GENERAL INSPECTION DISCUSSION

How often should a home be inspected?

Client asks; The home I am going to buy was inspected by the sellers two years ago so should I get it inspected now?

This is a question I face from time to time and this week I came across a situation that confirms that you should always have an inspection regardless of when it was last inspected. In fact I have two stories to tell. First of all you should never take the word of the seller or anyone for that matter, that the last inspector said it was fine. This happened to a lady here in the Midwest a few months back. She bought a home and the seller said the last home inspector said everything was fine with the home but the buyer didn’t buy the home because of finances. When she moved in her dad realized right away that the floors seemed to be un-level. Upon closer inspection it was discovered that there was no main beam in the home. The home was literally falling down! So make sure you know what you are buying, it is your responsibility and your money.
The next story happened just last week. I received a call to inspect an older home that I had inspected just two years ago. The buyers had reviewed my past report that was left on the table for them yet they still wanted me to go through it again to be sure that no new problems had developed in the two years since I had last inspected it. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see how the owners had updated the home. I proceeded with the inspection just as I always do, assuming the best but prepared for whatever may present itself. By the end of the inspection I had discovered several new issues and at least one that had been repaired but was likely to re-occur in the future. I discovered that the furnace blower motor was on its last legs and there was also a gas leak at the furnace. The hot water tank was now leaking and the floor of the porch was near zero degrees Celsius. I do not believe the seller knew this was happening and when he found out he promptly had the necessary repairs completed. This is just another example of doing your due diligence to protect your money and your health. If you want to see this inspection complete with a video of the leaking gas, it is now on my website under the SAMPLE REPORT tab at www.borderhi.com

Asbestos – Where is the danger, how real is the risk?

I recently inspected a home that had some possible asbestos containing vermiculite in the attic and some possible asbestos wrap on the furnace plenums. Furthermore there was likely some asbestos in the floor tiles in the entry and the basement.  So what now? Should you the buyer walk away in order to save yourself from asbestos contamination.  Ultimately the short answer is, its up to you but before you react I believe you need to look at the situation from an educated perspective.

First of all asbestos exposure is known to be the leading cause of a cancer called Mesothelioma. Every year according to researchers in the United States between 14 and 30 people in every million are diagnosed with Mesothelioma.  As scary as this sounds I feel it is important to point out that it is the long term exposure  or highly concentrated short term exposure to asbestos that causes the cancer. In an average home built between 1940 and 1978 there were thousands of products produced which contained asbestos, many of those were construction materials for residential and commercial buildings.

When you consider the types of products where asbestos fibres were used you soon begin to realize that the risk of those fibres becoming friable or air born is very small. For the most part many of the building materials we see which contain asbestos are safe so long as you do not disturb them. Look at floor tiles for example. Most of us went to school in buildings that had asbestos type floor tiles. We walked on those tiles for a dozen years with no adverse effects on our health because the asbestos was encased in the material and we could not breath it in which is where it begins to affect our health. It is estimated that it takes between 25 -50 years for an overdose of asbestos to form into Mesothelioma. Imagine how many times you take your life into your own hands by driving in rush hour traffic in that amount of time.

Don’t get me wrong , Mesothelioma is a terrible disease that claims too many people in our society and we need to do all we can to prevent the over exposure to asbestos where practical. To this point in my research I have not come across any evidence that would lead me to believe that very short term low exposure to asbestos building materials will shorten your life. The real danger is to the men and women that worked in industries and professions which caused over exposure to friable asbestos. If you worked in an asbestos mine it is likely you will suffer the consequences.  Another high risk but less obvious occupation is for renovators who were unaware of the dangers of dismantling the homes that contained asbestos products. You notice I used the word unaware. If you are planning a renovation that requires the removal of products that you know contain asbestos you should consult a remediation company that is trained in this type of work. If you are not sure if the product is asbestos you can hire someone like Border home inspections to sample the material and send it to the lab for analysis.

The bottom line is to know what you are dealing with and understand the dangers. For most situations I believe the risk of exposure is very low. Once again if you are planning on disturbing a known asbestos containing material you must prepare and protect yourself and your home beforehand.  Remember that almost all homes build between 1940 and 1978 in the Midwest and across the country have some asbestos containing materials in them. In my opinion this fact should not cause you to walk away from a perfectly safe and healthy home.  Please refer to the site below for more information. http://www.asbestos.com/mesothelioma/statistics.php

How thorough should an inspection be?

The inspection business can be political at times. Ok lets be honest, it is usually political to some degree. Perhaps political is the wrong word.  Lets say controversial.  Often times a home inspector will discover issues in a home that are hidden and unknown to the sellers. Depending upon the situation these hidden issues can sometimes cause a sale to fall through.  At this point some home inspectors including myself can feel the whirlwind of fury from the unsuspecting homeowner. The sale is on the rocks and the inspector is the reason or so they believe. In my experience I have to say sometimes (rarely but sometimes) they are right.

This is where the politics of discernment come into play. A good inspector inspects the home for defects and does not try to hide the facts. How the facts are presented however is critical and where professionalism must come into play. Here is an example. I inspect a basement and discover moisture is present in the NW corner . There are no obvious issues inside the home but the wall is definitely wet and may have some mold or deterioration and possibly even some rot.  My report can be written in three ways and depending on how I do this will separate me from my competitors. One approach is alarming to the customer, “The walls in the basement are wet and could be mouldy or worse”.  The second approach and the one I prefer would go something like this, “I detected some moisture in the NW corner of the den as shown in the picture. I am unable to see into the wall to determine the extent of the damage if any but would recommend that you do the following.  Re-slope the outside of the home in this area so water does not pool up against the foundation. Futhermore I would extend the downspout out away from the home at least 8’ to prevent future moisture problems. It is my opinion that the moisture is directly related to the slope and roof drainage issues outside and if they are corrected I would guess the wall would dry up.” The third approach would go like this, There was no visible evidence of moisture in the basement walls on the day of the inspection. “ This third inspection is what I would call a soft inspection where the facts are true but the whole story is not given.

As a home buyer I think option two would be best to know. Obviously it takes the inspector longer to write all this down and it also is a bit risky to guess but I believe that the buyer is willing to pay me a fair compensation for a well informed inspection and report that will be useful to them. This means they want to know what I think. Most inspection trainers today teach that we need to keep our opinions to ourselves and stick to the observable facts. A surface or observable inspection is usually preferred by sellers  for the reasons I mentioned above. As a result an opinionated inspector such as myself can sometimes get black listed for scaring away buyers. This is where the politics enters the picture. As an inspector I believe in integrity and honesty. I strive to inform my clients but not scare them. Sometimes the buyers are not familiar with the” ins and outs” of home maintenance and unless I assure them that the issues with the home are common and minor in nature they will not buy the home.  I believe it is my job to put the problems in perspective as to the age of the home and the seriousness of the issue.  Sometimes it becomes a bit of a juggling act to try to keep everyone happy. Sometimes it is impossible to keep everyone happy. In any case a good inspector will inform and work tirelessly for their client regardless of the outcome. I usually get referrals as a good inspector from such clients, which is my utmost goal.

Technology and protecting your home.

 

Last week I went to a meet the teacher conference at my daughters high school. Was I in for a surprise when I walked through those doors. I used to be a high school teacher myself many moons ago and somehow had the idea that school was school and I knew what I could expect, boy was I wrong.  First of all the principal and staff introduced the parents to the school and asked if we would all “like” them on face book. Really, I thought. They went on to explain that most of the school activities would be on face book if the parents wanted to stay updated. Next came the tours of the classrooms. I was once again impressed at the integration of the smart board in the front of each classroom that the teachers just swiped to display information about the course and other neat stuff they had planned for my daughter. Before I left the school the teachers gave us websites to go to if we wanted to set up accounts to receive text message reminders when our children had tests and assignments. I left the school  thinking I must have slept for the past decade or so while all this happened around me.

Getting more to the topic of this issue of ask the inspector I will talk about a few ways technology has crept into our homes as well. This summer we have seen tremendous rains and a lot of flooded basements. Some of the homes I inspect have a system in place that will automatically call the homeowners cell phone if the water in the sump goes above its high level mark. This most likely saves lots of homes from water damage. There is also a lot of homes that have heat sensors that will call you or the alarm company if the temperature of a room (usually the furnace room) gets too hot or too cold. I have been told that there are alarm systems out there today that allow the homeowner to lock and unlock the doors of their home remotely from their cell phone as well.

Some other uses of this technology includes the ability of the homeowner to dial into their  homes’ thermostat and raise or lower the temperature as their needs change and unique situations arise. Todays technology also gives you the ability to see what’s happening at your home when you are away.  It is now possible to view your home security camera on your cell phone.  Special thanks to Purely Essential security in Lloydminster for this weeks information on home technology. Who knows what to expect next. Well I got to go as Star Track is coming on and I don’t want to miss it. I haven’t figured out how to program the VCR to record yet.

What do you expect? Its an older home!

Are you asking too much of the seller?

Buying a home is not much different then buying any other commodity. Yes I know we inspectors and realtors always make the famous statement that “This is most likely the most expensive purchase you will ever make in your lifetime.” While this is true I still say it is a lot like buying jeans or a car or anything else, you buy the one that fits you and is within your budget. When most of us go shopping for a car we don’t pull up to the dealer and say “I’ll take that one”. Most people will research the purchase and get prices and then decide which one they can afford and which one is priced properly. Buying a home is similar in a lot of ways. You need to find the home that you like and fits within your budget. This is where my thoughts tie into this story.

Lets suppose you find the perfect home. Most often this home is an older home that will need some maintenance. You show up with the realtor and look around the property. You make an offer subject to financing and an inspection and hope for the best.  The inspector shows up and begins to have a look around. Some obvious issues are the fence and deck that is past its prime and will need some TLC or to be replaced outright. Next the inspector tries a few of the older crank style wooden casement windows and reports a few stripped cranks and one or two sealed units that have fogged up.  The report should be clear that this home is an older home and older windows are to be expected. I often will comment to the customer that it is rather amazing that only one or two windows have issues considering the age of the home.

The next step is up to the buyer to lift the condition of the inspection. Here is where things can get dicey. Some buyers will look at the inspection report and demand that the seller replace the old deck and fence. They will want $5000.00 off because the windows are old. Ultimately they need to step back and consider a few things. First of all the deck and fence and windows were not hidden when they made the initial offer. It is true that the problems are more defined by the inspector but it is not surprising that these issues are present in this age of home. Just because the inspector points them out doesn’t necessarily mean that the seller must make the issue go away or pay to fix it. After all old homes have old components and old components require repairs now and then. As I always say, if you want a better home you can get one across town in a newer area for $100,000 more. My point is you are buying an older home because it is what you can afford. You really can’t expect the seller to fix and update the old home just because you hope for more. So be realistic and decide if the home is priced appropriately for its condition and then make a reasonable offer. Finally be fair in the negotiations and the home can be yours at a fair price.

Tips for getting your home ready to sell

Most of the inspections I do are for residential buyers. When someone is buying a home they hire me to go through the home looking for current and future problems. There are several items that I come across on a regular basis that I will go over here so you can check your home before you put it on the market. If your home has some of the red flags I mention, I recommend that you take the initiative and fix these things before you start showing your home. I thought of this issue this week as I walked up to and then inside an older residence in Lloydminster. I immediately got the feeling that this was a good home and that the homeowners had a lot of pride of ownership. The yard was beautiful and the inside of the home was clean and nothing appeared broken or worn out.

When you are listing your property think like the inspector will think when they see the home. I often spot several issues as soon as I pull up to the curb. The absence or disrepair of eaves troughs and downspouts and improper slope are two of the most critical items I call out for repair. Siding is another less obvious concern. Go over the siding and check for loose or missing pieces. Also look for gaps around the wall penetrations such as fresh air intakes and vent hoods. Now look at the deck. If you have to be careful where you walk on your deck for fear of falling off or going through then you really should repair or replace the deck. Trust me when I say the buyer will not be impressed if they get hurt while viewing your home. This safety message goes for all areas of your home of course.

Finally once I am inside I will often find problems with leaks in the toilets and around showers and tubs. If the toilet rocks back and forth or the shower stall is missing several ceramic tiles you will be setting yourself up for some price negotiations as bathrooms are not cheap to repair. Pay close attention to exposed wires in the basement which will require an electrical contractor. Also repair ALL leaks in water or drain lines. While all these items seem minor they speak of a bigger problem with the home, lack of maintenance. Not all buyers are willing to buy a home that needs these types of repairs, those buyers that do, will often try to negotiate a lower price to take care of the issues themselves. This lower, take it or leave it price is often thousands less then the first offer and far more then it would have cost you to do the same repairs. It only makes sence to do the maintenance before you sell. Good luck

Buying the right house is more then just curb appeal.

Recently I inspected a very large home. This single family home had it all, several times over. I mean there were four entrances and too many rooms to recall. The main floor had two kitchens and a large office, den and two living/dining rooms. While there was lots of space there was also lots of things to clean and to fix. When you decide it is time to move you need to look at your needs as well as your desires. Some other factors that should be kept in mind would be the resale value when it is time to move again could you sell the home. The home I described above would cost about $800,000.00 to replace I am sure but it sold for less then half of its worth. Why you ask, because it is only appealing to a small market. Not everyone can afford to heat and maintain such a large home. Maintaining three furnaces may be a challenge and most buyers are not up for that.

So here is what I would recommend you keep in mind. When you find the home of your dreams be sure to include some trusted friends and relatives in your intentions. If you are stepping over the line so to speak they will likely try to reign you in. Sometimes when house shopping we tend to miss the forest for the trees. Secondly I recommend working with a realtor. By talking to a trained and trusted realtor you can narrow down that perfect home that is within your budget and needs.  The third suggestion is to have the home inspected of course. A good inspector is your best friend. The inspector doesn’t care about the fancy kitchen cabinets or the extra large garage/workshop that often sells the homeowner on the home.

Sometimes the inspectors report comes as a complete shock to the owner. I have had customers that expect  my report to be a glowing review but they are shocked to find out that I discovered some major and often obvious defects. I always say every home has a buyer but not every buyer wants the home once they see the inspection.  Just remember to include some friends and some professionals to aid you in your buying decision. After all making the wrong decision can be devastating so do your homework and make the right decision the first time. As always call Border Home Inspections for free inspection related advice anytime.

Even nice guys get it wrong sometimes

EVEN NICE GUYS GET IT WRONG SOMETIMES.

This week I inspected a wood stove and chimney that was installed several years ago by a well intentioned and very nice older gentlemen. Unfortunately he got it wrong, very wrong. The chimney was installed upside down and had missing components. The stove was also installed too close to the wall and the black pipe was also installed upside down.  All this made for an unsafe heating appliance in my mind. The owner though it was very safe and claimed he never had an issue. Even the insurance company said it was great. My point is not to say the owner was negligent, as I am sure he was well intentioned as I said but when it comes to a life safety issues such as wood heat it is critical to get t right.

Many times I come across homeowner repairs and modifications to various components of the home. Some of the most dangerous are electrical. Other do it yourself jobs might include plumbing with black tape and caulking. While this is not a life safety issue it can cause a flood when things fly apart. Now don’t get me wrong on this, I am an advocate of do-it-your self. I personally have done all kinds of modifications over the years and have even made some mistakes that I later regretted. After all we learn the most from our mistakes. I just want to say that there is little excuse anymore for not understanding how to properly install or repair something in your home. There are tons of examples and step by step web pages that tackle almost anything you will ever come across. So do the research and get prepared mentally before you begin the job. Often it only takes a few minutes to read up on the right way to do it. Take your time and don’t be afraid to ask questions of people that have the answers. If you call someone for help and they don’t want to co-operate, move on to someone that does. It has been my experience that if you come across as someone that wants to do things properly, there are lots of people out there that are more then willing to guide you.  Lets be honest labour is not cheap and the more you can safely and knowledgably undertake yourself the more sweat equity you will have in your home.

Of course I do not recommend that you tackle jobs that require a journeymans status such as gas fitting. If the law allows you to do it yourself, why not. Just do it right the first time so inspectors like me don’t criticize it later on.

Insurance Companies want your inspection report – but do they have a right to ask for it?

This issue has come up several times recently and I wanted to address it once and for all. When you hire an inspector you will be asked to sign an agreement which explains the limitations and scope of the inspection.  Within most of these agreements will be a statement that says the report is for the sole use of the person who signs the agreement or their representative. This means the inspection report is a snap shot in time of the home and is only intended for use by the person that hired the inspector.

Recently I received a call from a distraught lady who said the insurance company asked for the report and once they  got it they  threatened to stop the insurance on  the property unless ALL the maintenance items were repaired as suggested in my report. When I heard this I was more then a bit upset for several reasons. First of all this customer has called me for three inspections in the past because she values how thorough I am. Now that the report is in the hands of the insurance company they are using it against her. Secondly they do not have a right to request the report for reasons mentioned above. Thirdly this company had been insuring this lady for several years on these properties already and now is threatening to drop her insurance if she doesn’t complete the repairs that were mere suggestions in the report. So be cautious who you give the inspection report to.

In my opinion the only time you should give the report to someone is if you back out of a deal as a direct result of the inspectors findings. After all you have entered into an agreement with the seller/buyer which states that the purchase/sale is “subject to” the inspection. If you decide to walk away from the home you have an obligation to explain to the other party what it is that has caused you to make this decision. I have had clients pay for an inspection just so they could use it as a loop hole to get out of the purchase.  Most homes are going to have some issues but few deals ever fall through as a result of the inspection.

Some people try to sell the inspection agreement to another person if they decide not to buy the home. This is not a good idea because the inspector will not stand behind the inspection with the third party as they have not entered into the agreement with that person. Furthermore the inspection may be old and several issues may have come up in the mean time, which were not in the inspection report. If the new buyer experiences a problem you may get a call as the inspector will not likely talk to the third party.

TIPS TO KEEPING YOUR HOME HEALTHY AND SAFE: Take action today to prevent un-necessary future maintenance costs

1 DIRECT DOWNSPOUTS OUT AWAY FROM THE HOME.
All downspouts should be at least 8’away from the foundation wall. We see a lot of leaky basements as a result of downspouts draining next to the home.
2 CHECK YOUR SHINGLES ON A REGULAR BASIS
It is vital that the shingles remain in place to shed water. This is why you should check your roof every so often, especially after high winds. Even newer homes, have a tendency to loose shingles in high winds. Missing shingles = leaky roofs
3 DO NOT ALLOW A NEGATIVE SLOPE TO EXHIST AROUND YOUR HOME.
Soil settlement around a home is very common especially after new construction. It is critically important to add clay and top soil to the low areas so water moves away from the home, not into it.
4 INSTALL BATHROOM VENT FANS
The bathroom fan is one of the most neglected forms of household venting. It is important that the warm moist air created inside the home be properly vented outside. If this is not done or is done incorrectly it is likely that mold will eventually form somewhere in the vicinity of the bathroom. Check to make sure the air is not being vented into your attic where it will form frost and mold and rot.
5 CHECK YOUR FURNACE FILTERS REGULARLY
Even a new furnace will be inefficient if it cannot maintain a steady volume of fresh air. Blocked furnace filters and intakes will starve the combustion process and cost you money, not to mention the consequences to your health. Many newer furnaces will shut down if they do not have an adequate air exchange.
6. CHECK YOUR ATTIC INSULATION
Improper attic insulation causes many issues. One of the most common is blocked soffit vents. Too much insulation along the top of the wall blocks the free flow of fresh air which may cause frost inside the attic, large ice dams on the roof and eaves trough, mold growth, staining of ceilings and a leaks.
7. DON’T CHANGE THE ELECTRICAL CIRCUITS UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
Electricity kills! If you are planning renovations and are obtaining a homeowners permit be sure you know what you are dealing with. One wrong connection could burn down your home. If you are unsure let the professionals do it for you.
8. BE CAREFUL WHEN REMOVING WALLS – THEY MAY BE STRUCTURAL
Taking out the wall between the kitchen and living room is a common practice. Before you decide to do this make sure you know if this is a structural component or not. Even if it is you may still be able to open it up if the proper steps are taken. Removing structural walls can compromise the integrity of your entire home if done incorrectly.
9. INSTALL A SUMP PUMP
The Midwest is quite flat as we all know. This creates the challenge of dealing with heavy runoff. We always suggest having a sump pump installed, just in case.
10. INSTALL A BACKWATER VALVE IN YOUR BASEMENT FLOOR DRAINS
A back water valve is an in-expensive device that may prevent your home from flooding when all your neighbours’ basements are getting drenched. Most new homes have a whole house check valve but many older homes are not protected. This valve only costs about $15 and is easily installed by the homeowner.