Our piece of advice before purchasing an existing house: invest in a professional home inspector.
We always advise friends, relatives and clients to take the time and invest the money to get an inspection when they are thinking of purchasing an existing home. The reason we advocate this step so strongly is that a qualified professional home inspector can spot things that consumers simply don’t know how to look for. They can honestly explain whether the things you see are small cosmetic issues that can easily be addressed or costly potential problems.
Fortunately, one of our friends recently took that advice to heart when he was considering a home in an up and coming area of Charlotte. He had done his due diligence well, tracking median home values and growth rates to narrow his search to the area he wanted and looking at homes that would need some work to be in the price range he needed.
He worked with his Realtor to find a charming 1937 bungalow with worlds of potential. The home had some cosmetic issues, such as porch spindles that needed to be replaced, but since it had been through a major remodel in the recent past and passed the required permitting, he was expecting to find only minor problems. He put down his $1,800 due diligence fee and then called the inspector we recommended. The results of that home inspection were astounding.
There was the expected deterioration of the porch and deck that the buyer himself had noticed. What he didn’t see at first glance was that roof shingles were lifted and needed to be replaced. What’s more, since flashing was missing, water had been leaking inside the structure.
Once the inspector started looking at the interior, he quickly realized that the entire house was slanted, and walls were not plumb. A look into the crawl space revealed serious issues that were at the very least contributing to the off-kilter look.
In the crawl space, a PVC line where waste was being flushed from the toilet was open. The 2 x 2 opening was supposed to have a cover; since it didn’t, gases were potentially entering the home. What’s more, the sump pump was not functioning, and the ground was completely saturated – with moisture levels well above 20 percent (the point at which wood rots) – and the water source could not be determined. Girders were not properly supported and were literally sinking into the mud. The concrete blocks that were holding up the drop beams and floor joists were haphazardly shimmed with bricks and were not touching the joists they were supposed to be supporting. As the potential buyer said, “It was a disaster waiting to happen.”
There were other issues as well. An exterior electrical box had a wire that wasn’t properly terminated, making it a potential fire hazard, while several of the exterior outlets were loose and non-functioning. The AC unit had been stolen and replaced, but unfortunately, the new one has not been installed properly and wasn’t functioning.
Obviously, the buyer walked away from the sale, forfeiting his deposit but gaining peace of mind. “It was an $1,800 learning experience that gave me the knowledge that I need,” he explains. “I was expecting a lot of these amateur mistakes, but this was far beyond cosmetic. I now know that if a home I’m looking at has been remodeled, it has to have been a licensed contractor who did the work. A project might be done right if it wasn’t done by a professional, but that chance is so small, and as a home buyer, you don’t know what you are looking for because we don’t do this everyday.”