GENERAL INSPECTION DISCUSSION

Full Disclosure and PCDS – (property condition disclosure statement)

Full disclosure

What is full disclosure and why is it important? When dealing with one of the most expensive purchases of a persons’ life it is pretty important to make sure the deal is as honest as you can make it. This honesty refers to the buyers, sellers, realtors and inspectors.  I am sure you have heard of the expression “buyer beware”. This means if you are buying you should do all you can to reduce the risk of buying a money pit. When you involve a home inspector and a realtor you should be reducing that risk as these professionals should help you to avoid most of the pit falls inherent in this type of purchase.

If you are the seller you need to disclose to the buyer all you know about the home in terms of the major issues you might be aware of. I can tell you from experience that you should not leave this part of the process to anyone else. You need to be clear about the conditions of the home. Don’t leave any part of the disclosure to misinterpretation by the seller. As an inspector I try to be as thorough as I can to present the fact of what I see in the clearest light possible. Sometimes this means I need to use my vast experience to predict a likely problem even though I can’t physically see it. In my opinion it is best to deal with the issues up front during the negotiating process rather than in court a year later. As I always say, “it is what it is”. I realize that full disclosure may cause a buyer to back away from the deal but this is far better than the fight later on if you choose to be dishonest.

In the real estate world there are forms the seller fills out called PCDS or property disclosure statements. When you are filling these out you should list anything you feel is significant in terms of the major components of the home. I have experienced several misunderstandings about the PCDS. If you are in doubt about what you need to fill out here ask your realtor. Form my experience most people are honest but sometimes they fill the form out quickly and forget to disclose things or don’t disclose things because they consider them unimportant. My advice is to take a day or so to fill out this form, then ask your realtor to help you decide if there are any questionable issues you are not sure should be included in this disclosure statement.

Let’s face it, you don’t want to tear your home apart in the disclosure statement but there are likely some things you should inform the buyers of. Here are a few guidelines I’d suggest adding to the PCDS. If the home has ever flooded or if it has had major damage due to a water line or fixture leak. Many times the sellers realize the problem, fix it and consider it no longer important so they don’t think to mention it in the PCDS. All of a sudden the inspector or the new owner finds evidence of the past leak and they go into panic mode. The whole deal is thrown into dispute and the seller is made to look like they are dishonest. It is best to disclose past issues even if you feel they are not that important.

Even if you are not concerned about a current problem and consider it normal wear and tear for the age of the home, you should still disclose it. I’m not talking about a tear in the carpet or a poor paint job. I am referring to things like a chronic furnace problem or recurring ice damming. These are things the buyer will want to know and once disclosed they can make an informed decision. Once again if you are in doubt about whether you should put an issue in the PCDS you should seek the advice of a professional such as your realtor. Most of us only buy and sell a few houses in our lifetime so we are very inexperienced in the process. Realtors on the other hand have vast knowledge of this area and you are paying them to properly guide you through the process where everyone is treated fairly. Let’s face it most homes have issues and need some repair and maintenance, in fact most sellers want to upgrade because the want a better home, having said that the sellers are not going to bring an older home up to today’s standards to sell it. If they did that they might as well not move.

Q: Is it true that insurance is cheaper if we install an alarm system?

A: This is what I have been told by several customers but I honestly have not asked an insurance company. I would guess you would be a preferred customer if you have an alarm system that protects your home. These days it is easy to install a system that monitors your home for everything from moisture intrusion to low temperatures in the home due to furnace failure. These systems usually have the ability to call your cell phone with an alarm code that alerts you of the potential problems going on at home. With these advance warning systems it is much less likely that you will have an insurance claim so I suspect you would get a discount on your insurance premium.

I want to rent out my basement. Are there any restrictions that may prevent me from renting this space?

The greatest impediment to renting a basement suite or even just a room is the types and size of the points of egress. A basement bedroom must have a window that is egress compliant at 3.75sqft. with no dimension less than 15”. You need to consider if the room is safe if the stairs were on fire could the renter escape from the home in another manner. Lloydminster has been lenient on rental suites as there is such a need for this type of accommodation. The problem is if there is ever a fire and a death as a result of an illegal suite you can be sure no one but you will face the consequences. My advice is to only rent units that are safe. Another problem I often see in renal suites is inadequate power supply in the panel and over use of the limited receptacles. A home that is properly wired for a rental suite will have a minimum of a 100 amp service and enough circuits to accommodate the needs of two families. I also recommend rental insurance.

WINTERIZING MY HOME

Five tips to get your home ready for winter.

Well it is that time of year to start thinking about winter and what we need to do to get our homes ready. Here are a few steps that may save you some grief if you take the time to implement them. I don’t mean to be rude but if you are like me and most people we tend to have an attitude that if it is not broke, don’t worry about it. It is that attitude that will cost you a lot of dollars down the road, so have a look at these winterizing tips and do some preventative maintenance now instead of the mad scramble later.

First of all check the hose bib, if it is not a frost free style it will need to be turned off and drained before the cold weather freezes the pipe and fills your basement with water. Even the frost bibs will freeze if they do not drain as designed. They must slope down so the water drains out and you should never leave the hose connected.

A second tip is to get your furnace ready. Open the front panel and check the belt if there is one. Many belts I see are cracked almost all the way through. When they break the furnace will not run long before a safety switch shuts it down and when that happens in the dead of winter it is going to cost you to have a repair person come out. Save yourself the head ache and the money, check it now. Check the motor as well if it starts very slow or not at all, it may be time to replace it. Finally make sure the filter is clean and you have a few extras for the long winter.

Tip number three is to go around and check the building envelope. Many older homes have poor fitting windows and doors. By walking around the outside you may see windows that are not properly closed for instance. Now is the time to push it closed before it builds up with ice and can’t be closed later. Add the plastic heat shrink sheets early if the windows are drafty. Stand back and look at the roof for missing shingles that may have blown off during the summer, missing shingles often equal leaks from melting spring snow.

Tip number four is to plan early how to deal with snow. This past spring I witnessed many flooded basements because people piled the snow off the driveway up against the house. I always say a basement is like an in ground pool it wants to be full of water, by piling snow against the house it just may be.

Tip five is to check your insulation in the attic. Heat rises so most heat is lost through the ceiling. You should have approximately 12” of insulation in the attic, if not consult with an insulator to discuss your needs and get more insulation installed professionally. You can add your own insulation but you must do it right so ask about how this is done. If you do it wrong you could create  ice damming and other problems.

IS MY HOME BUILT TO WITHSTAND THE WINTER?

Beware of US built mobile homes that do not meet Canadian standards.

This week’s topic is about the dangers of buying an out of country mobile home.  I have come across two brand new trailers that were built in the U.S. that did not meet the national building code. If you are a regular follower of my thoughts you will know I try to steer away from talking about codes. I am not a codes officer and do not try to mimic the important work they do. Having said that I want to bring this important issue to your attention in the hopes that I can prevent you from making the same mistake two of my past clients have made.

The issue surrounds the need for a home to have vapor barrier.  In our climate the interior and outside temperature can vary as much as 60 or more degrees Celsius. With such a wide range in temperature across a wall or ceiling there is a strong possibility that frost will build up. We see it quite often on our windows in winter. The accumulation of frost is caused by moist air coming in contact with cold air. The key to preventing this is to place a layer of vapor barrier on the warm side of the insulation to prevent the moisture from entering the wall where it can make the contact.

On two separate occasions I have come across new trailers that did not have vapor barrier in the walls or ceiling. As you can imagine frost in the winter naturally built up in the walls or ceilings and before you know it these unsuspecting folks had moisture related issues including mold. The trailers in question were both CSA approved and had the “Meets national building code” stickers. These stickers are important but they do not guarantee that Canada standards were followed, only that Canadian standards were supposed to be followed.

In both cases the repair costs of these nearly new homes was extensive. To add vapor barrier after the fact is so costly it is almost not worth it.  My advice is, if you are buying a mobile home built across the border ask specifically if it has vapor barrier.  The sales person is likely going to be quick to say “of course” but press the issue and dig deeper to be as sure as you can be. If there is an attic hatch open it and check for yourself. If you can’t find any ask your lawyer for a compliance letter that will allow you to return the trailer for a refund if it is missing the vapor barrier. Sounds extreme but it is an extreme problem so be prepared.

Thr trouble with rushing into the deal-make sure to do your homework

Being a good inspector is only half the job.  Tailoring the inspection to the clients’ needs is also very important.

Assessing the clients’ needs and abilities to make sure the inspection is tailored to those needs is a serious job. Many of my inspections have been for first time homeowners. Much of the time these people are brand new to living on their own as many are only in their early twenties. When doing an inspection for this type of client I try to take into account what type of client I am dealing with. Of course I have no idea if they are “home smart” or just mad at mom and dad and want to get their own place. During the inspection I try to ascertain some details about the clients’ needs and abilities so I can try at least to explain what they may face once they buy the home.  I never advise the client on what decision to make but laying out the details about the home in a meaningful way is the job of the inspector in my opinion.

Without even asking I usually assume that they are going to pull out all the stops just to make the purchase. The banks and the realtor should be working on their behalf as well to help get them started out right. The last thing I want is for this young person to buy a home and find out it is a money pit. My mom had an expression when I was growing up, “when poverty comes in the window, love goes out the door”. This is often the reality for a lot of young unsuspecting couples that buy a “fixer upper” home. They have no idea what needs to be done or what could and likely will go wrong once they move in. For some the challenge is an adventure, for others it is a nightmare.

I am sad to say that from time to time my inspection findings results in the clients crying. Crying about what you’re liking thinking. Crying because they were in love with the “idea” of owing this home and I helped them to see what that love affair might be like once they are married to it. I believe the job of the inspector is to listen to their client and try to understand the clients’ abilities both to make repairs if and when necessary and to finance these renovations. Just this week I had a 23 year old (the same age as my son) tell me that she was relying on my advice to make sure she was not buying a bad home. WOW, it sunk home once again how important it is for me to do my best to be thorough and uncover as much of the potential issues as I can about the home in the short time I am in it. Of course we all over look some things but keeping the focus on the clients’ needs helps to bring clarity to the task at hand.

On another recent inspection I had a client who was intending to buy a rental property. This person (I am trying to be vague as this is a real situation) had received approval for the purchase and was excited about the return on investment once the home was rented. I discovered a lot of problems that needed immediate attention and a few that could wait. By asking a few questions I was able to determine that any of the work that was required would need to be hired out to contractors as this person did not have any repair ability to do their own work. Furthermore the “person” told me that they were totally maxed out just to get financing and would have NO money for renovations.  What looked like a solid, too good to be true deal, was in fact a whole mess of renovation contracts that would be sure to be very costly. This person asked me to advise them on the purchase, I declined. Instead I directed them back to their realtor who, if they are earning their fees will help their client work through the process. I always say, “every home has a buyer, but not every home is the right home for you.”  So the moral of the story is to take the time to ask the hard questions and make sure you are comfortable with the answers before you sign on the dotted line, because when you own it, you own it.

Slow down and take a breather, – the state of home purchasing in our city and towns. If you are feeling pressured to sign off on a deal it might be time to re-think the whole purchase.

This type of talk is often what makes me unpopular with some folk in our business. Many people feel the inspector has no right to interfere with “the deal”. In some respects I agree that the inspector’s job is to remain unbiased and simply offer an opinion on the condition of the home, but as I explained in the last few issues I have come to understand that people are relying on my expertise.

Recently I have noticed a new intensity in the interest in home inspections. This has been good for my business of course but it has also meant that most home inspectors are booked at least a week or two in advance. The new trend I am noticing is that this process of buying a home in our area at least,  is very rushed and stressful. I have heard that many home purchasers are being told they need to drop the home inspection condition or they will not be able meet the conditions of the contract on time. First of all if you are in this situation, I recommend that you refuse to waive this condition as you may be making a big mistake. It is kind of like going to the dentist and asking him to pull your sore tooth and telling him not to bother checking the x-rays to find out which one needs to be pulled.

If your “deal” is going to fall through unless you sign off on your good judgment then you need to consider a couple of things. First of all you could lose the home to another buyer – not likely going to happen but it’s possible. Secondly you need to ask the realtor why the removal of conditions is set so close to the signing of the offer to purchase. They know there could be a week or two wait to get an inspector or an appraiser for that matter. Take your time, Take your time, do I need to say it again, take your time and get it right. Buying a $300,000.00 – $400,000.00 home must not be rushed!  Even if you do not hire me, find a friend or contractor to help you make an informed choice. Good luck out there!

What is “GRANDFATHERING” and how will I be affected by it.

Grandfathering, what is Grandfathering.

The past two weeks I have heard the phrase “grandfathering” a few times with respect to septic systems. First of all I’ll explain the term.  According to Wikipedia, a grandfather clause is a provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations, while a new rule will apply to all future cases. I thought I would clear up this idea that if an acreage has an existing septic system, regardless of its condition it will be “grandfathered”. I will tell you that I spoke first hand with a public health inspector in Saskatchewan and this concept of grandfathering is way overrated.

The concept that an unsafe and unhealthy septic system is “OK” is not accurate. The only time a grandfathering clause can be invoked is when the old system is not posing a health or safety concern to the public or to the environment. I can tell you that some of the systems I have inspected in the past two weeks are neither safe nor healthy. If the seller is telling you the system is existing and therefore grandfathered you had better get that in writing from the authority having jurisdiction or you may end up with a very large bill when you have to install a new system.

As an onsite waste water design consultant I have some insight into what constitutes a proper sewage system. These systems are no longer a metal barrel dropped into a hole with an overflow  pipe running down the hill. You will need a design plan before even being granted a permit to install a new system. The requirements are stringent and the costs to install a system that will be safe and effective are large. So before you sign on the dotted line be sure to give some thought to this.  As always I am here to help if I can.

Enough “IS” Enough – when renovations get out of hand.

In my business I often come across issues with the homes I inspect as you can imagine. Most of the time these “issues” are things that I flag for my customers so they understand what is wrong or will soon be wrong with the home if the problem is not repaired. Most of these problems are minor in nature although there are times when the problems are more severe and should be addressed right away. I sometimes get call backs about these problems by customers who need clarification. Many times the customer tells me that a repair company was called and quoted an astronomical price to fix a minor problem.

When I say enough is enough I mean several things. One is fixing the problem means just that, fixing the problem not rebuilding the home. Too many contractors forget that money does not grow on trees and they recommend a total replacement of items that are easily repairable. For instance let’s say I notice three missing shingles on a roof that is 15 years old. The roofing company may come by and tell the homeowner that the entire roof should be replaced as the shingles are wearing out.  While this is true what they fail to mention is that they should last for another 10 years or so. I contend that the owner fix the three shingles for $300.00. The roofing company wants $4000.00 to make the roof all nice and new. As a homeowner myself, I think I would opt for the $300 repair for now and try to extend the life of the current roof for another 10 years.

I am not saying this happens all the time but it happens a lot. Contractors like to make everything nice and new but they need to ask themselves what is and is not absolutely necessary. It is like a landscape company offering to fix a lawn by fertilizing and seeding new grass. Another company may suggest  removing the top 4” of soil and starting again. It is simply wasteful in my opinion and it’s YOUR money so take some time to get several opinions. There will be times when replacement is smarter then fixing but those times are not a common as some might think.  Don’ t get me wrong, most contractors are honest and are not out to rob their clients. Some times however they go overboard and forget to count the costs.

Many renovators for instance like to do things their own way. This often means they want to destroy the work someone else has done because it does not meet their standards. While this is noble it is sometimes unreasonable and most often un-necessary. If the door is not exactly level but closes perfectly fine there is no need to tear it all out and reposition it. If you are the type of person that absolutely needs everything perfect, then by all means get out your wallet and go at it. For the rest of us we simply need a safe and healthy home that will keep us dry and warm.

A BIT OF ADVICE FOR THE DO-IT-YOUSELF TYPE – Keep records of renovations

A well documented renovation /repair is worth its weight in gold when its time to sell your home. As a home Inspector I see things all the time that concern me. In order to do my job I pass these concerns on to my clients. This week I came across a home that had recent foundation repairs. The seller claimed that the repairs were professionally completed but the end result left me wondering. The stud wall and drywall finish job had about a three inch inward bow. From experience I naturally figured that the concrete wall behind the studded wall must also be bowed in the same fashion as the finished wall.

A horizontal crack in a concrete wall can be an indication of a serious situation. I recommended that my clients, who were young and first time buyers should move forward cautiously. I suggested that they ask for pictures of the repairs and documents to prove the wall was indeed professionally repaired. I explained that without this documentation it looked like there was still a major problem with this wall. The sale was in jeopardy at this point.

As it turns out the realtor had the documents I asked for and we went through the ample photos of the repair job. The concrete wall looked fine (no bow). I was able to determine that the homeowner had completed the finish work on the stud wall themselves. The upper part of the wall was not removed during the initial tear-out and when the homeowner rebuilt the lower 2/3 of the wall they ended up with the 3” bow in the joint where the two walls met. If it was not for the renovation pictures the sale may have fallen through. I often suggest that the buyer ask for permits if the job looks poorly done or if I believe it is unsafe, meaning it was not likely permitted and inspected. So I recommend that you take lots of pictures of the repairs before and after. If you do it right you should be happy to prove its right. In this case I recommended that the interior wall be removed and rebuilt if the buyer felt they wanted it to be straight and level, otherwise I suspect it was just cosmetic.

Wall looks bowed in

Wall looks bowed in

Hey Mr. Contractor, are you incompetent or just lazy?

I realize the title is a bit harsh but I wanted to drive home the point that many contractors are really dropping the ball these days. Now I don’t want to come across as a smart aleck or a know it all, as this would be totally wrong. I do want to talk about some situations where the contractors have really messed up and some situations where they get the job about 95% complete and forget to finish things up properly.

Pretty much weekly I get calls from distraught homeowner who ask if I can come and prove that their contractor has no right picking up a hammer. Fortunately I can refer them to the building inspector. When I do come across problems in the course of my inspections it is usually for the same reasons, lazy or incompetent contractors.  Unfortunately the homeowner usually is not aware of the problems and has no recourse by the time I discover the problem.

Just this week I was going through a home using the thermal camera. Looking at the living room ceiling I noticed a few large areas of missing or displaced insulation. Looking in the attic I could see that the electrician must have removed the insulation to place the lights in the ceiling and then left the insulation in a position where it was doing no good. In this situation I have to ask was the electrician stupid to the fact that the insulation was there for a reason or was he/she just lazy. My vote is lazy! I see this sort of thing all the time. I can’t imagine how much heat was lost over the years because of this failure to finish the job.

On another occasion I was asked to inspect a home that was not yet completely built. The buyers didn’t fully trust the builder and asked that I have a look just in case they may have missed something. I was shocked to see several missing batts of insulation in the cathedral ceiling using the thermal camera. What is the most shocking part is that the dry wall contractor must have seen the missing insulation while putting up the drywall board. They must have said “its not our job” and covered over the problem. I hope the General contractor treated this person with all the respect they deserved.  So if your hiring a contractor be sure to get references and if you are the contractor be sure to do it right the first time, regardless of the extra effort it requires.