Hazardous building materials

building materials
Grounding building components (infographic from lightning.org)

It’s not unusual that new building materials are produced to make construction and system installations easier, less expensive, and/or safer.  However, once in a while, it’s found that the component may fail or can become dangerous as it ages or if installed improperly.  Examples of such materials include FRT plywood, polybutylene pipe, Chinese drywall, and most recently CSST.

Fire Retardant Treatment (FRT) plywood was identified in the 1990’s as a potential problem when used as roofing sheathing.  FRT sheathing was supposed to help limit fire damage by containing a fire.  Some FRT plywood used in roofs during the mid to late 1980’s and early 1990’s was found to become defective over time and deteriorate, subjecting the roof to possibly fail.  Although FRT wood is commonly used in roofing building materials, wood joists and other building materials may have also been treated with FRT chemicals and were also identified to possibly have latent problems over time.

Another building component used during the 1980’s and 1990’s that had problems was supposed to make plumbing applications easy to install and less expensive than copper.  Many homes built in the 1980’s and early 1990’s had plumbing with polybutylene (PB) pipes.  The plastic PB pipe was found to be susceptible to leaking and bursting.  The fallout resulted in a class action settlement to assist home owners replace pipes and reimburse for any damages from failed pipe.

During the housing expansion during the mid 2000’s, many builders opted to use imported drywall because it was abundant and cheaper than domestic drywall.  The use of imported drywall kept costs down and did not impede building schedules when supplies ran low.  However, as the decade wore on, it was found that some imported drywall from China became toxic when exposed in certain environments.  Homeowners complained that the imported drywall caused respiratory ailments, oxidized jewelry, and even corroded pipes.  Most complaints originated from hot and humid climates, such as Florida, but also occurred in other areas of the country.  The complaints peaked in 2008 and resulted in congressional hearings.

More recently, Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST) was identified to have the potential to be a hazard if not installed properly.  CSST is flexible stainless-steel tubing used in natural gas applications.  According to CSST Safety (csstsafety.com), CSST was first used in Japan in the 1980’s and introduced in the US in 1990.  The benefits of CSST include speed, ease, and cost of installation, compared to black iron gas pipes.  CSST is supposed to resist leaking because fewer joints are needed for installation (most gas leaks are observed at black pipe joints).  As of 2012, it is estimated that seven million homes have CSST.  It was found that power surges due to lightning strikes may cause CSST to puncture, which can cause a fire.

The standards of practice for Maryland home inspectors (mdahi.org/Maryland-Standards-of-Practice) require inspectors to “describe” the presence of CSST in a home, with the recommendation that “the bonding of the CSST be reviewed by a licensed master electrician.”  Washington Gas (washingtongas.com) recommends that you inspect CSST in your home to ensure that it is properly bonded and grounded.  “Bonding is provided primarily to prevent a possible electric shock to people who come in contact with the gas piping and other metal objects connected to the grounding system. Proper bonding and grounding reduce the risk of damage and fire from a lightning strike.”

Copyright© Dan Krell
Google+
If you like this post, do not copy; instead please:
link to the article,
like it on facebook
or re-tweet.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism DetectorDisclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Home inspections pointless?

home inspections
Home Inspection Myths (infographic fom visual.ly and apexwaterproofing.com)

I have heard an increasing voice of discontent over home inspections. Not just from home sellers and their agents, but from home buyers too! Home sellers often complain about the incorrect flagging of working components as being defective. Listing agents usually gripe that home inspectors scare buyers and interfere with their sale. But many home buyers are also growing dissatisfied with inspections and the subsequent property reports.

Inspection reports are becoming “matter of fact.”  Even when an inspector flags a component or system, less information is given about it and what to do.  Additionally, there is an increasing trend for recommendations to seek expert advice .  Home inspectors have been known to make mistakes too.  Some are starting to wonder why they should hire an inspector to tell them to hire an expert.  Consumers can just hire experts to inspect the corresponding major systems and components from the start.  Some are asking if home inspections are becoming irrelevant and pointless.

The home inspection, as we know it, began in the 1980’s. As the profession became standardized, it became a necessary part of the home buying process. The inspection used to be a straight forward examination of observable systems and components. But the home inspection has morphed from a once-over by a trained professional to the concept of getting a home perfect through remedying all of the home’s defects.  The fact that home inspections have become a tool for many agents to renegotiate price is another sign the inspection may have jumped the shark.

All things considered, home buyers expect a thorough and exhaustive inspection. They are relying on the inspector to identify concealed and latent defects. They are relying on the inspection and report to help them determine the condition of the home and its systems/components before they move forward with their purchase.

According to Maryland’s home inspector licensing law, the home inspection is intended to “provide a client with objective information regarding the condition of the systems and components of a home at the time of the home inspection;” and provides an opinion of “visible defects and conditions that adversely affect the function or integrity of the items, components, and systems inspected, including those items or components near the end of their serviceable life.” However, there are limitations (COMAR 09.36.07.03).

According to COMAR, a home inspection is “not technically exhaustive,” and it may not identify a concealed condition or a latent defect. Among the list of items that the home inspector is not required to ascertain, includes the condition of systems that are not accessible, and the remaining life of any system or component.

Furthermore, an article that appeared in RealtorMag last year suggests that home inspectors are generalists and don’t know everything about a home (4 Things Home Inspectors Don’t Often Check; realtormag.realtor.org; July 05, 2017). Inspectors often defer to experts on foundations, fireplaces, chimneys, well/septic systems, and roofs. This is done because those components are not easily inspected and also requires specialized knowledge that is usually outside the scope of the inspection and/or beyond the expertise of the inspector.

However, in today’s real estate environment, home buyers are wanting and expecting more from the professionals they hire as well as the homes they buy. Buyers anticipate their home inspection with high expectations about the inspector’s opinion and conclusions. So, it’s not a surprise that many home buyers are voicing displeasure with their inspectors. Some complain that the inspector missed items and/or did not inspect a component.  Additional complaints are about the inspection reports, that some feel are lacking in detailed information.

Have home inspections become irrelevant? Or is it just a case of the home inspectors having to educate the public what they do?

Home inspections are essential for most home buyers. But home buyers need to understand that inspectors are not the authoritative voice on all home systems and components. Instead, home inspectors bridge the knowledge gap between what the home buyer knows and what they should know about a home, especially the home they are buying.

Copyright© Dan Krell
Google+
If you like this post, do not copy; instead please:
link to the article,
like it on facebook
or re-tweet.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism DetectorDisclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Maintenance free homes

I talk about home maintenance quite a bit. And there is a reason. Maintaining your home is important, not just to keep you comfortable but to also preserve your investment. But many people loath the idea of spending their weekend checking their home’s systems, replacing air filters, mowing the yard, washing the siding, cleaning appliances, ad nauseum. They are called chores for a reason. But maybe sometime in the near future we will eliminate the chores and live in maintenance free homes.

Rapid technological advances are certainly making our lives easier. We can do many things in our homes, even when we’re not home! Our homes can even do things while we’re not home.  So how about increasing the quality of our lives by reducing the time spent maintaining our homes?

Maintenance free homes

maintenance free homes
Home Maintenance (infographic from sunlife.com)

Home design and materials tech are leading us to a home where maintenance is minimal or non-existent. Tech innovations has brought us new materials to enhance our homes’ appearance and decrease maintenance. Many of the new materials not only look good, but they are also green which makes our homes more efficient. Many material improvements have been primarily for your home’s exterior. For example, new no-maintenance or minimal maintenance materials for siding, decking and roofs are aesthetically pleasing and can last decades. However, low or no maintenance materials for your home’s interior are increasing in popularity too. Examples include quartz for counters, and prefinished wood for flooring.

The desire for maintenance free homes is not a new phenomenon and can be directly observed by housing choices. New home buyers like the idea that there will be minimal maintenance for the first year. They like feeling confident that everything in the home will work as expected without spending money on service calls, or expensive emergency repairs. Condo buyers like the idea of not having to deal with exterior home maintenance, especially lawn care. Additionally, active adult communities are designed with low maintenance in mind to make living easy and increase quality of life.

Unfortunately, because of their design, some mechanical systems still require care. For example, experts recommend that HVAC systems be serviced twice a year. The service not only checks and tunes the system to operate efficiently, it can identify potential hazards as well. However, to help keep maintenance at a minimum, many homeowners decide to sign up for a service contract. The service contract may also schedule the maintenance for you, which can also help you with time management. Not all service contracts are the same, and due diligence is recommended before you sign any agreement.

I am not dissing those homeowners who love to work on and around their homes. Don’t get me wrong, there is a satisfaction from doing chores and repairs. But there are many who don’t care for it. And not to mention that there are many homeowners who don’t maintain their homes, because of cost and/or inability. A major benefit to living in maintenance free homes is reducing the value-reducing effects of deferred maintenance.

Tech advances in home design and building materials have eliminated a great deal of the maintenance requirements that was necessary in the past. And although some systems in the home require regular care, newer systems increase in reliability. It’s fascinating that because of maintenance free exteriors many homeowners today don’t know what it’s like to paint the exterior of the house every two to three years. Likewise, maybe sometime in the near future, we won’t remember what it’s like changing air filters.

Copyright© Dan Krell
Google+
If you like this post, do not copy; instead please:
link to the article,
like it on facebook
or re-tweet.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism DetectorDisclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Housing inventory crisis?

housing inventoryThe low housing inventory crisis has plagued the housing market for about six years.  Low inventory has frustrated home buyers and all but eliminated move up home buyers.  The ongoing housing inventory crisis is an obstacle to a balanced housing market.

As a result of the ongoing housing inventory crisis, existing home sales may see a decline in the next few months, when spring sales should be strong.  Seasonal increases are a given, as National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) data indicated a 3.0 percent month-over-month increase for February existing home sales and a 3.1 percent month-over-month increase in the Pending Home Sale Index (the Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking dataset indicating the number of homes that are under contract).  However, February sales only increased 1.1 percent from last year.  But the tell of slowing activity is the 4.1 percent decrease in pending home sales from last year.

Most experts blame the sluggish home sale activity on low housing inventory.  NAR’s reporting that February’s seasonal month-over-month 4.6 percent increase of total housing inventory is expected.  However, the 8.1 percent decrease in housing inventory compared to last year is worrisome.

The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (gcaar.com) March 2018 data for single family home sales in Montgomery County indicated a decline in activity across the board.  Listings decreased 11.1 percent month-over-month and 7.8 from last year.  Contracts decreased 6.6 percent month-over-month and 6.9 percent from last year.  While closings only decreased 3.8 percent month-over-month, there was a 7.8 percent decrease from last year.

Another sign that that the housing market is in crisis is last week’s announcement from Zillow.  If you have not yet heard, Zillow is expanding their Instant Offer program and plans to jump into the housing market (zillow.com).  They plan to fix and flip homes by making cash offers and buying houses like other investors who participate in their IO program. The homes will be listed for sale with real estate agents who subscribe to Zillow’s Premier Agent program, as well as select partner brokers.

Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Wacksman stated,

“Even in today’s hot market, many sellers are stressed and searching for a more seamless way to sell their homes…They want help, and while most prefer to sell their home on the open market with an agent, some value convenience and time over price. This expansion of Instant Offers, and Zillow’s entrance into the marketplace, will help us better serve both types of consumers as well as provide an opportunity for Premier Agents to connect with sellers. This is expected to be a vibrant line of business for us and for our partners in the real estate industry, while providing homeowners with more choices and information.”

The venture into flipping is a huge deviation for the internet juggernaut, whose revenue is mostly generated by selling advertising and leads to real estate agents and loan officers.  The reaction in the industry is mixed, however Zillow’s stock dropped 7 percent the day after the announcement.  Critics, including experienced real estate investors, scoffed at Zillow’s ambitious plan to flip a house within ninety days.

In a market where home owners are reluctant to sell, and frustrated home buyers are dropping out, Zillow needs to find ways to increase lead generation to grow subscribers (see why tech models looking for alternate revenue).

While being ridiculed by many, Zillow’s flipping plan may be a brilliant strategy to generate home seller leads for agents.  Zillow acknowledges in their press release that “the vast majority of sellers who requested an Instant Offer ended up selling their home with an agent, making Instant Offers an excellent source of seller leads for Premier Agents and brokerage partners.”  If Zillow’s plan works, it could also grease the wheels of the housing market by turning reluctant home owners into sellers.

As a home seller, the home sale inventory shortage limits your competition.  But be aware that it’s not entirely a seller’s market.  Your home’s condition can significantly lower the sales price, or even prevent a sale.  Serious consideration should also be given to your listing price.  Additionally, you should focus your attention to preparing your home to show to home buyers.

Copyright© Dan Krell
Google+
If you like this post, do not copy; instead please:
link to the article,
like it on facebook
or re-tweet.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism DetectorDisclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Social media and housing

social media
Social media (infographic from dustn.tv)

You should have already realized that all of your internet activity, such as social media, search engines, etc., leaves your digital fingerprints.  In today’s interconnected world, you should assume your online profile, pictures and posts become the intellectual property of the online entities you use .  So, it should not faze you that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress this week because of ongoing privacy concerns.  This week’s congressional dog and pony show will most likely not reveal much.  Nor is it expected to change social media’s influence on the public.

Does social media really affect your opinions and decision making?  Maybe.

Content providers have been criticized for deciding what people view through alleged censorship.  Besides your online social interactions and connections, the ads you see can also influence your opinions and behavior.  Consider Facebook’s targeted advertising system, which has been criticized for violating the Fair Housing Act.  A recent lawsuit alleges that certain groups are being discriminated against because advertisers can target ads based on age, gender, disability, family status, among other criteria (see Facebook Vowed to End Discriminatory Housing Ads. Suit Says It Didn’t; nytimes.com/2018/03/27/nyregion/facebook-housing-ads-discrimination-lawsuit.html).

In the internet age, data collection is big business.  Data collection allows marketing firms to target classes with their clients’ products and opinions.  Content providers have not only been criticized for collecting volumes of personal data, but also for manipulating search results and viewable content.  As it turns out, the FANGs (a collective term used for content providers, such as Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) not only collect your data but can influence your opinions and behavior.  Especially when it comes to buying or renting a home.

You can surmise that real estate content providers (such as Zillow and Realtor.com) shape your opinions too!  They publish opinions and research about the housing market.   They also can influence your choice of real estate professionals.  They promote agents who pay for placements on their sites to get consumer leads.  These real estate professionals touted as “local experts.”

Social media influences housing decisions

A landmark study found direct evidence of social media’s impact on real estate choices.  The 2017 study by Baily, Cao, Kuchler, and Stroebel (The Economic Effects of Social Networks: Evidence from the Housing Market; July 4, 2017; Available at SSRN: dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2753881) used Facebook data to explore the multiplicity of individuals’ social networks, and then analyzed the effects of people’s interactions on their housing decisions.

They found that, indeed, social media does influence decisions on housing.  The research suggests that social media influences a person’s housing market expectations. When friends experience home price increases, home buyers will pay more for a home and/or buy a larger home. Additionally, renters are more likely to buy a home.  Likewise, when friends experience “less positive house price changes,” home sellers are more likely to accept a lower sale price.  The data also indicates that people will consider real estate an appealing investment when friends experience large home price increases.

The authors acknowledged that although this study examined social media’s influence on real estate outcomes, they suggest that effect is broader and can be applied to other subject matter.

Content providers wield great power.  They manipulate news feeds via algorithms.  They can also decide who they can ban from their sites.   It’s clear that social media’s influence goes beyond data collection.  It’s not only the social interaction among your connections that affect your opinions and behaviors.  It’s also the paid ads and promoted opinions that appear alongside your friends’ posts that solidify expectations and opinions as gospel.

Copyright© Dan Krell
Google+
If you like this post, do not copy; instead please:
link to the article,
like it on facebook
or re-tweet.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism DetectorDisclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.