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10 Questions for . . . Peter M. Christopher, Home Inspector
In this installment of 10 Questions for . . ., Associate Editor Gian Trotta speaks with Peter M. Christopher, of Fairfield, Connecticut-based Fairfield Home Inspections LLC. Here's his take on the common problems that can make foreclosures, fixer-uppers, and even apparently well-maintained homes a very bad investment and what you should look for in a home inspection.
What problems in a home should raise flags for a potential buyer? There are two things that make me recommend against someone buying a home. Mold is one; look for stains and spots on ceilings, especially in closets, and around attic beams. Mold removal can be very costly and the chances of getting rid of all of it are slim to none. Hidden in-ground oil tanks are another big problem. If I find any evidence of one, I tell my client to have the homeowner show the paperwork from the removal. If a tank has leaked oil into the soil, it can cost you up to $100,000 to deal with the problem.
Also, if the house is in disarray, that's always a bad sign; sloppy people put a bigger strain on systems.
Are there any risks in buying a foreclosed home? Buying foreclosed houses is always more risky. People who have lost or are losing their homes become sloppy and lose the incentive to maintain it. Plumbing is one of the biggest problems I have found in foreclosed homes. Either the pipes are damaged from not being winterized or the seals have gone bad due to lack of use. Keep in mind that a bank will not fix anything in a foreclosed home. The sale is "as is," and some banks will not allow a home inspection.
In older homes, what kind of structural problems do you often see? In 19th-century homes, the support posts are embedded in dirt, and termites have usually gotten into them. Frayed electrical wires and ungrounded two-prong outlets are also problems in older homes.
Do some new home face problems because they were built too tightly? The two worst things for a home are a lack of ventilation and moisture intrusion. If a home cannot breathe, it will rot out, and that's why mold is very common in newer homes. Also, homes that were built with wet, damp lumber can contribute to mold growth later.
Any special advice for heating and ventilation systems? At this time, any central-air-conditioning system that needs repairs will have to be updated to a system that uses Puron as the refrigerant. As of 2010 you will not be able to repair or replace a system that uses R22 as a refrigerant.
What's the worst house you've ever inspected? I can't think of just one-but some of the memories have been really bad. I've been in homes were I got bug bites all over me. I've been in basements that have been converted into illegal apartment where 10 immigrants were living like animals. I've seen electrical outlets installed inside the shower stall (shown). I've been in homes used to cook crystal meth. And I've seen main beams removed to install garage-door openers.
Have there been some nice houses to balance these horrors? The best house I recall inspecting was one I was involved with while it was being built. The client would have me come in every two to three weeks to inspect and make suggestions on what was going on.
What questions should a homeowner ask of a home-inspection service? Most buyers call and ask the price, but that should be the last question. They first should ask: How long have you been inspecting homes? Are you licensed by the state or are you an intern? Are you a full-time or a part-time inspector and how many homes do you inspect a year?
Part-timers cannot give you the necessary level of service. Oftentimes, they're builders, so your project has to flex around their other jobs. Other part-timers are doing inspections just to keep their licenses valid.
A wise client will ask what is and isn't should be covered; I keep a list on my Web site for folks to reference. Attorneys and mortgage brokers are also good sources for recommendations. They're usually very careful about who they endorse as they have a vested stake in a good outcome to the buying process.
(Each state sets minimum standards for what an inspection should cover. Both the American Society of Home Inspectors, ASHI, and the National Association of Home Inspectors, NAHI, list their standards of practice for home inspections and offer help finding inspectors on their Web sites. Note that because they list only inspectors who are members of their associations, so you're not getting a comprehensive list of all the inspectors in your area.)
What does a home inspection cost? Price vary across the U.S., depending on the general cost of living that affects the inspector's overhead. An inspector based in a wealthy Connecticut suburb might charge $435, one from a nearby blue-collar town will charge $350, and a guy from a rural area an hour away might charge $265. For a 1,300-square-foot home, you are looking at an inspection time of about two hours, an hour to compile the report, and travel time for at least one return visit. That's a total of five hours.
What will a good inspection cover and what will a good inspection report contain? It is best if the clients are on site at the time of inspection. This greatly helps them understand what I am talking about and understand the references in the report. I like to inspect a specific section or a room in the house and then bring the clients in and explain what is going on.
I do not like it when inspectors give reports on site. I never claim to know everything, and if I see something I do not know about I can do some research on it before writing a report. Accessibility is key to a good report. It should be Web-based without requiring a download and easy to understand, and should contain clear photos that clearly indicate problems.
What would you say to someone contemplating a career as a home inspector? Licensing and certification requirements vary from state to state; again, you'll find a list of them on the ASHI and NAHI Web sites. But in Connecticut, you need to have a pocketful of money. You will have to do 100 inspections as an intern while paying a supervisor an average of $100-and the supervisor also pockets the inspection fee. This can take years if your supervisor has a slow workload. But even before that, you will need to find a supervisor. This is almost impossible since no one want to train their competition. But I was fortunate to find an inspector who let me do the inspections free of charge.
You will also need to attend classes and pass two state tests. You also will run into franchises making false claims to get you your license and associations trying to get you to join their group by making the same false claims.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.