Home inspection surprises

home inspection surprises
home inspection surprises (from wini.com)

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) often conducts surveys to measure home buyer satisfaction. Although most home buyers are typically satisfied with their home inspections, you should be prepared for home inspection surprises after you move into your new home.

A 2012 ASHI survey conducted by Harris Interactive indicated that home buyer confidence was boosted in eighty-eight percent of respondents who had a home inspection before buying. A 2011 ASHI survey revealed that about seventy-two percent of homeowner respondents indicated that their home inspection helped them avoid potential problems with their home.

Although the surveys suggest a majority of home buyers are usually satisfied with their home inspections, there are some that are not.  It’s not unusual to read or hear about a home inspection that is not perfect.  And sometimes the home inspection goes awry from the start.  An agent once told me a story about a home inspector who flooded a condo because he wanted to check the fill rate of tub by closing the drain; he walked away and forgot about the quickly filling tub.  Years ago, I witnessed how a home inspector almost caused a fire by turning on an oven – if the inspector first checked inside before turning the oven on, he would have noticed that is where the homeowner stored pans separated by paper towels.

There’s a lot going on during a home inspection to distract the inspector from their duties.  And no one said home inspectors are supposed to super human or perfect; but there is an expectation that they are thorough.  Not so much because they are paid professionals; but rather, they’re relied on for information about one of the highest cost purchases of a lifetime – your home.

When you first meet with your home inspector, they will tell you they are not perfect.  However, they are supposed to follow “standards of practice.”  Years before home inspectors were licensed, ASHI developed standards of practice as a means of establishing expectations placed on inspectors.  Many of those standards have since been incorporated into state home inspector licensing laws.

Maryland’s home inspector licensing law (COMAR Title 9 Subtitle 36 Chapter 7) states that the inspector identify the scope of the inspection, and visually inspect “readily accessible areas” to determine it the items, components and systems are operating as intended, or are deficient.  Further, to be in accord with the standards of practice, a home inspection: “Is intended to provide…objective information regarding the condition of the systems and components of a home at the time of the home inspection; Acts to identify visible defects and conditions that, in the judgment of the home inspector, 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; May not be construed as compliance inspection…; Is not intended to be construed as a guarantee, warranty, or any form of insurance; Is not an express or implied warranty or a guarantee of the adequacy, performance, or useful life of any item, component, or system in, on, or about the inspected property…”

Given the limitations of the home inspection, home buyers are sometimes confronted with surprises about the condition of items that were not readily seen during the inspection, such as: the roof, chimney, foundation, and HVAC.  However, you can limit subsequential issues by having a licensed contractor further examine those areas during the inspection period.

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Disclaimer. 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.

Radon is everywhere – not just in your home

real estateA recent bill introduced in the County Council local to me reminded me of a column I wrote almost ten years ago about radon. In line with some other “consumer oriented” bills adding burdens on the home seller, Montgomery County Council Bill 31-15 has home sellers conducting radon tests and providing the results along with estimates to reduce actionable levels before entering into a sales contract.

According to the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (montgomerycountymd.gov/dep): “Radon is an invisible, radioactive gas created during the natural breakdown of uranium in rocks and soils. It is found in nearly all soils. Radon typically moves up through the ground and into homes and buildings through cracks and other holes in the foundation, although there are other radon sources.” Radon is naturally occurring and everywhere; however, it becomes problematic when the gas builds up in enclosed areas. If your Montgomery County home was built after 1995, chances are that you already have a passive radon mitigation system built in, as required by code. However, a passive system may not be enough, and older active systems may need additional venting as radon concentrations may change over time. The only way to know if there is a radon problem in your home is to test for it.

In January 2005, then Surgeon General Richard Carmona issued a warning on radon (surgeongeneral.gov/news/2005), saying: “Indoor radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.

According to the Maryland Department of the Environment’s “Radon Gas” fact sheet (mde.maryland.gov), home owners in all counties and Baltimore City have reported high levels of radon in their home. Some have reported test results that indicated levels of 200 picocuries per liter, which is 50 times the EPA action level. The risk of lung cancer spending a lifetime in a home where the radon level is 10 picocuries/liter is similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a “Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon” (epa.gov/radon/pubs/hmbyguid.html). Testing is relatively easy. There are two types of tests: Passive testing devices are not powered and are sent to a lab for analysis after exposure (these devices can be purchased at most hardware stores); Active testing devices are powered and continuously measure and record the amount of radon decay in the air (these devices can detect test interference). The EPA recommends taking action when existing radon levels are at 4 picocuries per liter or higher; however, exiting levels between 2 to 4 picocuries per liter may still pose a risk.

Although most warnings we hear about radon refers to our homes, actionable levels of radon can exist in any building – public or private. According to the EPA, a nationwide survey of radon levels in schools revealed that 1 in 5 has at least one schoolroom in use with radon above the action level of 4 picocuries per liter (epa.gov/radon/pubs/schoolrn.html). Former National PTA President Kathryn Whitfill was quoted to say, “EPA’s national survey of schools produced some alarming results about concentrations in our children’s classrooms. Public awareness must be raised about the hazards of radon…All schools must be tested to determine if there is a problem, and schools must inform parents of the results. We cannot ignore this problem.

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Don’t skip the home inspection – old, new, or renovated

homesLike the 49ers seeking gold in California, real estate investors have flocked to D.C. in recent years to seek their fortunes. As home values rebounded, many distressed homes were snapped up by investors with the intention of renovating/rehabbing, and then selling them. For many home buyers, these “flipped” houses have become home; however, for a few, the dream has become a nightmare.

Martin Austermuhle reported on WAMU (A Dream Home Becomes a Nightmare; wamu.org) about D.C.’S house flipping environment and highlighted one family’s dream turned nightmare. Characterized as a “cautionary tale of home-buying in a hot real estate market,” the story was basically about how rotted wood in the porch has led to a multimillion dollar law suit between the purchasers and the rehabber.

If you haven’t received the memo, “house flipping” is once again a bad thing – or is it? Unfortunately, “flipping” has become synonymous with fraud and scams because of the attention that it received in the mid 1990’s (as the result of widespread fraud and scams that involved flipped homes). At that time, several cities (Baltimore being one) were known for flipping scams because of the investors’ ability to purchase a home for very little money and turn it around for a big profit.

Although, there should be nothing wrong with buying a distressed property, rehabbing and selling it (aka home flipping); flipping has generally become the term used when there is an accusation of fraud or con involved with a rehabbed home. During the 1990’s, flipped homes were the center of many mortgage fraud cases that took advantage of lenders by providing false income statements, fraudulent credit reports, and/or fraudulent appraisals. In these cases, the investor was not the only scammer; as accomplices often included: loan officers, appraisers, title agents, real estate agents, and even “straw” buyers.

Many home buyers were also scammed into buying homes in disrepair that were represented as being rehabbed. And believe it or not, some of these homes were nothing but shells (e.g., gutted).

In the aftermath of the flipping crisis of the 1990’s: lenders wrote off hundreds of millions of dollars, lawsuits were filed, and a movement grew to educate home buyers about the need to conduct home inspections. Mortgage underwriting changed to safeguard against future scams with the introduction of title seasoning (length of ownership).

Legitimate rehabbing of distressed properties has always been a viable industry; and can transform an eyesore into a livable home. However, just because renovations have been made to an old home doesn’t mean that it is now brand new!

When buying a home, you must do your due diligence regardless of the age of the home. A thorough home inspection should be conducted, even on new homes. Although home inspectors don’t have x-ray vision, the technology they employ can sometimes make it seem as if they do. Besides the routine identification of deferred maintenance, home inspectors can typically identify issues with renovations and can usually identify code violations. Furthermore, you should check permits when considering a home that has been renovated or expanded. Many jurisdictions offer online services to search permits; locally, the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services has such a search portal (permittingservices.montgomerycountymd.gov).

If you’re buying a home, you might also consider working with an experienced Realtor®. A seasoned professional is not only knowledgeable about neighborhood price trends and disclosures; many are skilled to work in tandem with the home inspector to negotiate repairs.

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Disclaimer. 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.

Is a home inspection good enough? Enter the Building Inspection Engineer

by Dan Krell © 2012
DanKrell.com

The need for a home inspectionIt wasn’t too long ago when home buyers wouldn’t even consider writing in a home inspection contingency in a contract for fear of losing the home of their dreams. Presently, of course, you can expect to find some type of home inspection in a most home purchase contracts. Some home buyers are even going a step further and employing Building Inspection Engineers for pre-purchase inspections.

With a little help from real estate agents, home buyers place high expectations on the home inspection. After all, the home buyer is making a big investment in their new home; they want to ensure the home’s condition is acceptable. To standardize expectations placed on home inspectors, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ashi.org) developed a standard of practice. According to ASHI, the home inspector will inspect the condition of visible and “readily accessible” home systems according to the standards of practice. The systems observed typically include: the HVAC system (heating/cooling depending on outside temperature); interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; the foundation, basement and structural components.

Even Maryland’s home inspector licensing law has a thing or two to say about what to expect from your home inspector. According to the standards of practice that are described in COMAR Title 9 Subtitle 36 Chapter 7, home inspectors are required to visually inspect the structural system and components, including the home’s foundation and framing. If the home inspector suspects that deterioration exists, they are required to probe the structural component, unless probing will damage the finished surface.

However, (usually at the time of the home inspection) the home inspector will briefly explain that they are limited. They will explain that the inspection is not “technically exhaustive,” and “may not identify concealed conditions or latent defects” (home inspection limitations are described in “Limitations and Exclusions” COMAR 09.36.07.03). So, maybe home inspectors are not the super heroes we make them to be.

Enter the Building Inspection Engineer. The Building Inspection Engineer may take the home inspection to the next level. The National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers (nabie.org) was established in 1989 to establish the highest standards in the home inspection, investigation and consultation industry. Along with verifying the qualifications of engineers and architects providing these services, the NABIE has developed the Building Inspection Engineer standards of practice.

According to NABIE, their members “have demonstrated competence involving inspection of buildings and building systems;” which can include site conditions and structure, as well as mechanical, electrical, plumbing and other major systems. The building inspection engineer’s perspective of the inspection is from a “demonstrated engineering judgment.”

The need for a home inspectionThe standards of practice set forth by the NABIE explain that the purpose of the inspection is identified and specified for each client, as the purpose can vary from a general inspection to investigating specific problems; the level of inspection and limitations are mutually agreed upon by the Building Inspection Engineer and the client. Typical inspections are defined by four levels: A) a visual inspection of systems and components; B) a functional inspection of systems and components; C) a specialized inspection that goes beyond level B and may require invasive techniques, material removal, or destructive testing; D) a specialized inspection with consideration to repair or improvement.

Regardless of the type of inspection you choose, make certain your inspector is licensed.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of April 9, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

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Negotiating home repairs

by Dan Krell
© 2011
DanKrell.com

During the housing boom last decade, it seemed as if problems that killed real estate deals were rare. Appraisals almost never came in low, and if it did the buyer gladly paid cash for the difference between the sales price and the appraised value. Loan denials were also rare, because mortgages were easier to obtain. And of course, the home condition almost never seemed a problem because many people forwent home inspections.

Today, however, buying and selling a home feels different than it did in those halcyon days. Although the process remains the same, the rules have somewhat changed. Buyers are more apt to ask the seller to address issues that arise along the way, including problems with the home’s condition. Both the buyer and seller need to be aware of property condition issues that may arise as well as being prepared when encountered.

Home buyers are looking for their perfect home, while sellers already view their home as such. Because of this subjective view, it seems as if home buyers are “walking away” more often these days because they cannot come to terms with the seller on property condition repair items.

Home sellers generally have progressed over the last few years such that they are more open to a buyer’s request to address reasonable and necessary repairs. However, it is not uncommon for repair negotiations to end in a “take it or leave it” scenario when the buyer’s request is deemed excessive by the seller.

The termite inspection can also create tension between buyers and sellers, even though sellers usually treat infestations and/or repair resulting damage. Many buyers and sellers do not realize that the termite inspection is somewhat of a misnomer because the inspection not only checks for termites, but searches for evidence of any wood destroying insects (such as: termites, carpenter ants, and powder post beetles) as well as reporting damage. Infestation of termites and other wood destroying insects can occur anytime in the life of a home; if left untreated, an infestation can feast on a home leaving behind costly damage and in cases left untreated for many years- possibly an uninhabitable home.

Another source of a property condition inspection, that most buyers and sellers are unaware of, originates from the buyer’s lender. Mortgage lenders require the home to meet minimum condition standards, which is reported on the appraisal; the appraiser will “inspect” the home for the lender. For conventional mortgages, the appraiser will rate the overall condition as well as possibly noting condition flaws (such as structural deficits and utility connections). A poor rating will typically raise a red flag for the underwriter to require repairs prior to closing.

FHA and VA appraisers not only rate the home’s condition, they will also list all deficiencies that do not meet minimum underwriting condition requirements to be addressed prior to closing. The list of deficiencies is provided to the buyer, who in turn typically addresses with the seller. The seller can agree or refuse to make repairs; however, the contract is sometimes voided when neither the buyer nor seller agrees to make the repairs.

When it comes to property condition repairs, buyers and sellers should be prepared for extra rounds of negotiations. However, surprises and further negotiation can be minimized if both sides are prepared and understand the scope of the required property condition repairs.

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Comments are welcome. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of June 13, 2011. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2011 Dan Krell.