When Sajo Music considered buying a house in New Jersey several years ago, he nearly made a mistake that would have cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars and lot of aggravation. But he listened to his lawyer and hired a licensed home inspector, and after reading his report on the house, he balked.
“My attorney encouraged me to hire a home inspector. I asked him why — I’m a contractor,” said Music, a Stamford resident who was living in Queens, N.Y., at the time. “I took his advice and hired an inspector. I walked away from the deal.”
Music now owns two houses in Stamford and hired George Neil Scott, president of Scott and Scott Home Inspection Services in Stamford, before buying, and used Scott again before buying a house at 24 MacArthur Lane.
“I highly recommend that people hire a home inspector,” Music said, adding he expects to close on the property Nov. 1.
Even an experienced contractor can miss important factors that a home inspector might see, said Music, owner of I&G Contracting in Stamford, who has grown confident in Scott’s ability to find trouble spots.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Music said.
Scott, who started his business 18 years ago, often works with his son, Neil, an interning home inspector.
He has inspected houses built in the 1700s, as well as new homes waiting for their first occupants. Even new houses can have problems because something was improperly installed or a some aspect of the construction was unfinished, Scott said.
“Every situation is different. We’re more like consultants,” he said. “I’m going to tell them up front that something like a hot water heater may not last another year. That’s home ownership.”
Scott’s clients range from first-time home buyers nervous about what he might find, to seasoned purchasers who may have bought several homes over the years.
“I always leave the final decision to them. It’s a matter of if it’s worth fixing,” Scott said, adding that buyers must consider the cost of repair or replacement after reading his detailed report. “Some homes are disasters and need to be gutted.”
During the recession, when people were looking at foreclosed properties as low-cost purchases, Scott said many prospective buyers were disappointed to learn that hot water heaters, copper pipes and other valuable infrastructure items had been stolen, and the homes needed extensive repairs.
Connecticut requires home inspectors to have a state license and undergo periodic training to retain their certification.
As the economy improves, more people are shopping for homes, and Scott’s calendar is filling up.
“We’re busier. The market has definitely picked up from a few years ago,” Scott said, adding his base inspection fee is about $450 for a small house.
Home inspectors’ fees can vary greatly, however, because of the age of the house and its unique construction aspects, such as small crawl spaces, intricate electrical wiring and plumbing issues.
“The phone is ringing off the hook. It looks like the economy is getting better,” Schlotter said. He started his business more than a decade ago after splitting his time between renovating and selling homes, called “flipping,” and operating an information technology placement business. “I got more enjoyment out of buying and selling homes. That was good because the IT bubble burst.”
The transition has led to a gratifying career that has given him the opportunity to help people decide whether to buy a home.
“The beauty of this job is there is always something different,” he said. “Connecticut is a mish-mash of different (house) styles. Yesterday (last Thursday), I did a house built in 1875, today a condo built in 1997 and Saturday a contemporary built in the 1980s. All of them have different problems. I found powder beetles (wood-damaging insects) in the 1875 house, and in the condo we looked for code violations.”
New technology has made the job easier for home inspectors, particularly when they discover equipment they had not seen before.
The feedback Schlotter receives could be important in telling his clients about the expected lifespan of those items.
One of them is Tim DiDona, who enlisted Schlotter’s services four months ago as he considered buying a house in Ridgefield. After DiDona accompanied Schlotter on a tour of the house and reviewed his report, he opted not to buy the house.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that it was something I didn’t want to spend the time and money on. It was pretty unsettling. He found a plethora of problems,” said DiDona, who was so impressed by Schlotter’s knowledge and delivery that he used his services again to inspect another home he is considering in Ridgefield. “I was much more comfortable this time.”
“A home inspection is absolutely critical. You want to make sure the price you’re paying equates to the value of the house. I had a situation where a buyer said he wanted to move quickly and didn’t see any reason to spend the money (for an inspection). That’s rarely a good way to proceed. You want to know what you’re doing — particularly with a fixer-upper. Problems can always be fixed,” Pruner said, as long as the buyer is willing to spend the time and money.
When he is representing a buyer, Pruner typically accompanies the inspector through a house, and if problems are discovered, he works with his client in negotiations with the seller.
Greenwich has many older homes, serviced by old infrastructure like cast-iron furnaces, and it’s useful to have a home inspector familiar with equipment not ordinarily found in homes, he said.
Stan Bajerski, of Houseworks Home Inspections in Milford, said he has dealt with myriad issues when inspecting houses. He recalled an elderly homeowner who had lived in his house many years and questioned Bajerski’s concerns about a termite infestation.
“He didn’t understand why it needed to be fixed,” said Bajerski, who has spent 25 years in the business. “If people think they have a damp basement, it’s a big issue. Environmental issues are a big concern. Mold is considered to be the new asbestos. Even small amounts of mold are becoming a big issue because of the way it is portrayed.”
Bajerski has never advised a client not to buy a house, but he does not mince words when describing the condition of a property.
“I let the report do that. The report should speak for itself,” said Bajerski, who has worked for a builder and as a heating, ventilating and air conditioning installer.
Like other home inspectors, Bajerski has a relationship with real estate agents.
“Real estate agents are the front line in making referrals,” he said, adding that agents know when an inspector conducts a thorough visit. “I spend two to three hours at a 1,500- to 2,500- square-foot home. There are guys who are in and out in an hour and are likely to be less expensive. You get what you pay for.”
Like Scott, he said he charges $450 for a small home and more when it requires long travel.
Paul DeVitto, owner of DeVitto Realty Group in Stratford, recommends “two or three” home inspectors to his clients. What follows are negotiations between the agents over credits in the offering bid, DeVitto said.
“I recommend to everybody that you get a home inspector,” he said. “It’s like buying an insurance policy.”