Home Inspection Myths

1.The home inspector gives a pass or fail.
The inspector identifies defects in various components of a house. If the component does not function properly, demonstrates signs of pending nonperformance, or presents a safety risk to occupants and guests, the inspector will report a defect. This could be perceived as giving the components a failing grade but that is entirely different from deciding whether the house is the right one for you. Different clients can justifiably make different purchase decisions over the same set of defects. For example, if the clients have a family-member who is an electrician, even numerous electrical defects may not be material to them. The decision to buy or not always remains with the client. Pass or fail is up to you.

2. The inspector will look at everything.
Home Inspector
Inspectors budget their time to look at the most significant items in the home and only look at a sampling of some minor components. Other items are outside the scope of the inspection such as outbuildings, swimming pools and low voltage devices. We already have a lot to get through and you don’t have the time for us to exhaustively plod our way through every component on the property. We do look at a lot of items, the keyword being look.

3. Having an inspection removes all my risk.
Nope. Sorry. A home inspection is in no way a warranty or guarantee. Inspectors try to identify risks, or defects, for you. It helps you make a more informed decision when you buy. Hopefully we won’t find many significant issues but whatever we find, or fail to find, you accept the risk in our agreement and ultimately as the buyer. Assuming you still have an inspection condition, you always have the choice to walk away from the deal.

4. The inspector will tell me how much repairs will cost.
The best inspectors won’t. Remember that home inspectors are only allowed to visually examine a home. You don’t own the house yet. So we can’t open up the walls to see the extent of a problem. We will suggest when we think you should call a contractor to get some quotes. This works much better in the long run as you will have prices in place if you choose to proceed.

5. Inspections are all the same so lets just get the cheapest.
What you want is an inspector who is a graduate of a college home inspection program, belongs to a professional association of inspectors, is properly insured and is dedicated to providing you with the highest quality report possible. One or more of these critical factors is missing in the cheaper inspection services. They may try to race through the home and/or produce a shoddy report to save time. Be prepared to spend at least the average fee in the market if you want superior work. You are paying to find out as much as you can as part of your diligence. Why would you cut corners?

6. Inspectors are incredibly knowledgeable and invariably handsome.
This is not a myth. LOL. Inspectors are knowledgeable across a broad spectrum of house construction and maintenance practices. However we are generalists. When a specialist is needed, we will recommend you call one in; in much the same way a general practitioner will call for a medical specialist. Oh, and as for other thing, as Red Green might have said if clients don’t find you handsome they should at least find you handy.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Red Flags for Buyers of Old Homes

Old House

Older homes have charm, character, and curb-appeal. Buyers tend to fall in love with them at first sight. Along with their beauty, older homes tend to need significant upgrades that can quickly gobble up household budgets. Not all old homes are money pits, but they all warrant a thorough home inspection. Old houses used the technology of the day and unless the previous owner upgraded key components, you are going to foot the bill sooner or later. Here are some things to think about before you write a quick offer.

Old houses have cellars rather than basements. They tend to have low ceilings and be damp; not a good combination for renovating. When foundation walls are made from rubble, stone or block not only are they likely to be damp but there are other potential issues. Significant cracks in walls and crumbling mortar are signs to watch for. If they have already been renovated, you may inherit mould or other issues behind the walls. Just keep in mind that cellars were not built to be living space.

Smaller electrical services are often found in older houses. The current just wasn’t needed back then, but it sure is now. Back then services were 30 amps. Now larger homes commonly have 200 amp service. If you see an electrical panel with fuses rather than circuit-breakers, you should plan on an upgrade. Homes built before the 1930’s can still have knob and tube wiring, hidden piecemeal behind walls. A couple of signs are receptacles mounted horizontally in baseboards, two-prong plugs and the ever-so-charming push-button light switches or ones with twist knobs. Upgrading requires more than electrical work, walls must be opened and refinished adding to the expense.

The plumbing system in an old house may consist of a series of retrofits cobbled together. It’s not uncommon to see cast iron, galvanized steel, copper and plastic pipes in one building. Cast iron and galvanized pipe work well for decades, but eventually rust on the inside and clog. Depending on the amount to replace, and its accessibility, repairs can be a major expense. Make note of their presence or absence.

Lead was often used for water supply piping. Some people consider this a major issue, others don’t see the risk. Just remember that if you buy a house with a lead pipe water supply, when you want to resell some of the buyers will be scared away. It’s expensive to dig up and replace the supply pipe to where the city service enters the property. After all that the city lines may still have some old lead pipe. Take a peek where the water supply enters the basement. If you see only copper pipe, the house has passed another quick test.

Fireplaces and wood-stoves were often the only source of heat in old houses. Somewhere along the line coal, oil, gas or even electric heat may have been installed. Lots of old houses still use hot water and radiators to distribute heat rather than today’s more common forced air systems. If the listing says natural gas forced-air heat with air-conditioning, you may have dodged another upgrade. Despite the charms of radiators and comfort of hot water heating, the house is less likely to have a central air-conditioning because the duct-work is hard to retrofit.

Original windows in old homes will be single-pane glass. When it’s all about the charm this may be a concession you are willing to make. Do make sure that the windows operate properly and are not painted shut. Double-hung window mechanisms can be repaired but the costs add up quickly. Older homes are less airtight and poorly insulated by today’s standard. Be prepared for a few drafts and higher utility costs. Make sure you see some bills.

Slate, cedar shake and cedar shingle roofs are stately features of any home and seem to look better with age. Be aware that the cost to repair or replace them are higher than today’s common asphalt shingles. If you see missing or broken shingles take note. While it may look charming, take special note of shaded areas that have moss growing on them. The less pretty name for moss is rot and it means repairs are probably overdue. While you are walking around the house admiring the roof-line and decorative trim, take a look at the chimneys. If they have a lot of character you may have some bills coming. Watch out for leaning stacks, missing bricks or mortar and cracks. As impressive as ivy covered walls appear, they grow by digging their tendrils into the mortar and may be doing damage to your masonry under that leafy facade.

The uniqueness and beauty of older homes can make them wonderful places to live and they are often in terrific locations. Knowing a few of the missteps to avoid can help you to sort through MLS listings quickly. I hope this article has opened your eyes to some red flags you can watch for when shopping for older houses. This is not an exhaustive list and is no substitute for a good home inspection. Here’s hoping that old house is your dream home.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Home Inspection Guide for Sellers

House for sale

Now that the big picture decisions of affordability, room layout and neighbourhood are behind them, buyers are going to examine your house in much finer detail. They are trying to picture how it will feel to live there. Everybody gets used to their own messes but other peoples’ are much less appealing. A little extra effort at this final stage can help keep a nervous buyer moving forward.

The goal should be to get as many of the little items taken care of as you can to keep them from bulking up the inspection report. This can help to relieve the anxiety of the buyer, who might be intimidated by the reality of the closing and still has to waive their conditions. Why not reassure them that the house is in top shape in as many ways as possible?

Quick Fixes

Replace any burned out light bulbs. A burned out bulb suggests that you haven’t been keeping up on the little things around the house. A cautious inspector will now spend twice as much time to make sure they see everything.

Install missing and replace damaged receptacle covers (with the power off for safety of course). Inspectors will write up every missing receptacle cover they see as a safety hazard. It is commonly treated as a major safety and immediate item. Why have those items in the report when its such an easy fix?

Make sure your furnace filter is clean and replace if necessary. Furnace protection plans are often transferable to the new owner. Have the documentation out on the kitchen table. It’s a great way to reassure the buyer that their furnace maintenance is up to date.

Inspectors don’t like to see leaves and debris accumulating in window wells. It only takes a few minutes to scoop them out and eliminate another item from the report.

Make sure the pilot light is on in your gas fireplaces. Some inspectors refuse to turn on any gas appliances for fear that they are not operating properly. This ends up in a phone call from the agent or as an item for followup inspection. Its just easier to avoid the possibility and have them on and ready. By the way if your unit uses a remote control to operate, have it out in plain sight.

The inspector is most likely going to detect the signs of significant work such as foundation repairs. Inspectors will report evidence of past water intrusion for sure. Rather than having the prospective buyer worrying about expensive repairs, and possibly losing the deal, a much better impression is made if you freely display the paper work for the repairs that addressed the problem.

A Bit of Elbow Grease Required

Funky smells get noticed and nobody appreciates them. If the kid’s sports equipment or accumulations of laundry are developing a fragrance all of their own, take the time to do the wash and put the equipment in the trunk of your car. If that seems like a gross idea, it just proves the point. Flush toilets, clean litter-boxes and diaper pails. Scrub any mildew around tubs and showers. Emptying and deodorizing garbage pails is a good idea. Take fifteen minutes to air the house out, but don’t over do the chemical air fresheners and deodorizers.

The fewer signs that there are pets in the house the better. It’s a good time to take the pets with you for a walk. Make sure someone has done a thorough poop cleanup in the yard. You may think the buyer loves animals too, but if they show up with Mom, Dad or their Mother in Law, their opinion may be unnecessarily soured. Nobody will appreciate stepping on one of your pet’s landmines.

The inspector is going to climb up to have a look in the attic hatch. Most of these hatches are in closets and sometimes those closets are stuffed with belongings. First, you probably would prefer us not to be handling your stuff to clear out the closet enough to spread a stepladder. And second, although we try to be neat and tidy, its almost inevitable that some insulation will fall down through the hatch. Far better to move a few things now than to have suits to clean later.

Most inspectors won’t run the appliances, but the home buyer might. Empty the washing machine, clothes dyer and dishwasher. If you have a built-in vacuum cleaner, this might be a good time to empty it as well.

Turning off the electrical power is the safest way to inspect the distribution panel. If you have special equipment that requires continuous power try to make accommodation for a brief shutdown. I once had a house with a couple racks of computers in the basement serving several online businesses. In that case it was pretty obvious, but if I had thrown the switch before noticing the computers it might have been awkward. At the very least, make sure the inspector hears about stuff like this before hand. Confirm after the inspection that power has been restored to GFCIs, thermostats and timers you depend upon.

Please make sure there are no dishes or laundry items left soaking in the sinks. Sinks that drain slowly will be reported. It might not be fun, but you can clear them with a plunger or by emptying the traps. Those curved sections under the vanity have a plug or nut that can be loosened to flush them out. Have a tub underneath and a rag handy.

If winter snow has accumulated, clear off walkways, porches, balconies, decks and if possible the driveway. Whatever the inspector can’t see will become a report item. This doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, just that the inspector can’t reassure the buyer of their condition. Don’t shovel snow off the roof. You will more likely damage the roof and it’s a risky activity.

A Few Bucks But Probably Worth It

Squeaky floorboards get noticed. There are special screws that will fix squeals under carpet, hardwood and linoleum floors. They are specially designed so that they tighten the floor to subfloor or joist with minimal visibility. The screw heads snap off to leave a small hole below the surface which should be invisible in carpet floors and easily filled in hardwood. An excellent explanatory video is available from the manufacturer, O’Berry Enterprises, Inc.

Door hinges sometimes need a little lubrication on the hinge pin to stop a squeak. Some people use oil or powdered graphite, but both can be messy and can drip or work its way out where it can be seen. Grease is a better choice. Be careful to use just a little. See your local Lowes or Home Depot for plumber’s grease or alternate product. Here is a handyman site that has a good how to page on this topic.

Ripped window screens can be taken to your local hardware store for repair. The inspector will want to operate your windows. You can find replacements for cranks missing from casement windows at Lowes or Home Depot. Thermopane panels in windows sometimes have failed seals that show up as moisture or stains in between the sheets of glass. This can be a pricey item to fix in any quantity. I’ve seen houses that had more than half a dozen of these located throughout the house and it can become a renegotiation issue. There are three approaches to be considered, replacing the entire window, just replacing the glass or attempting to repair the seal. You may decide fixing a prime picture window location to be a good investment. Then you can provide the paperwork to the buyer when discussing the others. Here’s more window seal repair information.

All inspectors comment on areas where surface water runoff will drain toward the house rather than the preferred direction away from the house. Eavestrough downspouts often deliver water too close to the foundation. By extending downspouts, six feet where possible to a downhill grade, the water runs away form the house and has little chance of soaking down along the basement wall. Toronto Eavestroughing has produced an excellent video explaining how to reroute a downspout. In this case the eavestrough had been flowing underground but the same principles apply to extending a surface feeding downspout. For more explanation see their website.

Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors that are discoloured or nearing ten years of age will be reported. Most detectors are now hard-wired to the electrical supply, so make sure you turn off the right circuit breaker before replacing them. Replacing with the same model or brand can reduce this to a quick plug in to the existing connector. If you are the least bit uncomfortable working with electricity seek help, but its pretty simple and here’s a very thorough video guide from iScaper.com.

If you are a bit handy or have access to a handyman these issues can be readily addressed. They aren’t showstoppers but they help to remove items from the inspectors report.

Final Thoughts

Just in case the selling agent doesn’t have your cell phone number with them, it’s a good idea to leave it out on the table. Sometimes a quick answer can help clarify things quickly. For those few hours you are out of the house, disable the security alarm. Everybody might have a good laugh later but the inspection could get derailed. You can always let a neighbour know that an inspection is happening.

If you can take your animals with you it would be best. The non-pet people will appreciate it and there will be people opening outside doors and gates that any escape artists might take advantage of. The inspector needs access to all parts of the house. Dogs with an attitude can stop things cold. If you have work conflicts, you might consider asking someone to watch ‘Spike’ for the day.

Look here for a printable home inspection checklist.

Finally, make sure you are not at home during the inspection. Be out for at least four hours. As welcoming as you intend to be, it can still be awkward for the buyer. Not having the freedom to inspect at their leisure feels uncomfortable. This is a crucial part of the buying process when you want them to feel as much ‘at home’ as possible. One last piece of advice, don’t show up at the end of the inspection and ask how it went. As much as you want to know the answer, the inspector reports to the buyer and the buyer needs time to absorb the contents of the report. Rest assured, you will find out as soon as the buyer is ready to tell you.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Tips for a Good Home Inspection

A home inspection is an important part of your diligence in buying a home. Here are some tips to help you get the most value out of your inspection.

  • Start by finding a good inspector. Check your inspector’s qualifications. They should have completed a community or junior college program in home inspection and be a member of a professional association dedicated to home inspection. Try to stick to inspectors that only do home inspections. While real estate agents are aware of inspectors in the area and may provide referrals, an independent source may be advisable. Friends and relatives may know someone that they liked but you need an inspector that you have rapport with. You should feel that your inspector is interested in your questions and that you are comfortable communicating with them.
  • Once that trusting relationship starts out on the right foot, don’t undermine it by price shopping or asking for cash deals. Give as accurate a description of the house as you can. If you want to work with a professional, be a good client and respect the team members working for you.
  • Book a reasonable time for the inspection. Make sure you leave a little room before your condition expires for any other inspections or contractor estimates that may become necessary. Wells, septic systems, pools and wood-burning appliances are examples of specialized inspections that are frequently called for. You may lose control of the deal if you have to ask for more time to do them. There’s little point in starting after dark if you want your inspector to see exterior deficiencies. Most inspectors will work on weekends but most appreciate a free Friday evening. Statutory holidays aren’t popular either. It’s also a good idea to get the first inspection on the next available day rather than try to force a third one in on a busy day.
  • Review the inspection contract and standards of practice before you arrive at the inspection. It will help you to understand the service you are getting and avoids wasting time on site that could be better spent inspecting.
  • Good inspectors have a process that they follow to help them keep on track and cover all the things they need to look at. By all means ask questions but do your part to help keep things on track by asking questions in the room they pertain to.
  • Be ‘present’ at the inspection both physically and mentally. You are the client and the decision maker for your purchase. Make sure you are there so that you gain the most insight into the condition of the property. Don’t bring kids, relatives, leave pets in the car or carry on long personal phone conversations. It’s tempting to share the excitement and get input from others but there will be another time for that. During the inspection, anything that distracts you from seeing and understanding the potential issues with your new home is counterproductive. Worse yet, too many background conversations can get in the way of your inspector seeing everything you want them to find.
  • Don’t be a ‘Yabbut’! Some buyers are already so emotionally attached to the property that they get defensive when a defect is identified. If you jump in with a ‘Yeah but … my brother can fix that’ or ‘Yeah but … I don’t plan on using that bathroom’, you are not listening. Don’t debate the defects as they are found, you will have plenty of time to discuss the issues after the inspector delivers the report. Remember that you are paying for the inspector to find defects and that every house has them. You want to find out about them now so that you have options and can get estimates if needed.

Good luck with your purchase and I hope this has helped you get more out of your home inspection.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.

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