Real estate inspection.

The three little words can cause palpitations in even the sturdiest souls.

For potential homebuyers, a real estate inspection means the house they have recently fallen in love with and are in the process of purchasing could be revealed to harbor conditions 鈥 expensive conditions. For home sellers, an inspection might mean finding problem areas that result in a price reduction or a laundry list of items to be negotiated or repaired before a closing can take place.

鈥淚t鈥檚 always 鈥榯he dreaded鈥 home inspection,鈥 says Larry Willette, an inspector for 20 years and founder of Home Quality Headquarters Inc., a general home inspection company based in Tolland.

But for both buyers and sellers, it doesn鈥檛 have to be.

鈥淭here鈥檚 a large misconception out there that home inspectors are here to kill a deal or ruin a sale, but that鈥檚 not what we鈥檙e about,鈥 says Rick Hall, field manager for U.S. Inspect, a national home inspection com-pany with agents throughout the state. 鈥淥ur job is to help a sale go through so everyone understands what they鈥檙e getting. The buyer is our client so obviously we鈥檙e there to help them, but we鈥檙e not the enemy.鈥

Another misunderstanding is that a home inspection offers a sort of warranty on the house; it does not.

Good inspectors make a concerted effort to work with all parties involved in an inspection. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a very tough time for both the seller and the buyer,鈥 Hall says. 鈥淭he more you embrace everyone in this transac-tion, the easier it will go.鈥

It helps if both the buyer and the seller know what to expect.

鈥楬ome 101鈥 For Buyers

For the buyer, a home inspection is designed to, 鈥渓et people know what they鈥檙e getting into,鈥 says Bill Stanley, a second-generation inspector and the owner of Stanco Inc. in Cheshire. 鈥淚t鈥檚 their basic Home 101 course.鈥

A complete home inspection is a detailed analysis of the condition of a house and each of its operating systems. The list includes structural elements 鈥 foundation, walls, support beams, chimney, roof 鈥 and sys-tems including heat, plumbing, electrical and air-conditioning.

鈥淭he point of the inspection is to help the buyer make an informed decision and determine whether there are any major conditions they weren鈥檛 aware of,鈥 says Willette. 鈥淭hey also learn about the different systems in their house, and they learn what to expect based on the age and condition of things.鈥 But there are some limitations. 鈥淚t is a visual inspection,鈥 says Stanley. 鈥淲e鈥檙e not technicians. We can鈥檛 go inside the boiler or tear it apart.鈥

Nor is a home inspection the same as a code inspection. 鈥淲e鈥檙e evaluating based on what was required when that house was built 100 years ago, unless upgrades were done,鈥 Hall says. 鈥淲e tell [buyers] it鈥檚 probably a good idea to put a railing on the stairs, but was it required when the home was built? Probably not.鈥

Standards for a Connecticut home inspection are set out by the Department of Consumer Protection, but most inspectors go above and beyond. 鈥淲hat you鈥檙e required to do is pretty thin,鈥 Stanley says.

鈥淲e throw in a lot of education,鈥 says Hall. 鈥淗ow systems function, how a hot water boiler functions, the difference between a hot water heater and a furnace.鈥 Good inspectors also give buyers an idea of the life expectancy on the systems in the house 鈥 鈥渃omponents like heating, hot water heaters, roof shingles 鈥 and how much life they have left on them,鈥 he says.

An average home inspection should last about three hours. 鈥淚f you鈥檙e getting less than two hours, in my opinion, you鈥檙e not getting your money鈥檚 worth,鈥 Hall says. Prices start around $350, average $500, and sometimes range higher, depending on the size and age of the home.

Inspectors almost always encourage clients to follow them during the inspection process, learning as they go. 鈥淔ollow the inspector,鈥 Stanley says. 鈥淎sk questions.鈥

But not all buyers make use of the opportunity.

鈥淪ome lose interest,鈥 says Willette. 鈥淭hey wander off. They haven鈥檛 been in the house much since they bid on it, and they might be taking the opportunity to measure rooms or plan paint colors, but if I find some-thing and you鈥檙e somewhere else, I鈥檒l come and get you. Whatever I find, you鈥檙e going to know about it, and if it鈥檚 significant, I鈥檓 going to show you.鈥

鈥淪ignificant鈥 findings can vary from inspection to inspection. 鈥淓very inspection report will be different,鈥 Willette says. But most qualified home inspectors hopefully will discover the same major things, Stanley says. 鈥淪ignificant鈥 are items that pertain to safety and major capital expense. Willette labels 鈥渟ignificant鈥 anything that will cost more than $500 to fix or upgrade along with any posing major capital expenses down the line.

Buyers should not expect their reports to cover more superficial conditions, the types that can be fixed with a can of paint. 鈥淲e鈥檙e not there to deal with cosmetic issues,鈥 Stanley says. 鈥淚f there鈥檚 a scratch in the countertop or a ding in the paint, from my perspective, that鈥檚 not going to change whether or not you buy the house.鈥

Inspectors bring an array of equipment to the job. Flashlights, screwdrivers, moisture meters, voltage gauges and radon testing gear are all standard. Newer to the field and not part of every inspector鈥檚 arsenal are ultrasound devices for determining weak areas in an oil tank, and thermal imaging equipment to detect heat loss. These tests involve costly apparatus and extra fees.

The presentation of inspection reports 鈥 and the timeframe in which they are delivered 鈥 varies considerably. Buyers should ask in advance about what they鈥檙e getting to be certain it meets their needs and any desired closing deadline. The most basic reports are handwritten checklists issued at the time of the inspec-tion. Other inspectors complete a checklist 鈥 鈥渢he kind with boxes for good, fair, poor,鈥 Stanley says. Stanley, Willette and inspectors at U.S. Inspect all produce narrative or commentary reports.

Gayle Deneen, area marketing representative for U.S. Inspect, says, 鈥淚t stands to reason that a com-mentary format 鈥 a running dialogue as to the condition of the home 鈥 is not ambiguous to the buyer when 鈥榞ood,鈥 鈥榝air,鈥 鈥榩oor鈥 can leave a lot of questions.鈥 U.S. Inspect can also offer laptop-generated reports, on site if necessary in time-crunch situations.

Getting Ready

For homeowners, who tend to be a proud breed, an inspection produces different anxieties 鈥 starting with the discomfort of allowing strangers into the house to poke around and, potentially, find faults. To allay concerns, some inspectors recommend a pre-listing inspection 鈥 having the house fully inspected to identify and possibly fix any existing problems before putting the house on the market. 鈥淚f you鈥檙e a person who doesn鈥檛 like surprises, why not do it ahead of time?鈥 asks Stanley.

鈥淚f you do find things 鈥 it鈥檚 much cheaper to fix something when it鈥檚 under your own terms,鈥 Willette says. 鈥淲hen you鈥檝e got your back against the wall and everyone鈥檚 panicking, it tends to cost more.鈥

But Willette and others caution that a pre-inspection can produce problems. If the homeowner decides not to address any problems found, he or she is legally obliged to disclose them.

There are other things homeowners can do to help an inspection go smoothly.

鈥淢ake things easy for the inspector,鈥 Stanley says. 鈥淒on鈥檛 have 40,000 things piled in front of the elec-trical panel. If you have a full closet leading to the attic, empty it out, or I have to.鈥

He also suggests having 鈥渢he heating and air conditioning systems serviced, and be able to show the paid receipts,鈥 he says. 鈥淚t tells the buyer you鈥檙e keeping up with things. If the buyer finds you haven鈥檛 had the systems serviced, they might not be as confident. They might wonder what else hasn鈥檛 been taken care of. Take care of it so I don鈥檛 have to find it.鈥