Knowledge is power. The famous maxim is true for most situations, and buying a home is no exception. In the case of a home purchase involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s what buyers don’t know that can hurt them.
Tri-County Home Inspection helps buyers get to know the ins and outs of a house after they’ve made a successful purchase offer, says Aaron Marjala, the company’s owner.
When a homebuyer contracts with Tri-County, the inspection is thorough. They begin with the home’s exterior: the structure, roofing, sidewalk, driveway, windows, and doors. They also check the perimeter grading for areas that slope toward the house that could result in water seeping into the interior.
Inside, inspectors check the home’s major systems: plumbing, heating, electrical, and insulation. “So many issues can be found in the home’s electrical panel,” Marjala says. One such issue might be a double-tapped breaker, where two appliances are on the same breaker. “That takes five minutes of an electrician’s time to fix.”
While it’s true that home inspections can uncover major issues in a home, more often than not Marjala’s inspectors uncover small problems that could save a lot of money in the future, as long as they’re taken care of right away.
Buyers often use the report as a negotiating tool to either have problems fixed or to negotiate a price adjustment.
“Our job is preventing surprises,” Marjala says. “To say they are thorough would be an understatement. “We’re going to be there until we run out of things to inspect,” he explains.
Before he started Tri-County, Marjala was working as a Municipal Occupancy Inspector and completing his Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) at Cardinal Stritch University. Assigned to write a business plan, he focused on the home inspection industry. He discovered a lack of consistency in the quality of inspections and noted that real estate agents needed that consistency and clear communication from inspectors in order to work most effectively with clients.
“I felt I could really provide something to the industry,” Marjala says.
He began inspecting homes part-time then went full-time in 2008. “It couldn’t have been a worse time to start,” he recalls. With the nation in the grip of the housing crisis, he had to expand his coverage area in order to get enough clients. But the struggle turned out to be worth it. “We established relationships with agents during the housing crisis that paid off later,” he says.
Today, Tri-County Home Inspection employs seven people, counting Marjala, and covers southeastern Wisconsin. Their over 1,000 inspections last year included farmhouses to high-end real estate.
Tri-County hires only those who are certified as inspectors in the state of Wisconsin. Each must pass a National Home Inspector examination and then perform a minimum of 100 inspections with an employee who has been working for Tri-County for at least three years before being sent out solo.
Each employee also completes 100 hours of continuing education a year, well above the Wisconsin minimum requirement of 20 hours. In addition, Tri-County trains its inspectors in-house for additional inspections that a buyer might pay for, such as radon, sewer and mold.
Sometimes sellers hire Tri-County to do an inspection of their home before putting it on the market. Agents can attach the pre-inspection report to the home listing in the MLS database. With the seller’s permission, Tri-County can go over the report with an interested buyer.
“Houses that we pre-inspect generally sell a little faster and for more money,” Marjala says.
Tri-County’s inspections come with no-cost warranties: five years for a roof, a 90-day or 22-day mold-safe warranty, a 90-day or 22-day sewer line warranty, and a 90-day warranty on appliances that are 10 years old or newer. The 90 days start on the day of inspection, while the 22 days cover the first three weeks after moving in, regardless of the closing date. “We’re really here for our clients,” Marjala says. “We treat people the way we would want our family treated if they were purchasing a home.” There’s no doubt their customers appreciate this mindset. “Every Friday and Saturday – at a fish fry or football game – we see people we’ve done inspections for,” he shares. “We love it if they shake our hands and thank us. We really love being a part of the community.”
Written by: Susan W. Murray