May 26, 2010

Home Safety: Protecting your family as well as your investment.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 10:57 am

There is nothing that makes a house feel like a real home more than the sense of personal security, comfort, and safety that it provides to us and to our families. No one should have to live in fear of their safety and well being, but the unfortunate fact is that there are a whole host of different home safety issues or conditions that can easily go undetected. That’s why a comprehensive and professional home inspection is so important.

A home may, of course, look and feel fantastic to the untrained eye. But only a qualified and experienced property inspector can investigate to examine the potential for hidden or disguised risk that may be lurking beneath the surface.

These days, for example, many buyers and investors are taking advantage of lower real estate prices to purchase bargains. These might include foreclosures, REO properties being unloaded by banks and mortgage companies, or deeply discounted houses and condos being sold by homeowners who are under duress due to unmanageable mortgages. But when properties have been left vacant and on the market for a long time, when they have been abandoned by foreclosed-upon residents, or when sellers are strapped for cash then maintenance and safety issues are often pushed aside or completely neglected. An unsuspecting buyer may inherit a slew of unknown and unseen problems that can add untold amounts of repair costs to the actual price of the home – while undermining any potential for equity appreciation.
A qualified inspector will critique the home in a fair, objective, unbiased way but will leave no stone unturned while investigating any potential safety hazard. That may mean checking to be sure that the electrical wiring is up-to-date and that it meets local building and fire codes. An electrical inspection, for instance, includes major components like breaker boxes and will check to be sure that wiring is intact, appropriately insulated, and properly grounded.

But it will also look at seemingly minor things, such as making sure that there are functional GFI outlets near sinks and other sources of water. While these are relatively inexpensive and simple items, they can prevent an accidental electrocution and are mandated by building codes. Sometimes the face plate for the outlet may be present – with the characteristic GFI design and red reset button – but the wiring behind the plate is inadequate. The outlet can look safe and compliant, in other words, while it is actually no different from any ordinary outlet that will not automatically shut off in the event of a dangerous surge of current. Without a proper home inspection this kind of easy-to-miss hazard could go undetected – especially since it is a relatively minor part of the overall electrical system. But despite the fact that it is a smaller detail it stills represents one of the most serious health and safety hazard features – and if overlooked it could lead to a catastrophic outcome.

There are also structural issues – like unsafe chimneys, unstable building foundations, insufficient supportive joists and beams, or poorly designed stairways – that can be hard to spot without expert help from a property inspector. Mechanical problems with systems like stoves, boilers, and furnaces are another category that can make a home unsafe. A tiny crack in the heat exchanger compartment of a furnace, for instance, can leak deadly but odorless and invisible carbon monoxide gas into a house. Every year there are unfortunate and preventable fatalities that occur simply because homeowners are not aware of this lethal threat – but it is a problem that an observant home inspector can catch a majority of the time, so the situation can be remedied.

Not only do these pose a threat to the safety of occupants, but they can also cause the kinds of accidents that injure others and lead to financially devastating lawsuits. If someone is coming up your front steps and falls because of a rickety banister or improperly pitched and measured stair runner or riser, for example, it could have terrific repercussions.

Environmental hazards are another big area of potential health risk, because the presence of such things as toxic mold, radon gas, or asbestos can represent potentially deadly problems. A good building inspector with the proper skills and measuring devices can also determine if any of these pose a problem, while accurately distinguishing between false alarms and actual threats and dangers.

Rather than waiting for such latent problems to turn into unwelcome and unexpected threats to your safety – as well as the safety of family members and precious pets – every homeowner or buyer should have a complete home inspection done by a certified expert.

Home Maintenance: An ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure.

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 10:56 am

Anyone who is smart will be careful to eat right, exercise on a regular basis, and consult a health care professional whenever they notice any unusual symptoms or just need to get a thorough checkup to stay informed and aware. In the same way, wise homeowners should also practice prudent home maintenance and consult a professional inspector whenever necessary to get an accurate picture of the condition of the property and be alerted to any necessary repairs or maintenance issues.

Otherwise, just as it happens with our health and our bodies, if home maintenance is ignored or neglected it will eventually lead to more serious and expensive problems. As the old saying goes, and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – and that is certainly the case when it comes to taking care of a valuable real estate investment.

Take a really simple example, for instance, of a stain on the ceiling of the living room. Unless it becomes too unsightly, many homeowners might put off having it repainted. But an inspector will see that spot as an outward symptom of a problem worthy of investigation, and by looking deeper he or she will likely find a faulty plumbing pipe, a leaking roof, or moisture that is being trapped between the floors of the home to create potentially dangerous mildew and mold.

A surprising number of homeowners do not know, for example, where to find or how to replace the filters on their air conditioning units. The filters cost just a few bucks each, and they should be replaced at least twice a year, if not more, in order to ensure that they continue to keep the system flowing freely and working at peak performance. Taking out the old filter and putting in a new one usually takes about five minutes or less. But lots of homeowners wind up with extraordinarily high utility bills or damaged central air conditioning units – which can costs thousands of dollars to replace – just because of dirty filters.

There are also landscape issues to consider – like keeping bushes from growing too close to the sides of the house where they can attract pests, cause accumulated moisture, or weaken the foundation. Drainage sloped the wrong way can be easy to remedy – or if it is left unchecked it can cause rotten siding, eroded foundations, and flooded basements. Even home maintenance of trees on a property can lead to structural damage or even a serious injury – and if dead limbs fall across the property line you could wind up getting sued for damage done to a neighbor’s home or to city owned property.

The list of potential issues that can result from a lack of home maintenance is practically endless, but the good news is that most routine maintenance is both simple and inexpensive. If you spend just an hour or two a month to monitor your property and review a home maintenance checklist it can save time and money while also adding invaluable peace of mind and security. Many types of maintenance tasks can be done by the homeowner – even without special skills or training – and the results of this kind of oversight are reflected in pride of ownership and a better looking and more enjoyable home for you and your family. If you are planning to sell, those small home maintenance chores will pay off in a big way by contributing to your home’s curb appeal and equity – and by making a strong positive impression on Realtors, potential buyers, mortgage appraisers and buyer-hired building inspectors.

Of course most people are not adept at the kinds of tasks that a contractor or handyman might do, and many homeowners who want to do a good job of home maintenance are frustrated by the fact that they just do not know where to begin or what to do. That’s why it is so important to take advantage of the expertise of a home inspection pro when purchasing a home. The inspector not only takes note of any potential problems, but if you sit down and talk with the inspector you can learn a tremendous amount about the way to property and professionally take care of your home and all of its various components and systems. The inspector can point out sections of the printed inspection report – which you get to keep for your own records – that include maintenance checklists. You can find out how and when to conduct your routine maintenance, and what to do if you notice anything out of the ordinary that might deserve a closer investigation.

Home Inspections: One of the most valuable professional services.

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 10:54 am

A professional home inspection is a standard procedure in the main steps of the typical home buying process, and nobody should consider buying a home without first having an inspection done. Home inspections can also be helpful to investors, Realtors, or those who are planning to rent or lease a property and want to know as much about it as possible before signing on the dotted line or negotiating the price.

Home inspectors are licensed and certified according to the regulatory requirements of each legal jurisdiction or state, and before being allowed to perform inspections they must undergo exceptionally rigorous training and testing. In addition to having to pass one of the most demanding and challenging professional licensing exams, these men and women also have to log extensive hours as apprentices or interns, learning the practical application of their home inspection skills under the tutelage of a more experienced and senior inspector. Then, even after getting the proper credentials and being granted the authority to perform official home inspections, they still have to attend mandatory continuing education sessions to ensure that they stay informed and on the cutting edge in terms of developments in the inspection and home construction industry.

That helps to explain why home inspectors are so heavily relied upon for their expertise in ferreting out any potential problems with a property. Every day the services they perform relieve headaches and financial liability for homeowners, buyers, and Realtors.

The typical home inspection will take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day, depending upon the particular features of the home, its size and age, and the various methods employed in conducting the inspection. Most conventional home inspections are ordered and paid for by the buyer because the inspection gives the buyer a keener understanding of the property in order to help them make informed decisions regarding their purchase and contractual negotiations.

The inspection report is a multi-page printed document that describes the architectural features and the location of the home and then gives a detailed outline and critique of all of the major structural and mechanical components or systems of the home. Many relatively minor or more obscure details are also included in the report to help the home inspector’s client gain a complete in-depth understanding of the nature of the property. The inspector will indicate, for example, whether or not the condition of the home reflects homeowner pride of ownership and attention to routine home maintenance and upkeep.

There are extensive sections of the report that describe and explain the mechanical systems of the home – like the HVAC system, the electrical wiring, and the plumbing within the house. The inspector will also test the functioning of such things as ovens and stoves, water heaters, radiators, garbage disposals, garage door opening mechanisms, and thermostats. Visible structural components – like the house framing, the flooring and foundation, the roof, and the insulation in the home will also be examined and evaluated.

If there are features like swimming pools, or landscape irrigation systems those can be usually be added to the inspection, for an additional fee. The inspector will also study the drainage of the terrain to make sure that excess water flows away from the structure in a safe and orderly way. Any masonry will be visually inspected to ensure that it the mortar joints and strong and that there are no problems with moisture seeping into the home through brick or concrete, and that the masonry work is stable and meets standard building codes. Good house inspectors will even check to make sure that the home has adequate ventilation, secure locks and doorknobs, window screens that fit correctly, and paint or other surface coverings to preserve and protect the building.

All of this data is compiled into the report and delivered to the client, usually by e-mail, or posted online in a password protected area; some inspectors will even print a summary report on-site. The client can go over the report along with the inspector and ask any questions, or have the inspector offer more detailed explanations or interpretations of the findings. Having the report not only helps with making home buying decisions, but it also comes in very handy as a homeowner reference and a document that lists various features of the home and indicates which ones may require maintenance or repairs in the future.

That makes the inspection report a really valuable and useful item for the lifetime of the building – and is just one more way that the fees paid to hire a professional home inspector repay the client and are well worth the initial investment.