How to Determine the Age of a Building

 

Building technologies and fashions have followed well-known trends that  allow those interested to roughly determine Crude, square nails may be hundreds of years oldwhen  particular buildings were constructed.  Here are some methods based on a  building’s materials, components and styles.
 
Estimates of Building Age Based on Building  Materials
 

Nails

  • Prior to the 1800s, nails were hand-made by blacksmiths and nail makers  and appear crude compared with modern nails. They are often squared rather than  rounded, and have a beaten look on the top of the head.
  • Type A- and Type B- cut nails were used from 1790 to 1830. They were  made from wrought iron and are squared.
  • Wire nails, used from 1890 through today, are modern, machine-made  nails that are rounded and more practical to use than the earlier designs.

Wiring

  • Aluminum wiring was used extensively from 1967 till 1975, a  period during which copper was prohibitively expensive. Aluminum use  was generally discontinued when its potential as a fire hazard become  publicized.
  • K&T or knob-and-tube wiring was an early method of electrical  wiring installed in buildings from 1880 to the 1940s. The system is considered  obsolete and can be a fire hazard, although much of the fear associated with it  is exaggerated.

Electrical ReceptaclesModern electrical receptacles are polarized and grounded

Electrical receptacles evolved from earliest to most recent in the following  order:

  • non-polarized:  These early receptacles are made up of two slots  of equal size, with no ground slot.
  • polarized:  These receptacles are two-slotted, one of which is wider  than the other to allow for proper polarity.
  • grounded, polarized:  Modern receptacles were changed to permit  grounding of an appliance or device. They can be identified by the round hole  beneath the center of the polarized slots.

Flooring

  • In the late 19th century (1890), linoleum became common for  use in hallways and passages, but it became better known for its use in kitchen  floors in the 20th century, up through 1960. Originally valued for  its water-resistance and affordability, it was surpassed by other floor  coverings by the mid-20th century.
  • Asphalt tile was used for floor tiles starting around 1920 through  the 1960s. The earliest tiles are darker because they contained more asphalt,  unlike later tiles that had higher levels of synthetic binders.Old linoleum floor
  • Vinyl asbestos tiles became popular in response to consumers who wanted  lighter-colored tiles of varying color patterns.

Structural Panels

  • Plywood’s use began around 1905.  It is made from thin sheets of veneer  (layers of wood that are peeled from a spinning log) that are cross-laminated  and glued together with a hot press. Since it is made from whole layers of logs  rather than small strands, plywood has a more consistent and less rough  appearance than oriented strand board (OSB).
  • Waferboard or particle board was developed in the 1970s and, like plywood,  is still used today. This material appears similar to OSB, except the wooden  strands from which it is composed are not aligned.
  • OSB was developed the 1980s and is manufactured from heat-cured  adhesives, and then rectangularly shaped wood strands that are arranged in  cross-oriented layers. Produced in large, continuous mats, OSB is a solid-panel  product of consistent quality with few voids and gaps. While OSB was  developed fairly receDutch-style Colonial housently,  it became more popular than plywood in North America by 2000.

Keep in  mind that houses, especially older ones, have evolved over many years. It can be  very difficult to reliably date a building based on the presence of a single  material or component. The majority of a house might be newer than its  18th century foundation, for instance, especially if there was a fire  that destroyed the rest of the structure.

Estimates of Building Age Based on Architectural Style 
  • American Colonial (1600 to 1800):  North America was colonized by  Europeans who brought with them building styles from their homelands. This broad  category includes the following regional styles and their characteristics:
    • New England style (1600 to 1740):  These homes feature steep roofs  and narrows eaves used in simple timber-frame houses, usually located in  the northeastern United States, primarily in Massachusetts, Vermont,  Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York.
    • German (1600 to 1850):  Most often found in New York,  Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland, these buildings generally feature thick,  sandstone walls.
    • Spanish (1600 to 1900):  Located in the American South, Southwest,  and California, these houses are simple and low, built from rocks, stucco,  coquina and adobe brick, with small windows and thick walls.
    • Other home styles from the American Colonial period include Georgian,  Dutch, French and Cape Cod.
  • Classical style houses (1780 to 1860):  Many houses built during  the founding of the United States are a throwback to ancient Greece, emphasizing  order and symmetry. Among the styles common to this era are Greek Revival,  Tidewater and Antebellum.
  • Victorian (1840 to 1900): With the technological innovation  of mass production came the ability to produce large homes affordably.  Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Folk and Octagon are some of the architectural  styles common to this era.
  • Gilded Age (1880 to 1929): The “Gilded Age” is a term popularized by Mark  Twain to describe extravagant wealth. This era saw the construction of large,  Mcmansions are hastily-built and often too large for their plot of landelaborate homes owned  by a class of suddenly-rich businessmen who enjoyed grandiose displays of their  new wealth.
  • Early 20th Century homes:  Homes built during this period  were compact and economical, somewhat smaller and less pretentious than earlier  Gilded Age homes.
  • Post-War homes (1945 to 1980):  Very simple and affordable, some  critics believe they have no style at all. Soldiers returning from the World War  II spurred the construction of these homes, which emphasized utilitarianism  over style more than preceding periods.
  • “Neo” houses (1965 to present):  Theses houses borrow styles from  previous architectural eras, such as Victorian, Colonial and Mediterranean.  “McMansion” is a word used to describe large, quickly-constructed, flamboyant  and poorly-designed neo-eclectic homes.

Other Ways to Determine a Building’s Age:

  • Check the meter reader. Sometimes, the meter reader will bear a date stamp.
  • Check the inside of the toilet. Toilet manufacturers often stamp the inside  of tanks or lids with the year the toilet was made. Toilets are usually  installed right after construction, so you can often determine a newer home’s  age by inspecting a toilet.
  • In log homes, it may be possible to tell the building’s age by analyzing the  tree rings in a piece of timber removed from the building. The science on which  this is based, dendrochronology, does not arrive at an age based on the number  of tree rings, but rather focuses on patterns of tree rings and compares these  with known pattern ages for a specific region. This method is destructive and it  requires a specialist.
  • Local town, county, or state tax records usually indicate the date or  year a building was constructed.
  • Historical real estate listings may include indications of building age.
  • Census records can prove that a house was present at the time the census was  taken.
  • Papers found inside the building will often indicate when the building was  present. A house will probably be at least as old as, for instance, newspapers  from the 1920s found in a crawlspace.
  • Employ an architectural investigator to date the house by studying its wood,  plaster, mortar and paint.
  • The aluminum spacers within thermal-paned windows often bear the year of  production, which can at least provide an approximate date of  installation.
  • Sewer grates are sometimes stamped with the year they were manufactured,  which may provide an age for the neighborhood.

by Nick Gromicko

www.publicadjustermissouri.com

Vermiculite

Vermiculite insulation
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral composed of shiny flakes that resemble mica. When heated rapidly to a high temperature, this crystalline mineral expands into low-density, accordion-like strands. In this form, vermiculite is a lightweight, odorless and fire-resistant material that has been used in numerous applications, such as insulation for attics and walls.

Asbestos Contamination

Vermiculite forms over millions of years due to weathering of the mineral biotite. Unfortunately, biotite deposits are often in close proximity to deposits of diopside, which transform into asbestos due to the same weathering processes that create vermiculite. Asbestos can be easily inhaled because it tends to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne. Exposure to asbestos can result in lung cancer, mesothelioma, inflammation of the chest cavity, and a scarring disease of the lungs known as asbestosis. The risk of contracting these diseases generally increases with the duration and intensity of exposure to asbestos, and smokers may face an even greater risk of lung cancer.

The largest and oldest vermiculite mine in the United States was started in the 1920s near Libby, Montana. Although it was known that the vermiculite there was contaminated with tremolite, a highly toxic form of asbestos, the mine continued to operate until stiffer environmental controls finally forced it to close in 1990. Sadly, by this time, the damage had already been done; the asbestos-infused insulator had been installed in tens of millions of homes in the United States alone. As over 70% of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. from 1919 to 1990 originated from the Libby mine, it is safe to assume that all vermiculite insulation found in buildings is toxic.

IdentificationZonolite brand vermiculite is likely contaminated by asbestos

Vermiculite insulation is a pebble-like or rectangular, chunky product about the size of a pencil eraser, and usually gray-brown or silver-gold in color. Inspectors should be on guard for empty bags in the attic that bear the name Zonolite®, as this was the commercial name for vermiculite mined in the notorious Libby mine.

What should be done about asbestos found in homes?

Home owners should never disturb vermiculite or any asbestos insulation. These products must be airborne to cause a health risk through inhalation, which most likely happens when they are removed or handled. The following are some additional tips:

  • Consider that contractors may track vermiculite into the house if they have to enter the attic.
  • Dispose of waste and debris contaminated with asbestos in tight containers.
  • Do not allow children to play in an attic.
  • Do not launder clothing exposed to vermiculite with family clothing.
  • Do not overreact. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), asbestos-related illnesses are usually the result of high levels of exposure for long periods of time. Left undisturbed in the attic, asbestos is generally not a life-threatening situation. Furthermore, air generally flows into the attic from the house, and not the other way around.
  • Do not use the attic as a storage area.
  • Hire a professional asbestos contractor before remodeling or renovating if these processes may disturb the vermiculite.
  • Never use compressed air for cleaning around vermiculite. Avoid dry-sweeping, vacuuming, shoveling, or other dry clean-up methods. Wet methods are best.
  • Seal cracks and holes in attics, such as around light fixtures and ceiling fans, where insulation may pass through.
  • Use proper respiratory protection. Disposable respirators or dust masks are not appropriate for avoiding asbestos exposure.
In summary, vermiculite is a potentially hazardous mineral used as an insulator in buildings, but its dangers can be mitigated with some simple precautions.
by Nick Gromicko and Rob London

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Detectors

 Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that forms from incomplete combustion of fuels, such as natural or liquefied petroleum gas, oil, wood or coal.

Facts and Figures

  • 480 U.S. residents died between 2001 and 2003 from non-fire-related carbon-monoxide poisoning.
  • Most CO exposures occur during the winter months, especially in December (including 56 deaths, and 2,157 non-fatal exposures), and in January (including 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures). The peak time of day for CO exposure is between 6 and 10 p.m.
  • Many experts believe that CO poisoning statistics understate the problem. Because the symptoms of CO poisoning mimic a range of common health ailments, it is likely that a large number of mild to mid-level exposures are never identified, diagnosed, or accounted for in any way in carbon monoxide statistics.
  • Out of all reported non-fire carbon-monoxide incidents, 89% or almost nine out of 10 of them take place in a home.

Physiology of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

When CO is inhaled, it displaces the oxygen that would ordinarily bind with hemoglobin, a process the effectively suffocates the body. CO can poison slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations. Sensitive organs, such as the brain, heart and lungs, suffer the most from a lack of oxygen.

High concentrations of carbon monoxide can kill in less than five minutes. At low concentrations, it will require a longer period of time to affect the body. Exceeding the EPA concentration of 9 parts per million (ppm) for more than eight hours may have adverse health affects. The limit of CO exposure for healthy workers, as prescribed by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, is 50 ppm.
Potential Sources of Carbon Monoxide
Any fuel-burning appliances which are malfunctioning or improperly installed can be a source of CO, such as:
  • furnaces;
  • stoves and ovens;
  • water heaters;
  • dryers;
  • room and space heaters;
  • fireplaces and wood stoves;
  • charcoal grills;
  • automobiles;
  • clogged chimneys or flues;
  • space heaters;
  • power tools that run on fuel;
  • gas and charcoal grills;
  • certain types of swimming pool heaters; and
  • boat engines.

PPM

% CO in air

Health Effects in Healthy Adults

Source/Comments

0

0%

no effects; this is the normal level in a properly operating heating appliance

35

.0035%

maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

50

.005%

maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift               OSHA

100

.01%

slight headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, errors in judgment

125

.0125%

workplace alarm must sound (OSHA)

200

.02%

headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness

400

.04%

severe headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion; can be life-threatening after three hours of exposure

evacuate area immediately

800

.08%

convulsions, loss of consciousness; death within three hours.

evacuate area immediately

12,000

1.2%

nearly instant death
CO Detector Placement

CO detectors can monitor exposure levels, but do not place them:

  • directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up;
  • within 15 feet of heating and cooking appliances, or in or near very humid areas, such as bathrooms;
  • within 5 feet of kitchen stoves and ovens, or near areas locations where household chemicals and bleach are stored (store such chemicals away from bathrooms and kitchens, whenever possible);
  • in garages, kitchens, furnace rooms, or in any extremely dusty, dirty, humid, or greasy areas;
  • in direct sunlight, or in areas subjected to temperature extremes. These include unconditioned crawlspaces, unfinished attics, un-insulated or poorly insulated ceilings, and porches;
  • in turbulent air near ceiling fans, heat vents, air conditioners, fresh-air returns, or open windows. Blowing air may prevent carbon monoxide from reaching the CO sensors.

Do place CO detectors:

  • within 10 feet of each bedroom door and near all sleeping areas, where it can wake sleepers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) recommend that every home have at least one carbon monoxide detector for each floor of the home, and within hearing range of each sleeping area;
  • on every floor of your home, including the basement (source:  International Association of Fire Chiefs/IAFC);
  • near or over any attached garage. Carbon monoxide detectors are affected by excessive humidity and by close proximity to gas stoves (source:  City of New York);
  • near, but not directly above, combustion appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces, and in the garage (source:  UL); and
  • on the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel-burning appliances, and centrally located on every habitable level, and in every HVAC zone of the building (source:  National Fire Protection Association 720). This rule applies to commercial buildings.

In North America, some national, state and local municipalities require installation of CO detectors in new and existing homes, as well as commercial businesses, among them:  Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and New York City, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Installers are encouraged to check with their local municipality to determine what specific requirements have been enacted in their jurisdiction.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

  • Purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing that they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034 or Comprehensive Safety Analysis 6.19 safety standards.
  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Have the heating system professionally inspected by an InterNACHI inspector and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without the proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments and when servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space, such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances, such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
  • Do not place generators in the garage or close to the home. People lose power in their homes and get so excited about using their gas-powered generator that they don’t pay attention to where it is placed. The owner’s manual should explain how far the generator should be from the home.
  • Clean the chimney. Open the hatch at the bottom of the chimney to remove the ashes.  Hire a chimney sweep annually.
  • Check vents. Regularly inspect your home’s external vents to ensure they are not obscured by debris, dirt or snow.
In summary, carbon monoxide is a dangerous poison that can be created by various household appliances. CO detectors must be placed strategically throughout the home or business in order to alert occupants of high levels of the gas.
by Nick Gromicko and Rob London

 

Before You Renew Your Insurance Policy … Read This!

Two small teddy bears

Two small teddy bears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people will carry insurance with the same company for years without ever having the need to file a claim … and then only at their greatest time of need, following a serious property loss, find that their insurer is NOT the “safety net” that they had expected.

Low rates, teddy bears, lizards with British accents, good hands and good neighbors … they all mean very little when disaster strikes your home and you experience improper claim denials and delays that add to your burden and interfere with your recovery.

Before renewing your next policy, check out (by clicking HERE) your insurance company with the Missouri Department of Insurance to see how they have measured up where it really matters … customer satisfaction in processing their claims. 

 

Copyright 2012 James H. Bushart

Superstorm Sandy and Property Damage Insurance

As is often the case following such damaging events as the recent storms in the Northeastern section of the United States from yesterday, hundreds of thousands of home and business owners will awaken and begin to discover the realities of their insurance contracts … those conditions and exclusions that are written into their insurance polices that, like landmines, often impede their steps toward restoring that part of their lives that has to do with their property damage and loss.

Believe it or not, thousands of home owners with their houses under water brought in by the sea or overflowing river banks will only — today — discover that flooding is not a covered peril under their insurance policies.  With all or most of their personal property missing or destroyed, providing proof of their losses will appear to be impossible.

Because the burden is on the insured to “prove” his loss and most are not totally aware of their rights or the process of proving their insurance claims, many will accept lower settlements or denials that will unnecessarily add to the burdens that they already are forced to endure.

Some “storm chasing” public adjusters from all over the country will soon be descending upon the area to help people with their insurance claims to help home and business owners contend with the wave of adjusters sent by the insurance companies to protect their financial interests … and while many of them will actually be helpful, the shock and the awe of the recent disaster still hangs over its victims like a dark cloud and not all of their choices during this period will be, upon later reflection, “good” choices.

Prudent home and business owners throughout the country can benefit from this lesson and take the opportunity — today — to meet with a public adjuster close to their home.  Get to know him and discuss your insurance contracts with him.  Let him show you what they do and do not cover, what your immediate steps should be following a loss and how to protect yourself from actions that could nullify or reduce the amount of your claim.

Public adjusters do not work for insurance companies and can help you through the process of proving your claim  … even before it happens … so that you can concentrate on more important things that you will certainly face during a personal property disaster.

It is also important to note that, if you try to handle your claim on your own and are unsatisfied with the results, a local public adjuster can review your claim and reopen it to address a wrongful denial or underpayment.

Take the time, today, to find a local public adjuster who will be there for you when you need him the most.

Finally — A Legitimate Reason to Get a “Home Energy Score”

While it may prove to be of little to no value to the home owner, for a small fee of $25.00 you can help put a wounded veteran to work by allowing him to provide an energy inspection on your home resulting in a “Home Energy Score”.

At least it is not being done without the home owner’s consent as a part of a real estate transaction.  Go for it.

How To Recognize a “Soft” Home Inspection Report

First, what is a “soft” home inspection report – and how can it do harm?

Many home inspectors that inspect homes for real estate transactions have built their businesses upon the referrals of real estate salesmen to stay in business. Since real estate salesmen make no money until a home actually sells, some inspectors feel compelled to assist them in selling the house they inspect in the hope for future referrals.  To do this, they will ensure that their inspection reports do not “alarm” the prospective home buyer and possibly interfere with the sale of the home – with the hope and expectation of gaining favor and receiving more referrals from the sales agent.

The result is a “soft” report that is of little value to the home buyer who commissions it and potentially harmful to anyone who comes to depend on it.  A “soft report” could result in a buyer missing out on important information that could affect their choice to purchase a home.  This can lead to serious financial loss.

The following are a few common methods used by some home inspectors to “soften” their home inspection reports:

“Balancing” the Report

     The most common method used to “soften” a home inspection report is to add “positive” things about the home that would be attractive to the buyer.  I have had some inspectors tell me that they actually strive to include one positive feature of the home for every material defect that they find in order to “balance” the information.

Most experienced and professional home inspectors already take into account the fact that their client has found features of the home that attract them or they would not have contracted to purchase it. Professional inspectors know that they are hired to describe the home’s condition and report material defects that could affect the health or safety of its occupants as well as the sustainability of the structure.

They will perform this service by providing a home inspection report that is complete, accurate and totally unbiased.

Sandwiching information about hazardous or defective conditions between flowery comments is not the proper way to write a home inspection report.

“It Wasn’t in the Code Book, Back Then

     Another common technique used to minimize a material defect in the mind of a potential buyer is for the inspector or real estate salesperson to point out a serious material defect in the home and then infer or suggest that it is somehow more acceptable since it was not required by the code or building standards at the time the home was built.

Any defect that could result in physical harm to the structure (click here) or its occupants (click here) …   is serious and should be addressed.  A home inspector’s job is to bring to his clients’ attention every such issue he observes and to recommend that it be corrected.  It is not  his job to make excuses for its presence.

Understanding that building codes are simply little more than basic minimum standards of which anything less is illegal … the fact that something harmful may have met or did not meet a code at the time it was built has no relevance to the owner, today.

Estimates

     Another way that an inspector can take the “sting” out of a description of a material defect to soften a report is to include an estimate of repair to help the prospective buyer apply what is called “context” to the defect.  This is not common to most home inspection reports, but it happens in some cases.

     It is … dangerous for the inspector as well as the home buyer (click here)  … for the buyer to make purchasing decisions based upon an inspector’s estimates.  Many state laws and all standards of practice discourage inspectors from providing repair or replacement estimates.

     Estimates can only be accurately provided by a person or business who is currently doing the work and aware of the present costs of materials and labor associated with the project and will often find undiscovered issues that affect the cost of the project once work has begun (click here).  Many contracting companies employ professional estimators who are trained and current in the practice of providing them.

“I am not an Alarmist.”

     Watch for these code words that home inspectors use to alert interested real estate salesmen that they will write a “soft” home inspection report in exchange for future referrals … something that one court referred to in one recent lawsuit as “consumer fraud”.

     Among some home inspectors and the real estate agents they work with is an “understanding” that first-time home buyers are sometimes easy to frighten or “alarm” when they learn of imperfections with a house they intend to buy.  Some home inspectors address this as they solicit referrals from real estate agents by advertising themselves as friendly to first-time home buyers and provide an assurance that they do not “alarm” them in the manner that they describe defects in their reports.

     Learn more about the bad results that come from this act of “consumer fraud” … from this lawsuit (click here) … that resulted  from a soft home inspection report given to a first-time home buyer who got burned.

“Free” Warranties and ” Guaranteed Buy Back” Offers

     It makes sense for a real estate salesman to want to take some of the worry out of taking a chance on a new home.  Many will encourage or enhance the sale by providing “home warranty services” that may or may not cover items that stop working when the new home owner takes over the property.  Some will offer to buy the house if they can’t sell it … or “buy the house back” if you don’t like it, with (of course) a long list of certain disqualifying conditions.

         While most home inspectors are careful to inform their clients that they are not providing or implying a guarantee or warranty through their inspection reports, many will want to impress real estate salesmen with the appearance of assisting them in providing an incentive to buy.  Accordingly, they will purchase “90 Day Home Warranties” or provide “Guarantees” that are supposed to cover selected systems within the home against defects for very low cost ($5 to $15) and will provide them to their clients with paid home inspections.

     These low cost service contracts promising high end payouts are a common source of complaints with state level consumer advocacy offices (attorney general, BBB, etc.) and should be carefully scrutinized.  Even when they appear to be provided “free of charge”, reliance upon them when deciding to buy a home can be extremely costly.

     In addition to the exclusion laden free “warranty”  is the recent promotion where some home inspectors offer to “buy back your house” if they miss a defect in their report.  If you really … really … believe that your home inspector can afford to “buy back” every house that he inspects charging his $300-ish inspection fee, then go ahead and take comfort in his offer when deciding to buy a home.  If, however, you are suspicious as to why he will NOT promise to pay to replace the broken water heater he failed to detect for $500 but is willing to “guarantee” to buy back the house for $300,000.00, instead … look carefully at the hundreds of exclusions that assure that no such transaction can ever take place.

     When the home inspector … the person hired and trusted to report things that might be wrong with the house that one intends to buy … begins providing “free” incentives to help the potential buyer decide to purchase the home by addressing future recalls of appliances or “free warranties” should things break, this could indicate that someone other than the home buyers’ interests are being considered.

     The use of these so-called “warranties” along with other gimmicks (such as ongoing updates on the recall status of appliances, alarm system evaluations, etc.) assist some home inspectors who wish to solicit additional referrals from real estate salespeople in promoting the sale of the home by furthering the sales agent’s presumption that the prospective buyer will decide to buy the house.  Carefully read these “warranties” and “guarantees” to see that they actually provide the intended coverage.  Many don’t.

       While these gimmicks have little to do with reporting the present condition of the home  … they can go a long way in helping a sales agent create a mindset of “ownership” that advances the sale of the home.  This is why some inspectors, according to their conversations in private sections of professional forums, promote their use as “marketing tools” to solicit more real estate agent referrals.  “Agents love them” is a mantra for those who promote them.  One vendor who sells the “We will buy back your house if we miss something” goes as far as to promise participating home inspectors that “every” real estate agent he solicits will provide him with “every” client they serve as a referral.  Some home inspectors believe this and are willing to take a shot.

     Home buyers should ensure that the company that is representing these service contracts is properly registered with their state and should not hesitate to hold the inspector that provided it to them responsible for the provider’s failure to perform under the contract – since it is being provided as a part of the home inspection service that they paid for.  Here is a lawsuit where the home buying victims of a “soft” home inspection report with a 90-day warranty did exactly that … (click here).  A “We will buy your house back” guarantee would also exclude the conditions described by the duped home owners in this suit.

Caveat emptor.

What Should You Do (and NOT Do)?

 Do your best to seek an experienced, full time and certified inspector, but be aware that even highly experienced and “credentialed” home inspectors can still be found to participate in writing soft reports or using gimmicks in return for future referrals.

While I personally know some excellent home inspectors who have scaled down their businesses for various reasons and continue to do quality inspections on a part time basis … I know many others who have yet to reach a level of skill and expertise upon which they are able to confidently rely upon or fully commit themselves to being a home inspector on a full time basis — yet these inspectors somehow expect others to place confidence in that level of skill and expertise to such a degree as to rely upon them to make the largest single purchase that many are likely to ever make in their entire life.

Use the internet to do your research and if you prefer to have someone refer an inspector to you, seek advice from friends or family who have had personal experiences with professional home inspectors.

Be skeptical of referrals for home inspectors from real estate agents or anyone else who has a financial interest or stands to gain from the sale of the home. Often, home inspector referrals come in the form of lists that will contain the names of inspectors known to the list provider to write soft reports or will be simply a list of inspectors who were willing to pay the real estate broker or agent a fee to appear on their referral list (click here). If one chooses to rely upon the recommendation of a real estate salesman for a home inspector and they provide a list of inspectors that they prefer to have a home buyer work with, it is not a good idea to go through the list simply searching for the inspector with the lowest fee.

Instead, home buyers should seek information about the inspector’s qualifications, length of experience, certifications and whether or not the inspector is committed to business on a full time basis, since some only perform inspections sporadically “on the side” from their other full time job. When a home inspector adds a “free” gimmick to an inspection report such as a 90-day “warranty”, he should be asked how he has come to the conclusion that the buyer has decided to go forward with the purchase prior to having read his inspection report.

He should also be asked why he would be involved in matters, regarding future performance or recalls of appliances in a home, that he alleges his report to be exempt from. Using these selection criteria, the best inspectors will stand out quite readily.  Still, one should remember the “code words” when reviewing his advertising and his reports.

(Revised on 6/9/14)

Caveat emptor.

Copyright 2012 James H. Bushart

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