the amps, volts and number of circuits in an electrical system plus the general condition -- satisfactory or not satisfactory). If items are not satisfactory, the inspector details why.
What if your dream home turns out to be a dud ? If the problems are minor, you can ignore them. It's better to buy a couple of window screens and fix a light than to have negotiations go sour on a home you really want.
If there are fixable problems, get an estimate on how much it will cost, then negotiate with the seller. Ask her to repair the problems or drop the selling price to cover the cost of repairs. If your inspector thinks the roof is at the end of its life, he may suggest that you hire a licensed roofer to make a proposal for repairs. The seller will probably try to negotiate down and may get bids from other roofers who will do the job for less. It's all part of the negotiation process.
If the inspection uncovers problems that can't be fixed (like cracks in the foundation), you can walk away because your offer was contingent on a satisfactory inspection. Dampness in the basement and water damage anywhere are signs of problems that are often difficult and expensive to repair.
Home hazards can be even more costly -- costing your health or your life if undetected. Asbestos, the most well known hazard, causes severe health problems, even cancer, if it is inhaled.
There are ways to reduce these hazards to acceptable levels, and you can ask the seller to pay that cost as well.