Examination extension

With home sales plunging 47 percent locally and the time a home is on the market climbing to 97 days, home inspectors are feeling the pinch.

In July, 367 homes were sold compared with 653 during the same period last year, according to the Northern Nevada Regional Multiple Listing Service.

"The market has gone south and it's affected our business considerably," said Tony Nannini, owner of Armstrong Inspection Services of Sparks, which has been in operation for more than 20 years.

Armstrong Inspection Services performed 300-350 inspections a month last year. Now it does about 150.

"We're doing everything we can to keep people aware of the need for home inspections (at other times)," Nannini said.

The story is similar at the Pillar To Post franchise in Reno. Pillar To Post went from 20 to 25 inspections a month to a couple a week.

As a result, Pillar to Post and Nannini have developed a menu of services to shore up the slack.

"People are willing to get a regular check up for themselves. Getting a house checkup every three or four years would not be a bad idea if they can't do it themselves," said Josie Timmermans, who owns Pillar To Post with her husband, Alan K. Darley.

Darley and others say the real estate slowdown presented an immediate challenge because until recently a majority of home inspectors spent most of their time conducting inspections on homes prior to closing.

Last year, Pillar To Post was so busy inspecting homes prior to purchase it had time for little else.

"Now, we're doing just enough inspections to survive and pay the bills," Timmermans said.

The couple anticipates the situation will change as inspectors focus on new services, including home inspections for older homes prior to listing, periodic home inspections and home inspections prior to warranty expiration.

Convincing people of the value of home inspections at times other than purchase can be a tough sell because consumers have a mindset that inspections are needed only at time of purchase.

However, when they hear about the kinds of problems that home inspections unearth they often change their minds.

Darley suggests they first think about home inspections in terms of finding and correcting potential problems. For example, getting a home inspection prior to a home warranty expiration can turn up defects many homeowners overlook, and that can be costly down the road.

No matter what the reputation of a company, Darley said, a builder can forget things.

"One owner hired us to do an inspection just before the warranty expired and we discovered there was no insulation in the crawl space," Timmermans said. "The subcontractor must have forgot. But if we hadn't found it come winter, the owner would have had pipes cracking and other problems."

Inspections of older houses turn up problems too.

"Houses are valuable investments. Older couples or others who can't get up in the attic or crawl space might do well to hire an inspector to look over their house," Darley said.

Timmermans said preventive maintenance inspections often show up problems that home owners overlook such as chalking issues, gas supply line and plumbing leaks, and disconnected ducting to air conditioning or heating system, loose pipes, and insulation of stone walls.

One seller recently decided to get her home inspected prior to putting it on the market to give her an edge over the competition. Such inspections eliminate surprises and last-minute renegotiation of price based on faults, Darley said.

"If a house in this market is not selling for six months, then getting a home inspection is an additional selling tool for the seller because you need to differentiate yourself from all the others out there," Darley said.

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