05/09/2011 // Fort Lauderdale, FL, US // sheiladanzig // Calvin Johnson
In this monthâ€™s TRUTH ABOUT series, I take a look at Home Inspections. Do you really need one? We called a few home inspection services and one inspector, Calvin Johnson, whoâ€™s both certified and has 30 years of home building experience, was particularly helpful and generous with his advice.
I now know that obtaining a quality home inspection before you sign on the dotted line is the mark of a savvy investor and, when done right with the right company, can ultimately save you a lot of money.
Here are some of the highlights of my conversation with Calvin Johnson.
SHEILA: First off, what exactly is a home inspection?
CALVIN JOHNSON: A home inspection is an in-depth visual evaluation of the condition of your home. The idea is to identify any problems there may be and advise what repairs should be made, both now and down the road. Think of it as viewing your house through a microscope for problems that might not be readily visible to the untrained eye.
SHEILA: Iâ€™m a buyer. Do I really need a home inspection if Iâ€™ve already seen inside the house and itâ€™s looks in move-in condition?
CALVIN JOHNSON: A home inspection is not the same thing as simply walking through a house to decide whether or not you want to buy it. When a buyer first â€œinspectsâ€ a house, they are trying to decide whether or not they could be happy living there. They gauge room sizes and the overall layout, perhaps count the number of closets, and flip on a light switch or two. This is not a home inspection. A professional home inspector methodically examines every square foot, looking for red flags that might indicate a need for major repairs, such as electrical or plumbing problems, defective drywall, a roof that leaks or a basement that floods, termite damage, etc. These are all important things to know before a home purchase.
SHEILA: Arenâ€™t I protected anyway if something goes wrong?
CALVIN JOHNSON: You may be, if you can prove the seller knew about a problem and didnâ€™t disclose it beforehand but the burden of proof will fall on you and that can be expensive. But, what if a problem exists that the seller doesnâ€™t know about? Maybe that leaking roof hasnâ€™t seeped water inside any rooms yet, but it will eventually. It makes sense to be prepared and fix something while itâ€™s still minor instead of waiting until itâ€™s major. Mold can go undetected for years if youâ€™re not on the look out for it. That old aluminum electrical wiring may have held up until now but do you really want to risk a fire before replacing it?
SHEILA: Okay, so itâ€™s up to the buyer then? If Iâ€™m a seller, I donâ€™t need a home inspection, right?
CALVIN JOHNSON: Actually, itâ€™s a very good idea for the seller to get a home inspection, ideally before they even list their house for sale. If you know whatâ€™s good and not so good about your home before you put it on the market, not only will you be smarter at setting the price, but you can also take care of minor repairs before a buyer ever sees it. Those minor repairs will reflect your care and love for your home. Buyers will realize they are getting a quality product.
SHEILA: Are all home inspectors pretty much the same?
CALVIN JOHNSON: No, unfortunately not. As with any other type of contractor, quality varies greatly. I strongly recommend taking the time to interview several contractors before deciding. You want a home inspector who takes pride in doing a good job and wants to take care of their clients. If theyâ€™re not particularly helpful when you first interview them, are they really the one you want advising you? Ask about their certifications, how long theyâ€™ve been licensed and what other qualifications they offer. Ask if theyâ€™ll give you a reference or two from several years earlier (so you can find out if any major problems arose that the clients werenâ€™t warned about). And ask to read a sample report to get a sense of how in-depth their inspections are. My reports cover more than 1,000 individual items that I carefully inspect and note for each client. Itâ€™s important to ensure that your inspector will do a meticulous job for you.
SHEILA: How long should the inspection take?
CALVIN JOHNSON: Well, naturally, this depends on the size of the house, but a thorough inspection of a typical home should last at least 2 hours. My inspections usually take two to three hours on an average-sized home. Itâ€™s not really possible to do a thorough job in less time than that. Beware if someone tells you that they can do it faster.
SHEILA: Should I be there for the inspection?
CALVIN JOHNSON: Yes, if you can. This is a terrific way to learn the ins and outs of a house, particularly for buyers who are unfamiliar with the property. When clients are with me, I also point out things that may not need to be included in the report but would benefit from, say, an upgrade to avoid problems down the road. Itâ€™s a terrific learning experience. I tell my clients to bring a notebook, two pens and a digital camera. Be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes because you may be in the trenches a bit with the inspector.
SHEILA: What exactly can I expect from a good home inspector?
CALVIN JOHNSON: A good home inspector will give your home a thorough going over, both outside and in. Theyâ€™ll look for telltale wall cracks and bulges, check for straight, plumb walls and reasonably precise corners, floor level disparities due to settling and other issues, even potential drainage issues â€” all of these come under the umbrella of a quality home inspection. An inspector can tell you if the soil grading is acceptable, that is, if the rainwater will pool against the foundation instead of draining away as it should.
I inspect the exterior for signs of active foundation settlement, which can weaken the frame of the home, as well as other structural problems, water or insect damage and wood rot. I evaluate the condition of every door and every window, and the condition of the roof â€” whether it will need replacing soon or bears the marks of a slipshod replacement job, and whether any leaks exist, all of which can be very expensive issues to remedy if youâ€™re caught unawares.
I also check for proper insulation, the condition of walls and ceilings, cracks and caulking, evidence of Chinese drywall, which has become a real problem in recent years, and for the likelihood that lead paint may have been used on the walls. I look for evidence of insect damage, mold and mildew (both present and past), asbestos, radon and other potential health hazards.
SHEILA: Are the heating and air conditioning systems checked?
CALVIN JOHNSON: Absolutely! A good inspector will always test the heating and cooling systems, verify if the condenser unit coils or fan blades are in good condition, for example, and estimate the remaining life span of the systems.
SHEILA: What about the water pipes?
CALVIN JOHNSON: All visible plumbing is examined. I even check the type of shower pan because metal shower pans only last about 10 or 15 years compared to more superior materials. I check the drain lines, water flow/pressure and how much hot water the water heater provides. I look for water leaks, noisy pipes, the presence of lead pipes, which is a health hazard, and even systems where pipes have been â€œmarriedâ€ to dissimilar materials, because of the high risk of corrosion and leakage.
SHEILA: Can you advise me about the electrical system?
CALVIN JOHNSON: Certainly. I check to see whether the house is properly wired and grounded, whether there are oversized fuses or breakers in the main panel, and look for any exposed wires or frayed cables inside and out. All of these are very real fire and health risks.
SHEILA: Can the inspector fix the problems?
CALVIN JOHNSON: I can but, unfortunately, most donâ€™t. I have a team available to make any necessary repairs at a very low cost to the consumer. Over the years, I realized that offering quality repairs was something my clients really wanted, particularly long distance buyers who donâ€™t know any reputable, local contractors. I used my decades of home building experience to build a top notch team.
SHEILA: What if thereâ€™s a problem? Can I still buy or sell the house?
CALVIN JOHNSON: Donâ€™t despair if your home isnâ€™t perfect. They rarely are. Unless there is a serious structural problem that would prevent a sale, most issues can be dealt with pretty readily. Tackling a small repair can often prevent it from becoming a larger, more expensive one down the road. And, itâ€™s helpful to know that, for example, the roof is fine now but will need to be replaced in, say, 5 or 10 years. Thatâ€™s normal, but it helps to know now so youâ€™re not caught unawares. And never forget that knowing a homeâ€™s strengths and weaknesses helps when negotiating a contract.
By Sheila Danzig, Editor of The Truth About Series
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