Due diligence: it’s a fancy way of saying that a homebuyer should not depend on the word of the seller (even though, legally, sellers must reveal all known defects in the home) but they have an obligation to themselves to thoroughly investigate the property. The “Option Period” typically runs from the time the purchase contract is executed until a date mutually agreed upon by the buyer and the seller (typically 5-14 days in Central Texas).

Due diligence is something far too many homebuyers take lightly and it’s a shame. Not only will the process ensure that the home is in acceptable condition, but proof that you performed thorough due diligence will be required should you end up in court with the seller due to a disclosure dispute.

Any home may be hiding an expensive secret and it’s up to you as the buyer to get it to spill the beans. Here are a few of the more common home inspections buyers perform during the Option Period.

The General Inspection

Call this one the mack-daddy of inspections; it’s the one the real estate industry insists must be performed. Carried out by a professional, all of the home’s systems will be checked, from the HVAC to plumbing and electrical. Remember, however, that this is a visual inspection. The inspector cannot tell you what might be hiding behind the walls or in areas of the home’s system that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

The inspector will also make note of potential problems – those that may occur in the near future. Examples of this include faulty grading of the landscaping and possible moisture intrusion.

Even if you are buying a new home, I still HIGHLY recommend an inspection just to make sure everything is correct. Then, toward the end of the first year, when your warranty is almost up, it may be worth getting another inspection in case anything has changed in the condition during that year.

“Conditions at a home for sale can change radically in only a day or two, so a home inspection is not meant to guarantee what condition a home will be in when the transaction closes,” claims Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard of the International Association of Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) “It’s not uncommon for conditions to change between the time of the inspection and the closing date,” they conclude.

The organization offers an excellent resource about what to expect from a home inspection on its website.

Pest inspection

Some creepy crawlies are benign – staying put in their hiding places, causing no problems. Others, however, can wreak havoc on a home. These are Wood-Destroing Insects (WDI’s). While Subterranean Termites and Wood Ants are our most common culprits, there are others to be aware of as well. Then there are the fungal organisms that cause rot in the home’s timbers. Many General Inspectors are certified to perform a WDI inspection as well. Also, certain loan products require a WDI Inspection while it’s optional for others, so make sure you ask your lender upfront if one is required.

Unless you know what to look for, evidence of a pest infestation and even the damage caused by these pests can be difficult to find. The fix, when caught early, is far less expensive than if the problem is left to fester. Most homeowners in the U.S. spend between $237 to $847 for termite control service. An extensive infestation, however, can be substantially more expensive to cure.

Well and septic tests

Purchasing rural property comes with a whole different set of considerations. Typically located far from city services, the drinking water is supplied via a well and sanitation from a septic system.

Since problems with both are almost impossible to ascertain to the non-professional, an inspection is always a good idea. The typical septic system inspection requires pumping out the system so that a visual inspection of the tank and distribution box can be performed. The inspector will look for signs of decay, including missing or broken parts. Americans typically pay between $280 and $523 to have a septic tank pumped. The price can be as low as $200 or as high as $900, according to homeadvisor.com.

Since the national average cost of well pump repairs is nearly $770, but may run as high as $2,000 (with replacement costs even higher in Central Texas), if the home of your dreams’ primary water source is well water, it makes sense to have the system thoroughly checked before agreeing to go through with the purchase. Faulty pumps can cause the motor to stall or run continuously and low water pressure.

You may also want to have the water quality tested. Contaminants obviously pose a risk and you won’t necessarily see, taste or smell their presence. Your lender may require the tests but if it doesn’t, hire a professional. The U.S. Environmental Protection agency suggests that you have the water tested for nitrates/nitrites, coliform and pH. You may also want to look for copper, arsenic, radon and lead. Get more information from the EPA online, here.

Indoor air testing

Many homeowners routinely check the air in their homes in the winter for radon, an odorless, colorless radioactive gas. It enters the home through cracks and, as mentioned above, well water. Concentrations of the gas are naturally higher in the winter, when homes are buckled up tight against the elements.

Radon is a carcinogen and, in fact, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Furthermore, the U.S. Surgeon General urges that all homes be tested. Testing can be performed with DIY test kits or by professionals. Mitigation, on the other hand, requires the help of a professional.

Lead-based paint

Homes built before 1978 were typically painted with products that contained lead. If you have small children, you may want to determine if the home you hope to purchase has lead-based paint.

The EPA requires that homeowners disclose potential lead problems to buyers but not all homeowners are aware of what’s in the paint on their walls. So, if the home was built prior to 1978, it could potentially have lead-based paint. You can learn more about this toxic paint on the EPA’s website.

Of course, these are not the only optional tests you may wish to have performed on the new home. If you suspect structural problems, consult with an engineer. Roof not up to snuff? Call a roofing professional. Due diligence is not only your legal obligation and helps protect your pocketbook, but it is important to your family’s health and safety as well.

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