Tag Archives: ASHI

Choosing the Right Home – A Home Inspectors Perspective

I’ve been a full time home inspector now for over 16 years and I’m still surprised by how often people make preventable mistakes when choosing a potential home to buy. The purpose of this article is to give potential homebuyers some ideas and guidelines to evaluate potential homes. Hopefully we can prevent some unpleasant surprises during your home inspection.

This in no way will replace a professional home inspection, but choosing the correct home from the start can save a lot of time, money and aggravation. Too many times I’ve inspected homes with major defects that could have been visible to even the untrained eye. What we’ll do here is cover some of the basics of evaluating the home from a structural and mechanical perspective. I want to stress again – this will NOT replace a professional home inspection, but may prevent you from entering into a purchase agreement on the wrong home.

Now I am not saying that a home that is less than perfect (aren’t they all?) cannot remain a candidate. It can, but having all the information you can gather up front can help you in your home buying decision. For example, let’s say you’ve narrowed it down to 2 homes. They are the same price, size, quality, age and neighborhood. Both homes are 18 years old. One has a new air conditioner, roof and water heater. The other has original everything. Which one is the best buy? I know the answer is obvious here on paper, but you’d be surprised how often home buyers never look at it from that perspective. We’ll attempt to change that here.

After you’ve chosen the potential school districts and neighborhoods, it’s time to start narrowing down the homes. This is a layman’s version of the process a good home inspector uses. It should help you narrow your decision down.

First we want to walk around the exterior twice. Once up close, then the second time farther away. The first walk around we will be looking for things like wood rot, unusual cracks in the exterior or anything out of the ordinary. Look closely at the windows and doors, roof overhang, gutters, etc. Look for water stains and damage on the soffit overhang. This often indicates roof leakage, especially with tile roofs.

On the second trip around the exterior we want to be far enough away to get a good look at the big picture. Does the home sit up high, or down low? Homes that sit high are ALWAYS preferable and the ground should slope away from the home. (I once did a home that was literally in the bottom of a deep bowl that extended ¼ mile in every direction. All water drained towards it which caused major water issues that were not practically correctable. The buyer had no choice but to walk away from the deal.) Look at the home’s roof line. Look for framing sags, look for shingles that curl or look worn. Look at the walls and make sure they are plumb and square. Take in the entire home scanning left to right, top to bottom. Look at the condition of the wall cladding and the entire exterior.

Next we’ll look at the mechanicals.

We’re not going to get too technical here, we just want to look at the general age and condition. The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system is one of the biggest concerns here. We’ll start with the air conditioner. They can usually be dated by looking at the serial number. This can usually be found on a metal plate fastened somewhere on the AC unit. They are usually easy to find, but on some Bryant/Carrier and other models you may have to get down on your hands and knees. Generally speaking the 3rd and 4th (sometimes the 2nd and 3rd) digits of the serial number are the year manufactured. With American Standard and Trane they have a place in the upper right corner of the rating plate that says “manufacture date”. It would be nice if all manufactures were like this. The information plates some manufacturers use are a typed label and they only last a year or two. If that’s the case, you won’t get any information off of it.

Air conditioners generally have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years. I know opinions vary widely on this, but I feel that’s a pretty accurate consensus. I’ve personally seen them last well over 25 years, but this is not the norm. You will want to turn on the AC and hear it run. Listen for any unusual noises. On the inside, just check for cool air coming from all registers. Your Home Inspector should do a more thorough check later. For now just note its age and condition. You should be aware that new efficiency standards came into effect January 2006 so the cost of replacement AC units will be going up significantly.

Now let’s look at the furnace/air handler. I recommend you observe it without opening anything on it. Leave that up to your home inspector. Look at its general condition and try to judge the age. Electric furnaces are commonly called air handlers, especially in warmer climates like Florida. Again, don’t open it, just look it over and judge its general appearance. Does it appear neglected, or well maintained?

Water heaters You can generally date water heaters the same way you date AC units. Look at the serial number on the rating plate and determine its age. With most brands it’s pretty easy to figure out, the major exception being the Bradford-White brand. Depending on a number of factors such as water hardness, water heaters will generally last from 8 to 12 years. Sometimes longer, but that’s a pretty accurate range. Fortunately a water heater will not break the bank when you need to replace it.

Kitchen The kitchen is fairly easy. Give a good look at the appliances and cabinets. Operate all doors and drawers, just be careful in case a door comes off in your hand. (Hey, it happens.) Operate the disposal and run water in the sink. Note the age and condition of the appliances. Your home inspector should to a more thorough inspection later.

Plumbing Run water in all the drains, flush the toilets with the seat lid open so you can observe the water flow. If there is a septic system you may want to run water for several minutes then check over the septic field for backup or a foul smell. Either could indicate a serious problem with the septic system. A serious note of caution here! Always watch drains closely when running water! I’ve never personally had a drain overflow, but I know of plenty of home inspectors that have.

Interiors Nothing complicated here. Operate doors and windows, look over walls and floors. If tile floors are present, look for cracked tiles and grout. Minor cracking is usually acceptable, major cracking or offset cracks will need further evaluation. Look over the ceilings for water stains. An important hint: Bring a flashlight and look at closet ceilings. Homeowners often forget to cover up water stains in closets.

Electrical Don’t get in over your head here. We simply want to operate all lights, and look at the main panel – NEVER remove the cover, simply open the door on its front. (Some still call the main panel a “fuse box”.) What size is the main breaker/disconnect? (It is often not inside the main panel, but near the electrical meter.) The most common sizes are 100, 150 and 200 amps. This will be printed on the main disconnect itself and tells you the size of your electrical service. I still see some older homes with 60 amp “fuse boxes”. If that is the case we need to budget about $2,000 for an upgrade.

Following these instructions will increase your odds of writing an offer on a home without major disappointments. After the offer is accepted by both sides, now you have to find a good home inspector.

A word to the wise on choosing a home inspector. As most any expert will tell you, check out a home inspector’s credentials closely. In many states (including Florida, my home state) home inspectors are not licensed or regulated in any meaningful way. MOST home inspector “certifications” out there are questionable, if not outright scams. They line the pockets of the certification mills and mislead consumers into a false sense of a home inspector’s competency. It’s truly very sad and one of these organizations is rather large.

Most attorneys and real estate experts will advise you to only hire an inspector that is a member of ASHI (www.ashi.org). There are also some state organizations that are very reputable. In Florida there’s FABI (www.fabi.org) in California there’s CREIA (creia.org) and Texas there’s TAREI (tarei.org). One other national organization worth noting is NAHI (nahi.org). Although their membership requirements are somewhat looser than ASHI’s it still is a quality organization worthy of consideration. Although there are more, those are the major organizations that are legitimate. When shopping for a home inspector, I strongly advise you accept nothing less than one of the best. Never take an inspector’s word on their membership claims. False claims of ASHI membership are extremely common. Always check it out on the organization’s web site listed above.

Bruce Lunsford is a Home Inspector based in the Naples, Fort Myers area of Florida. He has an engineering degree and has been a full time home inspector for over 16 years. He is a past statewide ASHI Chapter president and a member of both ASHI and FABI.
Able Home Inspection of Naples, Fort Myers

Copyright 2006, Bruce Lunsford. This article must be used in its entirety without modifications. Author must receive proper credit for writing it.

New Home Construction – The American Dream or The American Nightmare?

Buying a new home is suppose to be the American Dream. Unfortunately, for many buyers of newly constructed homes it becomes the American Nightmare. Hiring a qualified third party home inspector can increase you chance of a hassle free home.

One only has to visit sites like Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings (HADD)- http://www.hadd.com or Homeowners for Better Buildings (HOBB) – http://www.hobb.org to see how widespread shoddy construction is in the industry.

No area of the country is free from shoddy construction.

In my job as a Professional Home Inspector I talk to hundreds of people each year about new home construction. It still amazes me that many believe the city inspector will find every item wrong with a home. Nothing could be further from the truth!

A city inspector inspects for code violations. The building codes are the MINIMUM standards that a home should be built to. City code inspectors only inspect for safety and health issues as they relate to building. City inspectors do not inspect for the quality of workmanship! City building inspectors also have no liability. If your home falls down and hurts you the day after you move in, you can not go back and sue the building inspector because he missed code violations.

In Houston, the area I inspect in, the city building inspectors spend about 10 to 30 minutes in a home inspecting it. At the end of their “Inspection”, they will then place a green or orange 3×5 sticker at the front of the home. The Green sticker says you passed, the orange or red sticker says the home failed.

There is no way that a city building inspector can note all the discrepancies on a home on a 3×5 sticker!

The new trend is for builders to advertise that their homes have been inspected by a “Third Party Inspection Company.” This is like listening to a used car salesman say he had his mechanic check your used car out before you bought it.

If the company the builder hires becomes a nuisance by continuing to find problems, then a new company will be found who can inspect the homes the way the builder likes.

Wise and prudent home buyers will research their builder before deciding on one to go with.

They will also start doing their research on finding their own third party home inspector to inspect the home as it is being built.

What are some things you should look for in a home inspector?

To start with, not all home inspectors are created equal. Look for a home inspector that is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) – http://www.ashi.org. ASHI is the nations oldest and largest home inspection organization. They have strict membership requirements in place and not any ole inspector will be accepted.

Next, make sure the inspector you choose is Code Certified. Many areas of the country have now adopted the International Residential Code (IRC) as the model building code. Check with your local municipality to determine which model code they enforce and adjust your search likewise. You can find a Code Certified IRC Inspector by going to http://www.iccsafe.org.

Ask the inspectors on your narrowed down list for sample inspection reports. You’re looking for a home inspector who writes narrative type reports and who will include code numbers or the code itself when he finds them. I’d avoid inspectors who say they use an onsite “checklist” type of report.

Call or meet the inspector. You’re looking for someone who is knowledgeable and who can communicate well. If you talk to an inspector and have trouble understanding what he’s saying, it’s likely his report will be hard to understand as well.

Ask for references. Have the inspector send you several references and follow through checking them out.

Ask questions. Ask your inspector if he/she will come back out and re-inspect after the builder says all the repairs have been made. Some will, some won’t. Expect to have to pay for a re-inspection. Ask the inspector if he will communicate with the builder after the inspection if the builder has questions. Good inspectors will take the time to go over the report via phone or in person with the builder to ensure that all needed repairs are made.

As a home buying consumer, it’s your responsibility to ensure your home is built correctly. Not the builder, not the State, County or City. Hiring a qualified and reputable home inspector will go a long ways in helping you obtain a problem free home.

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What is a Home Inspection?

A home inspection is defined as an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a home, from the roof to the foundation.

In layman’s terms, having a home inspected is akin to giving it a physical check-up. If problems or symptoms are found, the inspector may recommend further evaluation.

As a home buyer/seller or real estate professional, you have a right to know exactly what a typical real estate inspection is. The following information should give you a better understanding of exactly what your inspector should (and should not) do for you during the course of a home inspection.

First and foremost, an inspection is a visual survey of those easily accessible areas that an inspector can clearly see. No destructive testing or dismantling is done during the course of an inspection, hence an inspector can only tell a client exactly what was clearly in evidence at the time and date of the inspection. The inspectors eyes are not any better than the buyers, except that the inspector is trained to look for specific tell-tale signs and clues that may lead to the discovery of actual or potential defects or deficiencies.

Inspectors base their inspections on the current industry standards provided to them by their professional societies. These Standards tell what the inspector will and can do, as well as what the inspector will not do. Many inspectors give a copy of the standards to their clients. If your inspector has not given you a copy, ask for one, or go to the American Home Inspector Directory and look for your home inspectors association.

The Industry Standards clearly spell out specific areas in which the inspector must identify various defects and deficiencies, as well as identifying the specific systems, components and items that are being inspected. There are many excluded areas noted in the standards that the inspector does not have to report on, for example; private water and sewer systems, solar systems, security systems, etc.

The inspector is not limited by the standards and if the inspector wishes to include additional inspection services (typically for an extra fee) then he/she may perform as many specific inspection procedures as the client may request. Some of these additional services may include wood-boring insect inspection, radon testing, or a variety of environmental testing, etc.

Most inspectors will not give definitive cost estimates for repairs and replacements since the costs can vary greatly from one contractor to another. Inspectors typically will tell clients to secure three reliable quotes from those contractors performing the type of repairs in question.

Life expectancies are another area that most inspectors try not to get involved in. Every system and component in a building will have a typical life expectancy. Some items and units may well exceed those expected life spans, while others may fail much sooner than anticipated. An inspector may indicate to a client, general life expectancies, but should never give exact time spans for the above noted reasons.

The average time for an inspection on a typical 3-bedroom home usually takes 2 to 4 hours, depending upon the number of bathrooms, kitchens, fireplaces, attics, etc., that have to be inspected. Inspections that take less than two hours typically are considered strictly cursory, “walk-through” inspections and provide the client with less information than a full inspection.

Many inspectors belong to national inspection organizations such as ISHI, ASHI, and NAHI. These national organizations provide guidelines for inspectors to perform their inspections.

All inspectors provide clients with reports. The least desirable type of report would be an oral report, as they do not protect the client, and leave the inspector open for misinterpretation and liability. Written reports are far more desirable, and come in a variety of styles and formats.

The following are some of the more common types of written reports:

1. Checklist with comments

2. Rating System with comments

3. Narrative report with either a checklist or rating system

4. Pure Narrative report

Four key areas of most home/building inspections cover the exterior, the basement or crawlspace areas, the attic or crawlspace areas and the living areas. Inspectors typically will spend sufficient time in all of these areas to visually look for a host of red flags, telltale clues and signs or defects and deficiencies. As the inspector completes a system, major component or area, he/she will then discuss the findings with the clients, noting both the positive and negative features.

The inspected areas of a home/building will consist of all of the major visible and accessible electro-mechanical systems as well as the major visible and accessible structural systems and components of a building as they appeared and functioned at the time and date of the inspection.

To locate a home inspector near you go to the American Home Inspector Directory a national database of home inspectors. Their directory list home inspection companies by state or zip code. Search for you home inspector is free. They have members from ASHI, NAHI. ISHA and independent inspection organizations.