Monday, March 26, 2012

Home Inspections, Houston... we have a problem!

      I know that I have made a few purchases in my day that I wish someone could have warned me about beforehand. Houses are a little easier for me because I know enough about them to be able to spot potential problems but, who does a customer call when they are looking at a house to purchase and they need advice or perspective?


     That's usually the first words that come to mind but, do they have the kind of background necessary to give customers an honest assessment of a home they may be looking to purchase or invest in? The reason I mention this is that I recently took a trip up to Maine to look at a summer home that one of my repeat customers was interested in. Their offer was accepted and they had a home inspector scheduled that day to review and write a report.

The inspection:

     I arrived, introductions were made and I started to circle the property one way as he went the other. We passed each other a few times swapping short comments about things we were noticing. He seemed to be focused on code issues such as the smoke detectors that needed to be updated to smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. The customer actually found an exposed heat loop in the garage and a half exposed drain line that needed to be enclosed.

What I found: 

     The house had been cut open in the middle to allow for a mid-waist "L" shaped addition. Basically, the house used to be a three floor box: Finished basement with entry, 2nd floor kitchen/living space, third floor bedrooms. The main floor (the 2nd floor) had been opened and pushed out to allow for a kitchen/living area expansion.
     The more I looked at the crumbling, undersized exterior footings and the exposed underside framing of the extension, the more I could see that the entire addition was sinking into the ground. The customer said he actually felt it while walking the third floor and pointed out cracking in the main floor ceiling where the sagging addition met the original ceiling line. When I shared all of this with the home inspector, he said "Well, it's been like this for ten years, I'm sure it will be fine for the next 30 or so".....

Really?..... REALLY??  THAT'S the answer you're going with?
So, those smoke detectors that were in code a few years back are a huge issue for you now but portions of the house sinking into the ground.... that's okay?

     I tried my best to explain the severity of the situation. I even took a level out of my truck to show that the addition was out of level almost 1/2 inch in four feet. If the floor line was consistent, that would leave the entire 16 foot run of addition having dropped almost 2 inches across its span since it was built! The evidence was all there but it was a hard sell to get him to even acknowledge that there was something going on.

A few days afterwards, I received an email from the customers and it looks like the purchase may go through with price concessions made for supporting, jacking, and re-footing of the the addition.

     I mention all of  this for one reason: Those of you who utilize home inspectors, make sure they have a background in construction, not just in code enforcement.  Make sure they've actually spent time either building or renovating homes. Anyone can stick a receptacle tester in an outlet and read the pretty light configuration that tells you that the circuit is properly wired, or look in an attic to see if it's been properly vented but without real first-hand knowledge of how things are built it's difficult to understand how they may be IMPROPERLY built.
     It never hurts to have more than one opinion before making a major purchase. Don't be afraid to ask your contractor to come out and give you his opinion as well as a home inspector. I say "your contractor" because I feel any contractor who you've done business with should treat you as "their customer" and be willing to respond to requests that you make. If you have an electrician, or plumber or general contractor who you've established a relationship with, never be afraid to do exactly what my customer did and ask for advice.  A good contractor will do their best to accommodate you.

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