At OZ Home Inspections, we strive to provide would-be homeowners with an unbiased, independent and practical assessment of the overall condition of their future home, so that when they sign on that dotted line, they are doing so with a realistic understanding about what they are getting themselves into.
‘Oz’ at work …
Our methodical approach to evaluating a property, and the technology we use to capture our observations, ensure a thorough report that fulfills the purpose and scope set forth in the North Carolina Home Inspector Standards of Practice.
Beyond that, however, our lead inspector is a professional communicator who can articulate in words, pictures and graphics a report tailored to the needs of its audience. We don’t use obscure acronyms and trade jargon, or make recommendations our clients will find confusing or unintelligible.
Also, we understand only too well that our reputation is on the line with every interaction – face-to-face, on the phone, via email, and within the context of our pre-inspection agreements and inspection reports. We take very seriously our partnership with our clients and their designated agents.
Eric ‘Oz’ Schult
Owner / Inspector
(NC LIC.# 3579)
OZ Home Inspections, LLC
25+ years professional experience overseeing plumbers, electricians, mechanics, HVAC technicians and maintenance workers;
Certified by industry-leading American Home Inspectors Training Institute (AHIT);
Passed the National Home Inspector Examination®, used by 31 states to assess home inspector competence.
Licensed and insured to practice in North Carolina (NC LIC.#3579);
Lifelong practitioner and proponent for doing home improvements right.
By popular request, I’m putting on my blogger hat today to explain some of the details of scheduling a home inspection, and some of the logistics that apply to the inspection process itself, so that clients and their real estate agents will better understand what to expect when they make an initial appointment with OZ Home Inspections, LLC.
I have, give-or-take, about 50 agents who regularly refer their real estate clients to me to perform an inspection for them. The ones who use my services most regularly are already aware of my reputation in the greater Fort Bragg market for a rare – if not unprecedented – practice. I limit myself to only one inspection per day. Most inspectors will perform two – and some even three – inspections on any given day. That limits their time on-site to 2-3 hours, usually. Some will put in as many as four hours at a challenging inspection (e.g. a house 40 years old or more, in rough condition, and larger than 3,000 sq. ft. in size). By contrast, I start my inspections between 8:30 and 9 AM, and am rarely done before 2-3 PM. That’s 5-6 hours or more on-site for the lion’s share of my inspections. Some of the tougher inspections may take 6-8 hours or more.
That does not mean I’m going to be more critical in my observations and findings. It just means I will have spent the time that I deem necessary to perform a thorough inspection. I will not be rushed. I let the inspection take as long as it takes.
I am equally dedicated to communicating with my clients and documenting my findings in a thorough and thoughtful way. I encourage my clients to meet with me on-site for a preliminary review of my findings, pending release of a written report by the following day. Most clients consider this face-to-face interaction very useful in providing context to the report, so there are no outstanding questions when they receive and read the report. The same-day walk-thru takes about 45 minutes to an hour, and normally happens at the end of the inspection. With about an hour’s heads-up, I call or text the clients and/or their agents, inviting them to join me for a walk-thru as I’m finishing up my work. This allows me to give them 100% of my attention, as opposed to the limited communication that would happen if we tried to do it while the inspection is ongoing. Since I’m not in a hurry to get to a subsequent inspection, these reviews are not rushed. I share all of my photos with the clients and make sure by the time they leave that their questions have been thoroughly and thoughtfully answered.
I do not charge a premium for this level of service. My fees are competitive in this market. If you’re looking for an instant quote, over the phone, I can normally provide it. I just need to know the size (square footage) and age of the house. If it is a foreclosure or distressed home, that detail may impact whether I can provide an instant quote. If you don’t know these details when you ask for the quote, you need only to text or email me the address of the property, and I’ll be able to respond, normally on the same day.
To schedule an inspection, I need the client’s name, email address, and cell number, so I can communicate with him/her and get a pre-inspection agreement signed electronically (via DocuSign.com) prior to the inspection date. I accept payment on the day of the inspection, via cash, check, money order or Zelle. Other arrangements (e.g. for deferred payment, etc.) may be arranged, as necessary, if secured by credit card.
Please note that during the COVID pandemic, I have primarily been performing inspections only at vacant homes. If a home is occupied, I normally ask for confirmation from the listing agent or seller that the home can and will be vacated for the duration of the inspection. Since that normally takes most of the day, and since it may not easy for some sellers to oblige, it is sometimes necessary or preferable for me to decline the inspection and request the client find another inspector. I should also note that, as a matter of practicality, I am not in the habit of masking during the inspection of the vacated home. However, I do, as a rule, mask and social distance during my on-site walk-thru’s with clients, and ask that they consider doing the same.
If, for any reason, the client is not able to participate in the walk-thru, we can make arrangements to discuss the report via phone, after the report has been released.
In addition to full inspections, I also perform follow-up inspections, which cover the updated status of specific repairs that occurred subsequent to my initial inspection. I work from the Due Diligence Request & Agreement, and limit the follow-up inspection to repair items listed in that document.
Unlike full inspections, follow-up inspections are not blocked out to occur on a specific day or time. Normally, the buyer or buyer’s agent provides the due diligence document and a window within which the follow-up may occur. It’s necessary to obtain from the listing agent or seller the date when the due diligence repairs are scheduled to be completed, and also the projected date of closing. I work within that time frame to revisit the home for a follow-up inspection. I do not normally perform a walk-through with the client as part of the follow-up inspection, since I fulfill these requests as time permits, and often without much notice. The minimum fee for this service is normally $125. There may be additional charges for short notice, travel time, etc., under some circumstances.
A few additional odds & ends to mention: The buyer’s agent may make arrangements with the listing agent for the home inspection appointment to occur (after confirming a date with me), but there are some details that, if not properly handled, may result in delays, postponements, limitations on the completeness of the inspection, or/and additional fees (i.e. for follow-up visits).
It’s a good idea to confirm with the listing agent, for example, that all utilities are on. That includes water, electric, and gas (if any). I cannot inspect the functionality or safety of a gas appliance if gas is turned off or/and if a manual pilot light is extinguished. (It is outside the scope of a home inspection for the inspector to turn gas on or ignite pilots.) That can be very limiting if there’s a gas water heater, furnace, fireplace, stove, etc. If water service is turned off and locked or tagged at the utility’s water meter, I can’t inspect for leaks or functionality of plumbing and supply pipes, fixtures, and some appliances. If electric is off, I can’t inspect for functionality or safety of outlets, switches, appliances, breaker panels, etc., and it adds a further limitation: I’m inspecting the interior by flashlight or ambient light through the windows!
If the house is occupied, or personal property is still being stored on-site, it’s important that the listing agent confirm that the attic and crawlspace access hatches are not obstructed. Appliances and other building components should be visible and readily accessible.
The home inspector also needs access instructions: the lockbox code, code for any security system, etc.
Since I normally want to confirm my home inspection appointment with the listing agent anyway, it might be easier just to let me ask about these details.
For any additional questions / concerns you might about scheduling or preparing for a home inspection, please call 910-876-7770 or email email@example.com.
(The author is a licensed home inspector in North Carolina and owner of OZ Home Inspections, LLC, based in the greater Fort Bragg region and extending throughout NC’s south central sandhills.)
GFCI doesn’t stand for “Good For Confusing Inhabitants.” But it could.
For what it’s worth, a GFCI is that electric receptacle in your bathroom with a tiny “Reset” button on it that you probably haven’t ever given two thoughts about. Or, if you have, the thoughts might be:
“Why does a bathroom receptacle need a ‘Reset’ button, anyway? Isn’t that what the circuit breakers in the garage are for?” Or:
“If we need a ‘Reset’ button on one bathroom receptacle, why doesn’t the receptacle on the other side of the vanity have one? And why aren’t there ‘Reset’ buttons on the receptacles in the other bathroom(s)?”
GFCI doesn’t stand for “Good For Confusing Inhabitants.”
The same observations might be applied to the receptacles in the kitchen, garage, or on the exterior of the house. GFCI’s – short for Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters – are likely to be found in all of those places if your house was built in the last 30 years or so. They’ve been around since the early 1970’s, and were eventually incorporated into local building codes, requiring them to be installed in a broader set of household locations. Older houses that have not been recently renovated/updated might not have them at all. Or if they do, they might be placed solely in locations proximate to sinks, or outside, and nowhere else.
As a home inspector who performs inspections in multiple jurisdictions and in houses of all vintages, it doesn’t concern me where the house is located, or when it was built, to determine whether a given receptacle should be ground-fault protected. I’m not a code enforcement officer; my recommendations are not based on building codes that might or might not apply. They’re based on common sense safety concerns.
Any countertop outlet – in a bathroom or kitchen, at a wet bar, or next to a laundry room sink – should be ground-fault protected, because any household electrical device plugged into those receptacles could get wet and present a potential shock hazard;
Any receptacles that are likely to be exposed to moisture – exterior outlets, outlets in garages, crawlspaces, or/and unfinished basements, etc. – should similarly be protected by GFCI’s.
By contrast, the circuit breakers in a home’s main electric panel are intended to protect against overcurrent conditions that could result in a house fire. GFCI’s are more specifically intended to prevent personal injury/electrocution in environments where the close proximity of water and electricity can present a hazard.
Local vs. Remote Ground-Fault Protection
That’s not to say every outlet in those locations needs to be a GFCI outlet, protecting itself from ground faults. It’s very common for multiple outlets in a single circuit to be protected by a common GFCI device in a remote location. A GFCI counter outlet in one bathroom might be wired to protect the counter outlets in all other bathrooms; a GFCI outlet in the kitchen might be wired to protect all the other counter outlets in that room; and a GFCI outlet in the garage might be wired to protect all the outlets in the garage and perhaps also the exterior outlets.
However, I also frequently encounter configurations that are not very intuitive, or are prone to nuisance trips. For example: During one inspection, I encountered a tripped GFCI outlet on the front porch. When I reset it, the occupant approached me excitedly, and asked, “What did you just do?!!” The family had been living without electric service to all the bathrooms – for two years – because they were not aware that there was a reset location outside! In this case, the installer had also wired the bathroom overhead and vanity lights into the same circuit, so the family had been showering, shaving, brushing their teeth, and presumably applying makeup in the dark. Needless to say, they were very grateful for my intervention, although it remains a mystery to me why they never sought the services of an electrician to resolve this issue. Go figure!
A more commonly encountered condition is the presence of redundant GFCI’s installed in the same circuit. An overzealous homeowner or handyman can create unintended frustration for themselves (and future homeowners) by installing a GFCI outlet in place of a standard outlet that was already being protected remotely. Depending upon where a ground-fault condition happens to occur, this configuration may result in multiple GFCI outlets tripping, in cascade. Restoring functionality, then, requires resetting each GFCI – in a particular order – before the local GFCI will reset. As luck would have it, there’s often one GFCI in the circuit that is not in an obvious or intuitive location and/or not readily accessible. This can result, say, in the unintentional thawing of 200 pounds of deer meat in a freezer in the garage, a sump pump overflow in a crawlspace or basement, or an automatic garage door that won’t let the homeowner in – all because of the presence of redundant, unnecessary, poorly located GFCI’s.
That’s why – even though it’s not rocket science to install a GFCI – I always recommend the task be fulfilled by a qualified electrical contractor. Even then, it may be necessary to clarify the home inspector’s specific recommendation. For example:
“A qualified electrical contractor should install functional ground-fault protection to all kitchen counter outlets wherever such protection is not currently present or functioning as intended (e.g. outlets left and right of stove are among those not currently protected). This recommendation is a safeguard against potential electrical shocks that might otherwise occur in the event of a ground fault.”
Directing the contractor to install GFCI outlets in specific locations is not what we want to have happen, because if he/she follows our directions to the letter, we’ll likely be disappointed by the results.
For any homeowner intent on installing a GFCI outlet him or herself and saving the electrician’s fee, we recommend you read the instructions that come in the packaging – usually a simple paragraph or two and a diagram on a scrap of paper the size of a Post-It note – so, not much reading involved. The instructions will explain how to wire the device so it only protects itself, and doesn’t unintentionally trip other outlets, fixtures, or appliances on the same circuit.
For $5-15 or so, a GFCI outlet tester is a nice little tool for anybody buying or selling a home, or representing a buyer or seller in the transaction. Simply plug the tester into any outlet to determine if it’s wired correctly, and then hit the unit’s “test” button to determine if the outlet is ground-fault protected.
When you hit the “test” button, listen for a click that might happen nearby, or in another room, which would occur if the outlet is protected by a remote GFCI on the same circuit. Keeping an ear out for that click may allow you to avoid a maddening scavenger hunt that I experience with some frequency in the home inspection trade. If it’s not in the usual places (e.g. kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room countertops; garages; and exterior outlets), look for hidden or obstructed GFCI’s that are occasionally located in unintuitive spots (e.g. in the master bedroom closet or toilet enclosure, usually protecting the jetted tub in the master bathroom; in the ceiling of the garage, where the automatic garage door opener is plugged in; behind storage racks in the garage or tool room; in the ceiling of the crawlspace, just inside the crawlspace hatch; or near a sump pump or HVAC unit located under the house).
Understanding GFCI’s won’t take up much space in your noggin, I promise! And it’s worthwhile understanding what a missing or malfunctioning ground-fault device might mean for your family’s safety. At the least, if this blog post gives just one homeowner that “Aha!” moment to track down and reset a tripped GFCI and restore some civilization where there currently is none, please let me know! I can always use a new anecdote for my next blog posting.
(The author is a licensed home inspector in North Carolina and owner of Oz Home Inspections, LLC, based in the greater Fort Bragg region and extending throughout NC’s south central sandhills. Eric “Oz” Schult can be reached at 910-876-7770 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(The author is a licensed home inspector in North Carolina and owner of Oz Home Inspections, LLC, based in the greater Fort Bragg region and extending throughout NC’s south central sandhills.)
The listing agent seemed to think it was much ado about nothing. The underground oil tank had “been there for a long time,” was not being used, and had presented “no issues” for the sellers for as long as they had owned the home.
UNDERGROUND OIL TANK – The fill and vent pipes protrude from the ground in the back yard of a Fayetteville home. Subsequent soil samples showed evidence of significant leakage.
Indeed, use of the underground storage tank (UST) had, in all likelihood, been discontinued in 1996 when a previous owner of the 1973 home had replaced the original oil-burning furnace with an electric heat pump, still in use. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for a subsequent owner to have no knowledge of a legacy tank. Or, the owner might have known about it, but been unaware or unconcerned it represented any liabilities for him or a subsequent buyer. In any event, he made no disclosure about it when putting his home on the market.
As it happened, however, the buried tank became a sticking point for my client, a prospective homebuyer who had engaged me to perform a home inspection that revealed the existence of the tank and recommended it be tested for potential leaks and any resulting soil contamination. Despite the listing agent’s optimism that sampling would “come back clean,” the environmental contractor’s report wound up justifying my client’s concern: A soil boring taken from the vicinity of the tank “exhibited a strong petroleum odor, suggesting [that] significant leakage from the [tank] has occurred,” according to the report.
A deficiency of this sort is not something one wants to find out about after taking possession of a property. So, it’s fortunate for the buyer in this case that the tank came to his attention before his due diligence period had lapsed.
It might not have been that way. For one thing, home inspectors in North Carolina are not required to inspect “for the presence or condition of buried fuel storage tanks.” A home inspection is a limited, non-invasive examination of the condition of a home. It’s restricted to that which is visible and readily accessible. Since an underground oil tank is … well … underground, it falls outside the scope of a home inspection by NC General Statutes and Administrative Code.
But between the lines there, somewhere, is an implied obligation for any good home inspector to interpret what evidence is observed, and provide their clients with potentially important insights about those observations.
When I’m inspecting a home built in the 1950’s to 1970’s or earlier, for example, I know I’ll often encounter a central chimney protruding through the roof that doesn’t appear to serve as a vent for an existing fireplace. It’s a good bet that that chimney is an exhaust vent for a fossil fuel-burning furnace that may or may not still be in use, may or may not still be present, and may or may not be connected to, or associated with, an existing underground oil tank;
Up in the attic in a home of that vintage, I might otherwise encounter a chimney chase that has been lopped off below the roof sheathing so that it no longer protrudes through the roof. That’s likely an abandoned vent for a furnace no longer being used, and possibly also no longer present or installed. Again, that doesn’t, by itself, confirm anything about the existence of a buried oil tank, but it serves as possible evidence of one that may or may not still exist and may or may not have been properly abandoned or removed;
In the crawlspace, there might be an abandoned oil furnace, vent ducting, or/and other legacy components that couldn’t readily be removed through the crawlspace hatch. There might be just the base of a chimney chase remaining, with an exhaust inlet to its flue. These may also be present in a basement, if any, or a utility room/closet interior to the home;
Any of these observations would prompt me to conduct a visual search of the side and back yards for the presence of a pair of pipes (a fill pipe and a vent pipe) protruding from the ground (see photo). The visibility of these may be obstructed by overgrowth; and/or the pipe outlets may have been hacked off at ground level. It’s the existence of these pipes, as observed by the inspector or other party, that confirms the presence of an underground tank. However, this discovery still allows no conclusion about whether the tank might have been properly abandoned or whether any leaks have developed or soil contamination has occurred.
The confirmed presence of a buried oil tank, in my mind, is justification enough to recommend evaluation by a qualified environmental consultant/contractor to test for potential leaks and any resulting soil contamination. This is especially true if the tank is no longer used and is beyond its projected life expectancy (approximately 20 years). Any installation, service, or warrantee documentation the homeowner/seller may be able to provide, however, may help alleviate concerns about potential liabilities and expenses being assumed by the prospective buyer.
A qualified contractor can provide services including tank detection, soil testing, proper tank abandonment or removal, and remediation of any soil contamination. Tank and soil testing may cost a few hundred dollars, while tank removal and soil remediation may cost several thousand dollars or more, depending on the scope of the contamination. The state of NC provides additional information about this subject at: https://files.nc.gov/ncdeq/Waste%20Management/DWM/UST/Brochures-FAQs/FAQ-Home%20Heating%20UST.pdf.
An important takeaway from that document is that home heating oil tanks are non-regulated. There may be no public record of their installation, abandonment, or removal, and no documentation of regular servicing or leak detection monitoring. There very well may be, however, liabilities assumed in purchasing a property with a tank that has been leaking or subsequently develops a leak, even if the homeowner never used the tank and didn’t know it was there. It’s buyer beware!
A licensed home inspector may be your last line of defense in detecting this, or other, potential liabilities. Ask your real estate agent to recommend the most thorough inspector they know. While they might provide you with a short list to choose from, they are allowed to make recommendations between them if those recommendations are faithfully offered in the best interests of their clients.
(The author is a licensed home inspector in North Carolina and owner of Oz Home Inspections, LLC, based in the greater Fort Bragg region and extending throughout NC’s south central sandhills. Eric “Oz” Schult can be reached at 910-876-7770 or email@example.com.)
It’s not often in the normal routine of my daily home inspections that I stumble across a condition that is literally a matter of life & death. Please excuse the melodrama, if that’s what it is, but I still shutter at the thought at what might have happened if I had overlooked this one particular deficiency during the course of my recent inspection of a home in Fayetteville.
USING EXCLAMATION POINTS in a home inspection, for me, is pretty rare.
Mind you, I consider myself nothing if not thorough. Of the 30 or so brokers who regularly refer their real estate buyers to OZ Home Inspections, LLC, that’s the most common adjective that gets back to me from my clients as the justification for their broker’s recommendation. Any other licensed home inspector would think I’d lost my mind spending 5-6 hours or more performing an inspection. Never mind the additional half-hour to hour I commonly spend with the client afterward, performing a walk-through and preliminary review of my findings. I do one inspection per day, while most of my peers in the home inspection trade try to squeeze in two, or even three. By contrast, I take my time. The synonym one broker used to describe me is apropos: he called me “deliberate.” That’s a nice, southern, way to say I’m careful, to a fault.
So, I like to think a deficiency of this import would not, could not, have escaped my notice. But humans being humans, there’s always that chance.
Redundant Safeguards & Good Habits
That’s why imposing certain disciplines upon one’s self is helpful in reducing human error. I use a piece of reporting software called “InspectIT” from the American Home Inspectors Training Institute (AHIT) that requires me to tick off boxes as I go through my inspection to assure I don’t neglect to report on one or another of the many state-required components that are included in a North Carolina home inspection. The software compartmentalizes the inspection in a way I find useful, and also provides sufficient overlap so that if I were to miss a clue while completing one section, there’s still a good chance I’d connect the dots during one of the subsequent, related, sections.
I also depend on conditioned habits that have proven, over time, to make sense to me. I don’t normally go on a roof, for example, before first inspecting the underside of the roof deck from inside the attic. This is pure self-preservation or risk avoidance, on my part, since I do not want to step through a roof with weakened, deteriorated sheathing that might be hidden by newer shingles. Sometimes roofers cut corners, and lay down new shingles on sheathing that should have been torn off and replaced.
I save crawlspaces till last, partly because I don’t want to get filthy too early, but also because it’s important to operate all the plumbing fixtures beforehand, so that if there are any drainage leaks, there’ll be evidence waiting for me when I go under the house. For the same reason, I like to run the plumbing fixtures upstairs in a two-story home before I inspect the rooms on the main floor, below them. Fresh ceiling stains are known to materialize that way from their hiding place behind a new coat of paint.
The routine I follow, though, can also delay a finding till later in the inspection, and deprive me of some of the redundant safeguards that my reporting software affords. Such was the case with my self-described “life & death” home inspection, during which I had completed my inspection of the attic and roof without encountering any visible evidence of a dangerous condition that would become obvious when I finally got around to my inspection of the interior.
My belated discovery happened when I finally turned my scrutiny to the wood-burning fireplace in the living room.
LOOSE INSULATION in the fireplace? What’s *THAT* doing there?
What looked at first like coals and ash in the firebox was, on close inspection, coals, ash, and a little bit of loose insulation. “What’s that doing in there?” I asked myself. Then I shined my flashlight up the metal flue and saw not daylight, but OSB sheathing – the underside of the roof deck! The roofer, in changing out the shingles, had truncated the chimney chase so that it stopped at the ceiling joists in the attic. I’m not sure whether he was laying new sheathing and forgot to cut a new hole for the chase, or what. None of this had been visible from the attic, because the chimney chase was all the way out by the eaves; and the insulation at the eaves (as viewed from the attic) was too deep to see the chase. There wasn’t any light leak from downstairs, either, because the damper in the fireplace was closed.
VIEW OF THE FLUE – It is *NOT* recommended to vent a wood-burning fireplace into the attic!
I might have noticed earlier that there was no chimney protruding from the roof near the eaves over the living room, but at that early phase in my inspection, I hadn’t yet made a mental note that the fireplace was wood-burning or where the chimney chase for it should protrude. The house had natural gas, and natural gas fireplaces are quite often unvented. I hadn’t made the proper observations yet to recognize the deficiency / safety issue. (Note to self: check where the interior appliances and plumbing fixtures are located – before going in the attic or on the roof – to ascertain where there should be vents.)
I tend not to overuse the summary section of my report titled “Major Concerns” for the same reason Chicken Little ought not to have cried, “The sky is falling.” But in this instance, I reported the fireplace as a major concern:
“Do not use wood fireplace under *any* circumstances!” it read. “Metal flue of fireplace exhausts into attic. Kindling a wood fire would likely result in a structure fire. Recommend this condition be corrected by qualified contractor.”
The client was crushed, because the fireplace was her favorite feature of the living room. She had planned to kindle fires in it at first opportunity. I told her I thought the neighbors would see flames coming out of her gable vents before she realized herself that the house was on fire.
I can’t say whether a due diligence request was subsequently made to the seller, or the buyer simply rescinded her offer, but before long, I was engaged again to perform another inspection for the same client. And her agent continues to recommend me, despite the deal I probably killed for her.
For me, the goal is always to make sure the client feels well served. I believe that that naturally reflects well on the agent who recommended me, whatever the outcome.
Edric Williams, broker-in-charge at RE/MAX Edge Real Estate in Fayetteville, performed this impromptu “Ask-the-Expert” interview at the end of a recent inspection I conducted for one of his real estate clients. I have no affiliation with Edric and his team, and this is not an advertisement for which any compensation or favor was exchanged, but I found it a great opportunity to do outreach to a wide network of real estate professionals and homebuyers in the greater-Fort Bragg region. Thanks for the opportunity, Edric, and thanks to the team at RE/MAX Edge for the regularity with which they entrust their clients to my home inspection services.
by ERIC SCHULT OZ Home Inspections, LLC
I have a “Spidey Sense” for converted garages. When I encounter one, a little radar screen flashes on the inside of my skull, providing me a roadmap to some very predictable deficiencies I’m likely to find hiding there.
You don’t have to be a licensed home inspector, of course, to recognize these converted living spaces. Even if the former overhead garage door has been handsomely redesigned with siding that matches the house; even if it’s been embellished with a stone fireplace, french doors, or a bay window; the driveway is usually a dead giveaway. See if you can spot the converted garage among the accompanying photographs …
If you recognized that all three have converted garages, then I hereby deputize you an honorary home inspector.
But why should a prospective homeowner and his or her buyer’s agent care if the home they are negotiating to buy has a family room, den, or bedroom that was once a garage? True, nothing is intrinsically wrong about adding to a home’s living space by banishing the family car to the driveway. The previous owners may well have needed the elbow room for their growing family, and perhaps they found converting the garage a more practical alternative for them than building out or up. Maybe trading in their starter home for that shiny, new subdivision down the road wasn’t within their financial reach, at the time.
But the devil’s in the details, right? If there were shortcuts taken when the garage was upgraded to a living space, you’d want to know about them. That’s why you hire a home inspector like me: to make sure you understand thoroughly what it is you’re buying before you take possession of it. Who knows? My report findings may help your agent negotiate concessions from the seller that you wouldn’t have otherwise known to ask for.
Take, for example, a cute-as-a-button little ranch on a flat lot, with french doors where the overhead garage bay used to be. The house was otherwise all on one level, over a crawl space, but the converted family room was three steps down onto the original slab of the garage. The room was carpeted and finished with wallboard and wood trim from floor to ceiling.
FINISHED FAMILY ROOM in converted garage space.
MOISTURE DETECTOR placed below the sill plate in the former garage.
My only real concern about that was that is that it limited my ability as an inspector to see what might have been done – or not done – to limit moisture intrusion below the raised sill plate of the original garage. One of my trusty inspector tools is a pinless moisture meter that can “see” moisture lurking beneath the surface of a wall, floor, or ceiling. A reading of 20% or more would raise concerns that the underlying components – wood studs, sill plate, insulation, wall board, etc. – would be subject to moisture deterioration and possible termite damage or/and fungal growth. Indeed, my readings on the exterior walls below 12-18″ off the floor ranged from 30-90% moisture. A pest inspector that was brought in to confirm or repudiate my findings also found the readings elevated, and when we removed a cable junction box to reveal the underlying wall, the brick foundation was literally dripping wet on its hidden interior side. It should be noted that there was no visible evidence of any of this; it was a hunch on my part that a converted garage without a raised floor might present moisture issues.
The seller subsequently agreed, at the request of the buyer and her agent, to remove the drywall and trim, dry out the moistened components with a portable, gas-fired heat cannon, and reinstall the drywall and trim. To prevent recurrence, he also installed a sealant on the exterior brick siding of the house.
I’d also noted that the water heater – enclosed in the original garage space and part of the conversion – had no containment tray or overflow drain as safeguards in the event the tank ever sprung a leak. In an unfinished garage, those components wouldn’t be necessary, but since the laundry/utility room had been finished with a vinyl floor, and the family room had been carpeted, the absence of those safeguards was a deficiency that could potentially result in property damage. The seller fixed that issue, too.
And the sale eventually proceeded to close – a gratifying outcome for all parties concerned.
FIBERBOARD flooring, with 15% moisture content, is soft, under-supported, and deflecting underfooot.
More recently, I encountered a converted garage with a raised floor that had been installed over the slab. My first indication, there, that I might find deficiencies was in the material used for the exposed subfloor. Usually, 3/4-inch plywood or OSB (oriented strand board) would be used for sub-flooring, but in this case, the property owner or contractor had used MDF (medium density fiberboard). A composite material made basically of sawdust and binders, it’s not normally used as a flooring material. The product is very absorbent, so it’s not very stable if exposed to moisture; one would have to paint it with an oil-based paint, on both sides and on its edges, for it to withstand conditions of high humidity or moisture intrusion. In this case, it wasn’t painted, and the floor surface was starting to flake off in high traffic areas. When I put my meter on it, the moisture content was at about 15%. Basically, it was sopping up humidity from the crawlspace. Worse, it was being supported by floor joists 24-inches apart, and I could feel the flooring sag under my weight if I stepped between the joists.
RAISED FLOOR of family room over garage slab. Note the cinderblocks are stacked without being affixed in place.
When I proceeded to my inspection of the crawl space, I found more reason for concern. The joists were supported by cinderblocks that were stacked upon one another without mortar holding them in place. I’m not a code enforcement officer, and don’t as a rule quote building codes to my clients; that’s not what home inspectors do. But I had to note in my report that the support structure under the family room appeared to have been constructed without regard to generally accepted building methods and materials.
As of this writing, I don’t know whether the client will proceed to close, but she has all the necessary information she needs to make a decision that’s right for her. It’s not mine to advise for or against the purchase of any home, based on my findings. It’s for the buyer and her agent to discuss how the reported deficiencies may affect her interests, and up to their negotiations with the seller to determine the outcome of the transaction.
If she enters into the purchase with her eyes wide open, I’ve done my job.
So, you’re buying a pre-1978 house. It’s a given that my inspection report is going to advise you that any painted surface or wood coating may contain lead and should be handled so as to minimize potential health risks.
CHIPPING PAINT on a pre-1978 home. Time to ‘get the lead out’?
This past week, however, I was stumped when a real estate agent asked me to refer a risk assessment professional to evaluate whether lead presented an actual hazard in a house I inspected for her. I promptly put on my researcher’s hat – I was, after all, a newspaper reporter and editor earlier in my professional career – and learned from a NC Dept. of Health source that there are no certified lead professionals in the Fayetteville area with the proper credentials to safely and legally do a lead inspection or risk assessment. I further reviewed databases from the state, listing companies licensed to do lead abatement and renovation; the closest ones I found were in Sanford and Pembroke.
That makes it pretty difficult for my home inspection client to follow the recommendation in my report! I’m basically telling her not to disturb painted surfaces herself without reading up on the potential hazards and following practices to minimize health risks, or else hire a company to handle any abatement or renovations for her. Good luck getting a quote from a certified contractor if he’s traveling an hour or more just to take samples!
It occurred to me that becoming certified as a lead inspector could be an opportunity for me to broaden my home inspection business. So, I did a little research about that, too. I’m not afraid of investing a little time and money in career training; there were hundreds of hours of classroom and practical (hands-on) training, study and exam preparation, fulfilling certification requirements, etc. to become a home inspector and maintain my NC license, after all. How much effort could it be to certify as a lead inspector?
I eventually hooked myself up with a training firm in Cary, and was able to discern quickly what some of the stumbling blocks would be. I could take a three-day class, followed by certification testing and the usual state fees for certification – no problem there – but for practical purposes, I’d need to invest $15-20K in an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to do on-site testing of paint samples. One can buy consumer-available lead test kits – some of which provide on-site results and some that require lab testing – but at best, those solutions tell a story only about the paint chips or dust that are taken as samples. IMHO, there’s not a lot of value to that, since a negative result on one sample is no guarantee that the sample not taken is lead-free.
The lead risk assessment instructor I spoke to – who stood to gain by enrolling me as a student – kind of felt the same way about this that I did.
Further, he offered some statistics that I think should help reduce some anxiety my clients might have about taking possession of a pre-1978 home. Of houses built between 1960-78, he said, only about 25% contain lead paint; of houses built from 1940-1960, the percentage is higher, 67%; it’s houses built 1940 and prior that have a high likelihood, 90%, of containing lead paint.
So, here’s my take-away for homeowners and real estate agents engaged in the prospective purchase of a pre-1978 home:
I’m still, of course, recommending caution in handling loose paint chips and paint that has deteriorated to dust, due to age, especially for families with young children;
Consider the condition of the existing paint in the home; is it loose, chipping, or deteriorated? Do you plan on doing maintenance or renovations that will disturb painted surfaces? If so, what is your comfort level doing the work yourself (following safety guidelines for handling paint that may contain lead)? No one is stopping you from doing this work yourself. If you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself, know that it may be difficult finding contractors in the Fayetteville area that have the proper certification to do renovation and remediation for you. If they’re coming from far away, you’ll need to expect to pay more for their services. Be careful hiring contractors who can’t show you proof of abatement/renovation certification.
A little free advice from your friendly neighborhood home inspector. – OZ
Here’s another one of my Home Inspector anecdotes that not only demonstrates the value of a good, thorough home inspection, but also the benefit of engaging a competent real estate agent who uses the home inspection report to advocate for repairs to undisclosed deficiencies.
A house I inspected recently had two significant deficiencies that the average homeowner and buyers’ agent could not and would not have seen when they looked at the house and made an offer to purchase.
During my inspection of an otherwise functional gas furnace and water heater in an attic, my trusty “gas sniffer” detected explosive gas that was not obvious to our noses. One or both of the appliances was leaking natural gas or carbon monoxide into the attic. Both gasses are heavier than air, so they were venting out of the soffits to the outside, but that doesn’t make the condition particularly acceptable or safe.
Another “hidden” safety issue was in the main electrical panel on an exterior wall of the house, by the utility meter. A lot of buyers wouldn’t even realize there was a panel outside, since most of their breakers are in a sub-panel in the garage. In this case, the main panel had been exposed to moisture infiltration and showed heavy corrosion to the main wires and several two-pole (240V) breakers, as well as a grounding busbar that was not only oxidized, but had deteriorated so badly that it was dangling loosely in the cabinet.
It’s my job to point out these kinds of deficiencies, so they don’t become an unpleasant, unexpected housewarming gift after the buyers move in. It’s the buyers’ agent, though, who understands the tactics and possesses the negotiating skills to assure these deficiencies are understood to be the sellers’ responsibility to rectify before closing.
That’s exactly what happened in this case. As I understand it, the sellers wound up engaging the gas company and a plumber, who located and repaired the gas leak in the attic. They also hired an electrician who resolved the electrical issues in the main panel. There was a resulting delay in closing, but for a good cause, in my humble opinion. This was a very satisfactory outcome.
Natural gas or carbon monoxide detected in attic, near furnace and hot water heater …
My home inspections range from 5,000 sq. ft. mansions to modest double-wides, in every stage of condition. This sample report was for a bank-owned home that had been foreclosed upon, which often adds to a variety of unknowns: the utilities have been turned off, electric panel and crawl space have been padlocked, and sometimes thieves have scavenged the property for copper plumbing pipes and appliances. Disclosures, too, are frequently lacking full transparency. The bargain price, however, can sometimes justify the investment.
FORECLOSURE – A sample inspection report for this home accompanies this post.
I never try to steer the clients one way or the other. That’s not my job. What I do is make sure they thoroughly understand the condition of the property prior to taking possession of it. What kind of safety issues are present? What systems or components are not functioning as intended? Will it be necessary to budget to replace a major ticket item in the next five years? These are the kinds of questions I’m paid to answer. I’m in the crawl space; I’m in the attic; I’m on the roof; I open the service panels on the HVAC and electric panels; If it’s accessible and can be safely accessed without damaging the seller’s personal property, I’m going to visually inspect it, photograph any deficiencies, describe them in my report, and provide recommendations.
Walking the clients through the property and letting them put their eyeballs on the various deficiencies I’ve identified helps them grasp what they’re getting themselves into. It also helps me help them understand the gravity of each deficiency, so that they are not unduly alarmed by the small stuff, nor left lacking full appreciation for a condition or conditions that really should be taken seriously.
Anyhow, here’s a good exercise for any new buyer. Let’s presume you have made a conditional offer on this house that your real estate agent estimates is $25,000 below its comps in the market. During due diligence, I inspect the home for you and provide the inspection report. How would you proceed? Would you: Buy the house; try to negotiate with the bank for repairs or a reduction in price; walk away? There’s no right answer that is universal for every buyer. My recommendation: review the report with your real estate agent, discuss your concerns, ask me for any clarification you may need, and then make the decision that’s right for you!
By far, the most popular of the value-added services offered by OZ Home Inspections, is the ‘Follow-Up Inspection.’ But what is a follow-up inspection, exactly, and why is it worthwhile to to have an inspector revisit a home that he or she previously evaluated only a few weeks or months ago?
Very often, home inspection reports are used as a bargaining chip by homebuyers and their real estate agents to negotiate for the repair of deficiencies to a home that were not disclosed and not obvious to the buyers when their contingency offer was made and accepted.
For example, I recently inspected a house only six years old that I determined had defective double-pane window seals in almost every room – a burdensome expense that would have fallen on the buyers if I hadn’t brought the problem to their attention, before closing. I mentioned in my report – for the mutual benefit of the buyers and sellers alike – that the windows were possibly still under warrantee, which happily turned out to be the case. My follow-up inspection assured the buyers that all of the affected windows had been repaired and were functioning as intended, prior to the buyers taking possession of the home.
A follow-up inspection focuses on specific areas of concern that were identified in the original home inspection and were subsequently addressed. The buyer or agent typically provides a punch list of conditions that were negotiated for correction, and I go back to make sure the specified repairs, replacements, or/and maintenance issues were completed satisfactorily. I append notations to the original report, updating my observations and providing appropriate documentation.
Roof repairs, water heater replacements, the remediation of structural deterioration and settling – these are all other high-ticket expenses that I’ve recently helped homebuyers avoid by providing timely follow-up inspection services. It’s well worth the nominal ($125) charge for the service.
Oz is licensed (NC Lic. #3579), insured, certified by AHIT (American Home Inspectors Training) Institute, and has gone beyond state requirements to pass the National Home Inspectors Exam, used by 22 states to assess Home Inspector competence. We pride ourselves on the thoroughness and accuracy of our inspections. We take our time, on-site – like no other inspection service in the greater Fort Bragg market – and get the job done right.
Call Eric ‘Oz’ Schult at 910-876-7770 for an appointment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.