Thermal Imaging Home Inspection Gadget Rankles Real Estate Agents

A portable thermal imaging device that uses an infrared camera to spot temperature differentials around a house is being touted in some real estate circles as the hottest trend in home purchases. But HousingWatch spoke to a variety of real estate professionals who say the devices are costly and not likely to replace more-affordable devices and old-fashioned walk-through inspections any time soon.

That may be reason alone to consider a thermal imaging inspection if you're looking for a legitimate edge in the bargaining process -- especially for a fixer-upper.

Home inspectors reportedly are using thermal imaging devices to accurately detect "hot spots" that identify dangerous wiring, nonworking heat vents and mold not visible to the naked eye. Cold spots reveal areas where air or water from outside the house is leaking in. Would-be homeowners pay from $150 to $300 for a thermal inspection, and use the information they receive to shave thousands off a home's price.

Real estate agents say thermal imaging isn't that useful, but one would expect agents to be skeptical of anything that might reduce their commissions.

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Patrick Jaimez and Jesus Menendez, both Realtors with Coldwell Banker in South Florida, say that thermal imaging devices, which can cost as much as $6,000, are not commonly used in their region, and they have not experienced any use of them by inspectors they deal with.

Other thermal devices are more common. "Thermal thermometers -- a device that shoots a laser beam to gauge ceiling temperature and ultimately the air conditioner's efficiency -- and the humidity tester, are ones most commonly used," says Jaimez.

Menendez goes on to explain that "the thermal imaging is very new and very fancy."

"It's almost like a portable ultrasound machine that is being used mainly to detect mold," he said. "It's not being used because if you have mold this doesn't need to be used to detect it. There really isn't a regulated way of treating mold."

He says that if the home already has mold it's detected immediately when entering the home, especially by realtors and inspectors.

One company Menendez works with often, Multitech Building, Inc., used the infrared devices when they were first introduced years ago, mainly to detect leaks in the home, whether from the roof or the ceiling. But they no longer use them during home inspections. Multitech's owner Javier D'Espaux says, "I am constantly receiving information enticing me to buy those. But honestly, I just see them used by the larger inspection companies, and to me it seems like a tool to impress home buyers."

Call us impressed. Considering the potential costs of any undetected leaks, faulty wiring or undetected mold in a home you're about to spend your life savings on, a couple hundred bucks for a thermal imaging inspection seems like money well-spent.
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