The Truth About “Bad Home Builders”

THIL_HomebuildingGood builders. Bad builders. How can you tell? The Home Inspector Lady gives top tips and hints for vetting your prospective builder, keeping the relationship solid and what to do to try and salvage a bad situation.

My hubby, Rob, is a smart guy. (He’s also handsome. And a pretty darn good designer. He’s a GREAT gardener. But I digress.)

Back to my original point. With 25+ years in the construction industry, 18 of those years in building/home inspection, he has loads of experience with home builders. He’s seen them come and go, and he has a very wise saying: Every home builder has to go back and fix things after the sale. EVERY home builder. It’s referred to as “Warranty Work”. The difference between a good home builder and a bad home builder is how well they deal with the warranty work. 

THIL_WarrantyThe best way to know how well your builder handles the warranty work, is to talk to his other clients. Ask for a list of people who have lived in their homes for at least a year and see what they have to say. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau, but when you do, don’t just look at the rating. See if any reviews have been submitted and read them, remembering to be objective. Social media is another way to go, but remember that this can be manipulated by former employees, professional rivals and even ex husbands and ex wives. Angie’s List is another good source that allows companies to respond to any reviews that are posted.

If you’re considering buying a newly constructed home, please don’t delude yourself. There will be things that the builder has to come back and fix. There will. We work with some of the best home builders in the Lubbock area and they all have to do warranty work. They tell me that among the most commonly reported items are doors that don’t latch and roof leaks. Just because things like this come up, don’t panic. It is very common and it does not mean that you bought a money pit.

THIL_ChecklistWhile things like roof leaks do need to be taken care of immediately, give your builder a reasonable amount of time to get to the less vital items, since they likely have warranty work to perform on every house they build. In fact, a good strategy would be to keep a list of items that need to be addressed and make an appointment to meet with your builder at your home after you have been there for six months. Then, before the meeting is over, schedule another appointment in four to five months so any other items that come up can be taken care of before your one year warranty is out.

If you’re reading this a little too late and things have made a turn for the worse with your builder, the best thing to do in the immediate future is to stop the bleeding. If things have gotten heated or contentious, see if  you can deal with someone else in the organization. If that’s not an option, try the sympathetic approach. Let your builder know that you understand the pressure and hectic schedule of the home building industry. Remind him that it is also stressful to make the biggest investment of your life in a home and that you know that both of you want the same thing: a good working relationship and an acceptable resolution.

THIL_ArguingIf it’s too far gone for any of that, I highly recommend a professional mediator. In these situations, litigation is often a no win situation, as home buyers rarely recover anything and both sides end up with legal bills. I would urge you to leave legal action as a last resort in a situation that can’t get any worse. But, of course, every situation is unique and you should use your own best judgement.

And also… Don’t skip the home inspection! Even on new construction. You’d be genuinely surprised at the items we find on a home inspection on new construction. Many times these are things that you don’t want to discover when you’re moving in (no hot water at the master bathroom shower, air conditioner isn’t working… we’ve even found a slab leak at a new construction inspection!)

THIL_SmartMoney
Smart Money!

It can also be extremely helpful to have your home inspector perform another inspection a month or two  before the end of your warranty. He or she will produce a report that is very thorough, has photos and can be passed on to your builder for the final warranty work session.

 

 

Thanks again for stopping by! As always, Pin, Like and Share on your social media platform of choice. I’d love to have your feedback, questions and/or comments in the form below. Have a great day, and I wish you a safe and happy home!

 

 

 

Assumptions That Can Cost You

 

 

THIL_Irony

There’s an ironic duality to assumptions. They are free, but they can really cost you.

A lot of people who are buying a new home (meaning new construction, not just new to them) assume that they don’t need a home inspection. Especially if they are buying a home that has had phase inspections by a city’s building inspection department throughout the construction of the home. Or, they make the mistake of not paying attention to the really important things and instead only see the finishes: granite, wood floors and barn doors. This can be a very expensive mistake.

For example, we were recently called to do an inspection on a new construction home in a neighboring town. This town had a building inspector. The builder had his green tags for all the inspections required by the municipality. The home was decent, but was far from issue-free.

Among the issues we uncovered was the fact that there was almost no slope to the drain  on the master bathroom shower floor. The water was building up by the shower entrance. If not addressed, the owner would have to manually push the water to the drain in the center of the shower after every use, or the water would pool and sit and eventually start to smell, mildew or both. Not exactly something earth shaking but definitely a pain in the neck for the owners. Who would expect that of a house with a higher price tag? You’re supposed to get what you pay for, right?

In another new construction home, we were hired by a builder to come in and inspect the home before the buyer moved in. Sort of a punch list of potential problems. He was glad he called us! There was no hot water at the master bathroom shower. I’m pretty sure the buyer would want that! Rob tested the two exterior outlets at the back porch and the electrical boxes pulled right out of the wall! Rob found that they had never been attached to anything. The brick masons just bricked right around them.

THIL_Cheap_ExpensiveIn another new home in one exclusive neighborhood with full acre lots and homes in the $400,000 range (FYI, that’s kind of a lot for our area) we found an emergency drain pan in the attic that was completely full and minutes away from overflowing. With the closing date just days away, that’s a bad time to have to replace ceilings and possibly cabinets and flooring due to water damage. Even worse if it had happened after the buyers had moved in all their belongings!

While it’s true that most new construction homes come with at least a one year warranty, it’s more advantageous for the buyer if these items are discovered before you sign on the dotted line. Why? Because the builder will have much more incentive to get the items in question corrected. He or she wants that payday at the closing date. So it’s to your benefit to be able to use that payday to ensure timely action on the part of your builder.

I’m not, by any means, advocating any unfair or unreasonable practices on the part of the buyer, but being able to use the delay of closing or termination of the contract to get someone off dead center is sometimes the only tool a buyer has to get the agreed upon repairs done before the deal is done. And let’s face it, if a builder won’t get things in gear to ensure his own financial enrichment, how likely is he or she to show up for warranty work after the check is cashed? And ALL homes have warranty work, my friends!

 

THIL_FocusThe purpose of this post isn’t to try to scare you away from newly built homes. Just keep in mind that a home inspection is intended to help protect you, the buyer. The Inspector doesn’t care if the granite goes with the back splash. He or she is trained to focus on more important factors. The Inspector may not find much, if anything, but not having a home inspection could end up being a very expensive gamble. One of those free assumptions that can really cost you.

As always, I would love to field any questions you may have in regards to home inspections! Just comment below or email your question or comment to thehomeinspectorlady@yahoo.com . And please remember to Pin, Like, and share on any social media of your choice. Thanks and have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Art of the Unemotional Deal

THIL_Emotional

Home. Few words evoke so many emotions, whether good or, let’s be honest, stomach churning. This fact may make what I am about to propose seem contradictory, but trust me, this is good advice: When it comes to buying your next home, leave emotion out of the equation.

Time after time, we have seen people go into real estate transactions with love goggles on causing them to completely ignore any and all warning signs. They see the house online, then in person and fall head over heels. They then rush headlong into their “forever home” becoming a real nightmare.

Todd Vaughn, owner of Swat Pest Control here in Lubbock once told me about an experience he had with some love struck buyers. The house was eaten up with termites. One of the worst infestations he’d ever seen. From the foundation to the interior walls there was pervasive structural damage. Todd said, “I told the buyers the results of the inspection and they asked me, “Well, should we buy it?”  What else but love could cause someone to potentially ignore tens of thousands of dollars in termite damage?

THIL_LoveHomeOne of the bad parts of home inspection is that sometimes you have to crush someones hopes and dreams. Inspections can, and sometimes do uncover problems that the buyer is unwilling or financially unable to remedy. And when that person has allowed emotion to cloud their judgement, they can easily talk themselves or their spouse into a situation that can take not only a financial toll on the relationship, but an emotional one, as well.

We recently performed an inspection on a home that was extremely well decorated. I mean, this lady must have had a PhD in Magnolia from Joanna Gaines University. The thing that struck me, though, was that this was a very common floor plan from a very popular builder, and although it was a perfectly nice house in good condition, I knew once the buyers saw it without all the decor, they were bound to be let down. Without all the decorations, it was just like many of the other homes in that neighborhood. I couldn’t help but wonder if the decoration of the home had affected the sales price.

THIL_InvestmentHere’s the thing; First and foremost your house is an investment. Be prepared to walk away if that’s what you have to do. The inspection may go smoothly or it may throw an unexpected wrench in the works. The appraisal may come back without a hitch, or it may not. One of my friends was buying a home and the process was going very well. Till a week or so before closing when the appraisal came back $11,000 below the sales price! They may have become attached to the house at that point, but they were objective enough to know that they shouldn’t pay eleven thousand dollars over market value. They stuck to their guns even to the point of sending the seller’s Realtor a termination notice. The buyer then agreed to drop the price.

When looking for a home, don’t let the current decor and finishes be what holds sway with your decision making, whether they are good or outdated. Much of the decor will leave with the seller and finishes can be changed or updated. And if the house needs minor or cosmetic work, all the better! With a little work and a modest investment, you could have much more equity in your home very quickly. And if you can’t love equity, you scare me. Seriously. We can’t be friends anymore.

THIL_WinningTo recap, let’s hit the high points: reign in the emotions, look at the facts and the numbers and remember that you are making what may be one of the largest investments you will ever make, so keep your head in the game!

Thanks for reading this installment! If you haven’t signed up to follow The Home Inspector Lady, let me encourage you to do so now. If you are reading this on a phone and don’t see the email sign up, you can find in when you click on the “About” page. And please remember to Pin, Like, Share and comment below. And as always, email any home inspection related questions or comments and experiences to thehomeinspectorlady@yahoo.com . Have a great day!

Just the Facts: When Inspector Opinions Don’t Matter

THIL_FactsI have a recurring nightmare. Well, I have more than one, but just one about work. I have a home buyer asking me any or all of the following questions:

  • Am I paying too much for this house?
  • Would you buy this house?
  • Is this home’s value likely to increase or decrease?
  • Is this a decent neighborhood?

There are more, but you get the picture. Sometimes I wake up screaming. Think I’m over reacting? Read on.

Just like sea shells and finger prints, no two Home Inspectors are alike. Some may have a higher level of education in structure, while others have more experience with electrical systems. Some may be able to do appraisals, while some others have training in mold or asbestos testing. Right now you may be asking yourself, “What’s your point, Inspector Lady?”

My point is this, before you ask your Home Inspector about listing prices or the prospective return on your investment, you should first be asking if they have any specialized licenses or certifications. Asking someone who isn’t qualified to do real estate appraisals whether or not you’re paying a fair price is kind of like asking your mechanic to look at a suspicious mole.

THIL_ConfusedWhile it may seem puzzling, there are differing levels of education and certifications for Home Inspectors, even Home Inspectors working in the same state. Here’s how it goes: Even if (and yes, I do mean IF) a state governs the licenses of Home Inspectors, they likely will have a minimum number of requirements to qualify for this license, but these professionals can, and often do, choose to exceed that minimum. Depending on the area of focus, this gives Home Inspectors a wide range of services they can offer and you should definitely inquire about any specialized knowledge that is important to you.

THIL_RelievedBut even if you don’t feel the need for any specialized services for your particular transaction, this is something to keep in mind when talking with your Inspector. I and most Inspectors I know absolutely refuse to answer questions like, “Would you buy this house?” It’s not my job to make judgement calls like that. It’s my job to help give you as much information as I can about the condition of your prospective home at that time, so that you can then combine that knowledge with all the other variables and make that decision for yourself.

Believe me, there are few things that Realtors hate more than offhand comments about something outside an Inspector’s wheel house that can unduly influence a buyer and tank a deal. So before your inspection, get some background on your Inspector so you know the areas in which they are qualified to speak. Knowing whether or not the Inspector has the expertise to offer that opinion or advice can help you determine how much weight the comment should carry.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask your Inspector or Realtor for referrals for people properly qualified to give you the information you require.

Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to use the box at the top to sign up to follow this blog and please remember to Pin, Like, Tweet and/or comment below and please email any home inspection questions or experiences you’d like to share to thehomeinspectorlady@yahoo.com. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Home Inspections: Should the Home Owner Always Leave?

THIL_Stay_or_Go

So we recently encountered an issue that comes up infrequently for us, but it does come up: We arrive at a home inspection and the home owner makes it clear that they’re not going anywhere.

If you’re not in the real estate game and not familiar with the home inspection process, let me catch you up: it is customary for the home owner to be elsewhere while the home is being inspected. It’s not a law or written in stone or anything, but it is routine and most Realtors explain to their sellers that they will need make plans to leave the property and let the Home Inspector do his or her work.

Doesn’t always happen.

In an example from our own experience, we arrived at a property and were met by the very eager young home buyer and her father. Her dad had traveled seven hours to be there for the inspection. After introductions, I told them I would knock on the door and see if anyone was home. Boy, was she ever home. After I introduced myself, the owner, a nice looking older lady, said, “Well… YOU can come in, but they can’t,” pointing at the buyer and her father.

I stood there, open mouthed and staring. I had never had this happen before. Ever.

THIL_Unwelcome

I was stunned. My mind was spinning. How was I going to tell this lovely, hopeful young woman that she was unwelcome in her prospective first home? I guess my dilemma was evident on my face because the owner followed up the previous verbal slap with, “They can come in when you’re done, but I don’t need to babysit total strangers for two hours.” I think I may have managed some succinct, clever retort like, “I see.” Then I reluctantly returned to the buyer and her dad as if I were addressing my own firing squad.

“Um… I’m not sure what to say here, but the owner says you can’t come in till we’re done.” Blank, uncomprehending stares, much like my own when given the news. Needless to say (people say that when they’re about to say it anyway) the Realtors sprang into action and although the seller apparently paid no attention to her own Realtor, the buyer’s representative arrived at the property right away and accompanied the poor, bewildered pair into the house to take measurements and do the usual looking around while awaiting their inspection results.

Happily, the opposite experience is more prevalent. Sometimes the buyer and seller get along famously and even become friends afterward (shout-out, Hillary! Hillary bought my house from me four years ago.)

Overall, we’ve had more positive experiences with home sellers than negative ones, but the result of my original example was that the buyer was so turned off by the terse and uncivil experience, it soured her on the whole transaction and she terminated the contract at the first opportunity.

Whether the owner stays or leaves is a multifaceted question, but luckily for me, the Realtors have usually addressed this long before our arrival because Rob and I could never dream of asking someone to leave us alone in their home. After all, they don’t know us. On more than one occasion, the owner has had personal issues that made their leaving home an impossibility (sick kids, recent surgery, a parent with dementia). Fortunately, in these situations, everyone was quite polite and all was well.

My point and my professional opinion is this: Listing Agents: This one is on you. You know your client. If they’re not exactly a “people person” do your best to get them out while the inspection is going on, but if you can’t, either give all parties a heads-up or try to be there during the inspection to smooth any ruffled feathers and/or keep them otherwise occupied. A good time for paperwork, perhaps?

I would love to hear your feedback, so feel free to use the form below or email me with your comments or questions at thehomeinspectorlady@yahoo.com . Social media buttons are provided, so please Pin and share on your preferred platform. Thanks, and be sure to sign up with your email address to be notified (or forewarned) of future posts, depending on whether or not you’re a fan. Thanks, and happy house hunting!

New Construction vs. Older Homes: Which is Better?

 

THIL_Scales

Favorites have always been tricky for me. I feel way too much self imposed pressure to get it right. Want to see me pass out? Ask me to name my all-time favorite song.

Any time the word “better” is used in a question, you know the answer is most likely a matter of opinion. So it is with housing. So it is with this post. If we are comparing a new- build to and older home, the answer not only depends on the builder’s standards and post-sale diligence, but also on the care and maintenance demonstrated by the owner over the years.

“Do you have any real life examples?” you ask?  Clearly you have not read my other posts. (They’re all still here. Just scroll down. And Pin them. And share them!)

We all know the lure of the newly built home. Updated designs, all the latest finishes, much better energy efficiency in the windows, doors and insulation. What’s not to love? After 14 years in this business, I would have to say that the major factor in buyer satisfaction with new construction rests on one factor and one factor alone: Will the builder come back and address the issues that arise in a timely manner?

If you think that buying a new home means that you won’t have any problems come up, think again, my friend. ALL builders have what’s called “warranty work”. Those are the items that come up in the first year or two after the buyer purchases the home, that the builder is responsible for addressing. Leaking drains, cracked caulking, HVAC break downs, roof leaks, doors that won’t latch and the list goes on. My husband Rob put it best, “All builders have issues come up after the sale of the home. The difference between a good builder and a bad builder is how well he or she handles those issues.” Well said!

Not long ago we were called out to inspect a home that was 6 years old. Sadly, foreclosure proceedings had begun and the bank wanted to know the condition of the home that was about to become their responsibility.  It was in a respectable family neighborhood that was about one step up from a typical, average-income first time home buyer neighborhood. The home shouldn’t have had many issues to report, and wouldn’t have, if the owner had shown the slightest interest in any aspect of property maintenance, inside or out.

It was atrocious. There were holes in the walls, broken windows, trash everywhere and the cherry on this particular disgusting sundae… Dog poop all over the master bedroom carpet. There had been no maintenance on the exterior, which led to water damaged soffit and fascia as well as chipped and peeling paint and water damage to the exterior door trim. Cracked caulking on the exterior window trim had allowed moisture to seep inside of the window casings, causing swollen wood trim and who knows what inside the wall cavity.

Granted, this is a worst case scenario, but I wanted to make a point about home maintenance. Just because a house is new, that doesn’t exempt it from deterioration, even in the first few years. Exposure to the elements causes caulking to crack, paint to chip and peel and it can even wash mortar out from between the brick and stone on exterior walls. It is vital to inspect your home at least once a year to ensure that your home’s maintenance needs are met before costly damage can occur.

Cut to a home inspection we performed on a house built in the 1950’s. The house had one owner since construction and the maintenance had been meticulous. Were there some deficiencies? Sure. There almost always are some items in red ink, but this home had been well cared for and was able to return the favor to the owner twofold:

  • There were no expensive repairs requested by the buyer during the sale process.
  • The new owners knew they were getting a home that had stood the test of time and would likely continue, if the same standards were met in the future.

So, back to our original question: Which is better? A new home or an older home? The answer is, it depends. New homes have their advantages in terms of updated design,  newer (and maybe better materials in some cases) and a builder’s warranty, however, I’ll take a home that was built 50 years ago and been well maintained, versus a home 5 years old that’s had no maintenance.  But that’s me. Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts and experiences and, as always, submit any home inspection or maintenance questions to me at thehomeinspectorlady@yahoo.com .