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Types of Inspections

What inspections should you get to protect your investment? That depends on what area of the country you live in, how the building in question is constructed, and what you plan to do to the property after buying it. Here are the three most common inspections -- which we recommend be done after you have an accepted offer to purchase but before removing your inspection contingencies:

Prepurchase interior and exterior components inspection

No matter whether you're buying a wood-frame cottage in the country or an urban condo in a 20-story, steel-and-concrete building, you need a complete inspection of the property's interior and exterior. The inspection should cover such areas as the roof and gutters, plumbing, electrical work, heating and cooling systems, insulation, smoke detectors, kitchen, bathroom, and foundation. This type of inspection usually takes several hours to complete and costs from $200 to $500, depending upon the size of the property.

Don't be surprised if the property inspector recommends additional inspections. Good property inspectors refer their clients to specialists, such as roofers, structural engineers, and pest-control inspectors, if they discover a problem beyond their scope of expertise.

Pest-control inspection

Temperate climates, such as in the South and West, are a mixed blessing. You're not the only one who loves warm, balmy weather. So do termites, carpenter ants, powder-post beetles, dry rot, fungus, and other wood-munching infestations or infections. If these are a problem in your area, you'll also need a pest-control inspection. These inspections generally cost from $75 to $225.

Pest-control inspections are very limited in scope - the inspectors check for property damage caused only by wood-destroying insects (infestations) and organisms (infections, such as dry rot and fungus). Although homes made of wood or wood-and-stucco are the wood-destroyers' primary targets, even brick homes aren't safe.

Architect or general contractor's inspection

You need an architect or a general contractor on your team if you're buying a fixer-upper, intending to do corrective work, or planning a major property renovation, such as adding rooms or installing a new bathroom. The architect or general contractor can tell you whether what you want to do is structurally possible and meets local planning codes for such things as height restrictions and lot coverage. This inspector can also give you time and cost estimates for the project.

Architects and general contractors usually don't charge for their initial property inspection because they are hoping to get your business. Don't expect them to give you a completely objective assessment as to whether you should buy the property, because they'd probably love to do the work for you.