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Do a careful walk-through inspection before closing

Dear Ms. Builder: We are going to close on our new house in two weeks and the house is supposedly complete. The builder told us to let him know of any problems after we move in. Should we do an inspection first? - Kim F.

Dear Kim: Absolutely do an inspection. This is especially true if your builder recommended you wait until after the closing and you take occupancy. Almost any builder knows that the buyers should do a walk-through inspection.

You do not have to be an expert inspector to do a walk-through inspection. The key to a good inspection is thoroughness. Plan on taking several hours and make sure your builder or a representative accompanies you. Bring your husband along because two sets of eyes are better than one.

The reason for a thorough inspection is simple. Should problems arise even several years after you move in, you will have a record of any problems at the time of title transfer and the builder's response to them. This carries much weight should you have to go to court.

I used to recommend that people take a pad of paper and a Polaroid camera along for the inspection. In today's high-tech world, I recommend a video camera or a digital camera and a tape recorder. If you do not have one or cannot find a friend with one, rent one. It will be money well spent.

Rule #1 for any inspection - Do not be embarrassed to be too picky about minor flaws. Your builder should understand this and will hopefully not be offended. Keep in mind that this is the largest investment most family's ever make and you will be paying it off for decades to come.

I like to begin an inspection indoors, often in a kitchen or bathroom because there is so much to check in these rooms - plumbing, cabinets, appliances, etc. Keep focused and do not chat excessively or you may be distracted. Remember, this is your last chance before you own it.

Both you and your husband should walk back and forth over the entire floor. Listen for any squeaky or friction sounds that may indicate movement of some unsecured structural members. Turn on all the lights and carefully check all the corners for cracks or bulging drywall joint tape.

To check for wavy walls or uneven, inconsistent paint, turn on only one lamp near a wall. Stand back from the wall and look at it carefully. This one light will cast shadows that make any waves in the walls more apparent. If you switch on many lights, the shadows will not be as apparent.

Close the sink and bathtub stopper and then turn the fixtures on and off several times letting the sink fill slightly. Check to see if the stopper seals. With water in the sink, you will hear if the faucets continue to drip without watching them.

Switch on the vent fans and listen for any vibrations or rattles. New high-quality bathroom fans should be whisper quiet. If they are loud, check with the builder about the quality of fan that was installed.

Don't forget the kitchen countertop and the cabinets. Lift up on the countertop with some force. It should not budge. Push up on the cabinets too to make sure that they are soundly installed. Inspect inside them with a small mirror.

Don't forget to check outdoors. Often forgotten is drainage. The ground should slope away from the house foundation. Look up at the roof. It should be flat without any significant dips or bulges.

Write up the inspection report and have the builder sign it. Also note on the report when your builder promises to have any agreed upon flaws repaired.

Tools and materials needed: note pad, tape measure, video camera or instant camera, tape recorder, small mirror, flashlight

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.