Home horrors: Lessons from home inspectors
Only a home inspector sees a house for what it really is: an opportunity for countless things to go wrong.
The Chicago couple did as homebuyers sometimes do and opted to pass on a home inspection.
They had a longtime tradesman in the family and figured he could spot any serious flaws. Plus, the home had so many upgrades, what could go wrong?
After buying the house, though, they faced repeated problems with the furnace, one of the upgraded items. It would toggle on and off, or moisture would fill the flue. A repairman would come and they would shell out another $400 or $700.
Finally, the couple called home inspector Jack McGraw, who recognized the source of the problem immediately. That new furnace, presumably installed by a professional, did not come with the new chimney liner it required.
A fuel-efficient furnace does not burn as hot as older models. For exhaust to make it to the top of the chimney, a narrow flue is required. Otherwise condensation can occur, causing various kinds of moisture-related damage.
"If they'd had a home inspector, he would have caught that and recommended they put in a chimney liner," McGraw says.
The real irony: That family member in the trades worked in the heating field.
Home inspectors see a home the way no one else does. They don't care how the kitchen will feel for entertaining or whether the bathroom tiles will impress guests. Their judgment is not clouded by emotion.
Nor do they have any interest in whether the home sells, as long as they're not pals with the seller's real-estate agent. To the contrary, they are financially motivated to find flaws — to avoid liability should something go wrong.
As you're walking through your next dream house, keep in mind the following lessons from the pros. At the end, we also provide some advice on finding a reputable home inspector, not the guy who simply took a test and printed a card.
Just because you're dry doesn't mean the roof isn't leaking
More than once, Utah home inspector Kurt Salomon has crawled across the rafters in an unfinished attic — the eager homebuyers waiting below — only to find a children's wading pool strategically placed to catch drips from the roof.
"I say, 'What's a kiddie pool doing up here? I know the kids aren't swimming up here,'" Salomon says. The owners would have painted over water stains in the rooms below, and neglected to tell anyone the roof needed to be replaced.
"There's supposed to be disclosure, but people have this phenomenon called, 'Oh, I forgot,'" Salomon says. "It happens every day."
Most roof leaks don't leave clues as large or as bright as a plastic wading pool, and it's not always easy to crawl over insulation and find water-discoloration marks via flashlight. "That's the dirty work of a home inspector," Salomon says. "And it's a trained eye, versus an untrained eye."
The money saved in these cases: at least $8,000 for a roof replacement, plus additional thousands to repair water damage to the walls below.
Everyone may think the house is on a slab, but thinking so doesn't make it so
When home inspector Andy Kasznay arrived at the small Connecticut house, he found a young, single mom enamored. Indeed, the house had fantastic curb appeal, with a well-appointed interior. The woman had put every penny toward the purchase.
As Kasznay walked through the one-story ranch-style house, though, he noted a spongy feel to the floor. It wasn't enough give for anyone else to notice, but Kasznay had been told the house sat on a slab, and this didn't feel like a slab.
Kasznay went outside and circled the house until he discovered a window well accessing a crawl space under the house. Wriggling his way down, he found "horrific conditions": water pooling around the house had flowed down into an open sewer drain; mold infested the joists supporting the house.
"I could take a handful of floor joist with my hand because that's how deteriorated the moisture had made this bottom deck to the floor," Kasznay says. Calling the buyer over, he told her, "This is a house you don't want to purchase; you can't afford it."
The owners, sitting inside watching television, had also been unaware of the condition, he says.
"This is an example of what appeared to be a very nice, pristine house that had very serious structural flaws," he says. Had the woman bought it, "she would have ended up with a building lot, and the liability of tearing down the house," and a $200,000 mortgage, to boot.
Just because the floor is level doesn't mean it hasn't sunk half a foot
Kasznay noticed a spongy feel in another Connecticut home, this one a grand 10,000 square feet. Once again, neither the current owners nor the real-estate agent had noticed anything odd.
Noting the slightly soft feel, however, Kasznay eyed the baseboards. They should have been level with the floor, but here the floor sat 4 inches lower. Crawling around in the basement, Kasznay found mold had deteriorated the supports. This house was literally hanging from its rafters, "like a parachute," he says.
"One of these days, a couple of people would be standing in the middle of the floor and they'd go down through the floor," he says. "It's a scary thing."
Unless your home inspecter was previously a home builder, they are more than likely clueless, your best bet for a real home inspection is to pay a homebuilder the same amount of money you would pay the inspector.
and yes, a lot of them will do it for you, all you need do is ask.
A person cannot take a six week or even a six year course and learn everything there is to know about a house, as a home builder/remodeler I have had to remedy some of these lists produced by inspectors, They are Idiots! I had one tell me the polarity on a three-way switch in a stairwell was reversed, he was concerned because when the down switch was up the up switch was down, I had to bring him on-site ( at the buyers expense) to explain to him what a three-way switch was.
Another inspector swore and argued with me that what we were looking at in a basement wall of a turn of the century house was extensive termite damage all around the foundation, evident from the termite tunnels he was looking at. the foundation was built out of fluted clay block, he did not understand that termites dont eat clay, and was unimpressed by how perfectly straight the fluted lines were.
You cannot judge what you have not done.
I'm all about empowering the consumer, and feel that research is vital for all home owners and prospective homeowners.
Then again, it will be no simple task that can be accomplished in a few hours of research.
I don't want to sound as though I'm picking on you for your comment, but hail damage, or any kind of roof damage is best observed from the attic below the roof, during a bright sunny day and in total darkness in the attic.
Get the picture?
A visual inspection of the roof top is only done to check for any abnormal conditions of the medium used for the top cover, nothing more.
A roof, being installed in a uniform fashion in all cases, would easily give up any abnormal top conditions just by a break in uniformity.
Sometimes we think were on top of a subject, and speak before really having a grip on certain subject, a subject that from an outside looking in position may seem completely simple, within the comprehension capabilities of everyone, but in fact isn't any such thing at all.
I still advise a homeowner to become educated about the building trades and building codes, as much as possible, and to not become lax on the information intake, ever.....It's a continuing education that will span throughout your life.
Well, maybe there's a time, when your getting up there in age when you decide to settle down....But until then....hit the books!
Good luck, and every case is different, so I won't suggest either way about hiring a personal inspector, but your all grown-ups, make the call....Are you confident in your knowledge of Houses, and how they are constructed? My best guess would be that 5% of all home owners would know the information necessary to make a proper inspection. Do the math...Most of you should be hiring a consultant, for your own good..
Before you criticize Home Inspectors in general, walk a mile in their shoes, and talk to the thousands of satisfied clients who think that was money well spent....