Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people will ever make. A pre-purchase inspection is one way to ensure the buyer knows what he is getting.

"A pre-purchase inspection can be more important than an appraisal," said Clark Palfreyman, owner of Home Inspection Service in Springville. After a buyer has spent some time looking at houses, he pretty well knows what a house is worth, Palfreyman said, but an inspection can reveal problems a buyer would not find out about until after he has moved in."I go through a house and check the doors for latching and fit, I check every valve, I let the shower run for 30 minutes," said Palfreyman. He has a checklist he uses as he goes through a house. It includes turning on every appliance. "I turn on every burner on the stove and the oven and broiler."

Palfreyman said he likes to have the person paying him for the inspection accompany him so he can point out problems. He offers maintenance tips as well.

"When you spend $20,000 on a car, you get about a 50-page booklet on maintenance. You buy a $125,000 house and you may get a warranty on the water heater," he said.

Palfreyman tries to remedy that by offering to his customers a book he wrote, "Easy Home Ownership." He gives the new homeowner suggestions like how to maintain appliances and when to paint.

A licensed contractor and real estate broker, Palfreyman is sometimes hired by appraisers to check out problems spotted during an inspection. For example, he recently checked an uneven floor because the VA inspector suspected termites. Palfreyman determined the floor was installed crooked.

Chuck Hugo, who is an inspector certified by the International Conference of Building Officials, also does pre-purchase inspections.

On a recent inspection, he informed the prospective buyer that the house needed a smoke detector on the third level and handrails for the stairs.

He checked the house for water damage, checked the electrical outlets to see if they were wired correctly, the water pressure, and the brick and mortar hearth of the wood-burning stove for cracks.

By checking city records, Hugo found the real estate listing on the house showed 500 more square feet than city records indicated.

Chief Plumbing Inspector for Salt Lake City Tim Collings said inspection before buying is a good idea but "you have to be careful." Check the credentials of the inspector and make sure they know the building code for the area.

Inspectors are also no guarantee that a homeowner won't have problems, said Collings. The inspector will generally have a "big disclaimer," specifying the inspection was a good-faith effort, not a guarantee.

Also, he said, an inspector is no help with certain problems. He said a woman recently came to his office in tears because zoning didn't allow her to rent out an apartment in her house. She depended on the rental to help her with the house payment. Neither the inspector nor the title company could help her because it was a zoning problem.

Building inspectors in Spanish Fork and Pleasant Grove said they don't get calls on pre-purchase inspections very often.

Pleasant Grove building inspector Douglas Bezzant said, "It's a good idea. I would encourage people from all over to do it." He said they generally get calls when someone is buying an older home and wants to make sure it is safe.

Orem Code Enforcement Division Manager Kent Partridge said of pre-purchase inspections, "You're finding it more and more here. Some states require an inspection to bring a house up to code."

Best estimates from talking to local inspectors is that fewer than 75 buyers of existing homes a year in Utah County opt for a pre-buyer inspection.

Palfreyman said he tries not to kill a sell but he "reports on what I see." Sometimes it is not a matter of money, said Bezzant, but life. A safety inspection can save lives by noting safety problems.