You Can't Ignore The Basic Infrustructure of a House

Real Estate Agent with Coldwell Banker Residential

Going in and out of houses all the time, I frequently see situations where owners and rehabers have ignored the basic infrastructure of the house in favor of glitzy finish-out.  I see old, multi-layer roofs on houses with recent granite counters and new wood-veneer floors.  It makes me nutz.  pretty pig

Do you know the expression "lipstick on a pig"?  All the hairbows and makeup in the world won't change the fact that they are being worn by a pig.  Where it may make the pig a better party guest, it doesn't change the taste of the bacon at all.

I have been watching a bit of Canadian TV currently showing on HGTV, "Leave It To Bryan".  The premise of the show is that people frequently don't see the very real structural problems present in their homes.  They just focus on wanting some superficial change in the finishes.  The "star" of the show,  Bryan Baeumler, believes that our urban housing inventory is a ticking timebomb.  On his show, homeowners are convinced that the key to happiness is some fairly superficial change such as converting a closet to a bathroom.  Then they are shocked when Brian  detects and decides to fix a really major structural problem such as water-logged basement walls.  It really is a great show.

There are five basic structural systems for a house: foundation, roof, heating/cooling, electrical and plumbing.  Usually if there are problems, those problems are obvious.  And, even if those problems aren't immediately obvious to the average home owner or home buyer, they are obvious to anyone such as a home inspector or general contractor.  As a home owner, if you don't have confidence in your ability to spot those problems, develop a relationship with a reliable handi-person or contractor.  Have them come over periodically and look around for you.  Ask them to see if there is anything they think should be investigated or fixed.  Even if they don't find anything, pay them for their time.  You are getting the benefit of their years of experience and insight.  If they refuse to let you press folding green money into their hand as they are walking out the door, mail them a nice gift card to a local steak house.  You want them to be motivated to come look at your house again in a year or two!  The fact that they didn't find anything to fix tells you things about them as well as the house.  You want to hang onto their business card.

Even if you are good at spotting things, you won't catch them all.  Last weekend, we tore out some sheetrock in my condo.  We discovered a small leak inside the walls.  There was no way to have spotted that problem until it became a much bigger problem.  That won't happen now because it has been fixed.  The point I am trying to make is that even people with lots and lots of experience will periodically miss things.  That is why home buyers really need to have a licensed home inspector come and check out the home they are buying.  It is their job to spot situations that need to be investigated.

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Wayne Bennett
One Home Team Realty/Charlotte,NC 704-293-3931 - Charlotte, NC
Real Estate...As It Should Be

Great points...I see this everyday in my market.  You mentioned a leak in your walls, a licensed home inspector would not have been able to detect a leak behind a wall until it got worse like you mentioned and started to cause mildew/ mold problems later on.  Good thing you caught it

Sep 08, 2012 04:23 AM #3
Judith Abbott
Coldwell Banker Residential - Dallas, TX

Wayne, it wasn't just a leak, it was an EXOTIC leak.    From where it was coming, it had to be something to do with the air conditioner.  It wasn't plumbing.  And for a number of reasons, I knew it wasn't the roof either.  I figured that it had to do with something wrong with the condensate pan which was inches away from where I saw the water.

So, I called my AC person.  Then he and I got to stand there, scratching our heads, trying to figure out what on earth was causing the problem.  He kept saying that it wasn't X or Y and I kept saying yes, but I saw WET WATER on the framing elements and the electrical switch and it has to be FIXED!!!!!

It turned out that it was condensate on the uninsulated part of a freon line running from the condensing unit on the roof of my two-story condo to the air-handler in the ground floor condo below me.  I haven't had a chance to tell my downstairs neighbor yet, but he has newly installed insulation on his freon line. 

I love this stuff.....

Sep 08, 2012 04:39 AM #4
Donald Reich
Prudential Centennial - New Rochelle, NY

Judith, you bourght up some great points. Thank you for the reminder of something so basic, but often overlooked!

Sep 08, 2012 05:33 AM #5
Monique Keith
Ahwatukee, AZ
Ahwatukeenulls Favorite Realtor, Buyers Agent with

Sounds like another show I'll need to record on the DVR. Thanks for the article!

Sep 08, 2012 06:15 AM #6
Judith Abbott
Coldwell Banker Residential - Dallas, TX

Monique, the gemmick the "Leave it to Brian" show has to offer is that the homeowners give him a budget and then HE makes the decision about what gets fixed in the house.  The homeowners come home, expecting to see him working on updating the kitchen or a bath or some such and there he is, wide grin on his face, standing in the wreckage of what used to be their front porch.  Oh Man.  Oh Golly.  Can you imagine?  I don't know that I would be able to do that.....He has always been able to leave the home owner happy...but, I am tempted to write them and ask about the shows that don't make it to the air.....

Sep 08, 2012 06:29 AM #7
Bruno & Noel Tarquinii
Bowie, MD

Nice take on structural problems Judith. It is really important for homeowners to have keen eyes on problems as you have discussed, especially if they are planning to have their properties sold.

Sep 08, 2012 10:21 AM #8
Debbie Cook
Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc - Silver Spring, MD
Silver Spring and Takoma Park Maryland Real Estate

I've watched that show too.  The guy always opens up places that are a big can of worms.  I wondered if they pick the houses that will probably have the problems to showcase on TV.

Sep 08, 2012 10:52 AM #9
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

I have not seen that show,but it sounds like there is a lot that can be learned.  I think you hit the nail on the head with this quote "buyers really need to have a licensed home inspector come and check out the home they are buying.  It is their job to spot situations that need to be investigated."

Sep 08, 2012 12:25 PM #10
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Judith - your use of the word infrastructure is a good word!  It is seldom used in the context of a house, mostly when referring to roads and such.  A house is a system, with all of it combining to make for a comfortable space.  People forget that when they want to do things, not realizing that those things might negatively affect other aspects of the house.

Sep 08, 2012 09:24 PM #11
Gita Bantwal
RE/MAX Centre Realtors - Warwick, PA
REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel

I have not heard of the show. It sounds interesting.

Sep 08, 2012 09:32 PM #12
Harry F. D'Elia
Real Estate and Beyond, LLC - Phoenix, AZ
Investor , Mentor, GRI, Radio, CIPS, REOs, ABR

A house cannot go ignored for too long or things start happening to the home.

Sep 08, 2012 11:33 PM #13
Michael Setunsky
Woodbridge, VA
Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA

Judith, this is a very good point. Everything starts with a solid foundation. Home inspections are an important aspect of making sure the foundation is solid.

Sep 08, 2012 11:41 PM #14
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

Having a set of eyes that specialize in a field of practice is worth the price for their services. You do get what you pay for

Sep 09, 2012 12:20 AM #15
John J. Woods
Aardvark Appraisals - Palm Desert, CA


   In the '20's and '30's, wealthy people from back east would come out to the So. Cal. beaches for a couple of weeks during the summer and frequently would buy a lot and 'build' a cabana or one-room structure in order to get out of the sun for awhile without the cost of an hotel.  With more visits would come more 'building', frequently with 'found' building materials or scrap from local lumber yards.

  Back when I was remodeling/adding on & building custom homes in that area I would often run across the most unusual construction 'methods' you could imagine.  I was asked to put a third floor (for the ocean view) on a two-story house in Redondo Beach at one time.  The center main bearing wall in the house was to be the center main bearing wall for the third floor as well.  Had we not torn the plaster off of one side of that wall on the (raised foundation) first floor we would not have discovered that the 'studs' were not full-length studs at all, but were cobbled-together old, full-size 2x4 'shorts' (2' - 4' long) that had been nailed together in alternating fashion without any ends actually being stacked in contact with other ends (no load-bearing).  Even if these blocks were stacked, uninterrupted by spaces, it would not have been acceptable construction, but this 'method' relied on the shear value of the nails and support of the plaster entirely and the house had had a second floor on it for many, many years.

   This appeared to be one of the original walls of this 'cottage' that was built before the city was incorporated and before inspection/approvals were done in that area.  The house became 'grandfathered in' and, as the real estate became more valuable, was added onto and remodeled over the years.  Not something a licensed home inspector would ever have occasion to detect without actually seeing inside the walls.  Less lipstick and more a boob job...


Sep 09, 2012 02:32 AM #16
Judith Abbott
Coldwell Banker Residential - Dallas, TX

Wow, John, I love these kinds of stories.  Thanks for sharing.

One of the houses that I lived in as a child had been built by a college professor during WWII out of salvaged materials.  When we would open up the walls of that house, we always found starange things.  The strangest was the wall built out of stacked fruit boxes.

Sep 09, 2012 03:18 AM #17
Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573
Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker

Great show and very helpful!

Sep 09, 2012 05:42 AM #18
Bruce Kunz
C21 Solid Gold Realty, Brick, NJ, 732-920-2100 - Howell, NJ
REALTORĀ®, Brick & Howell NJ Homes for Sale

Hi Judith. I've not yet seen this show with Brian, but I have seen him on others and he seems like a thorough person. Not only do buyers need to have a licensed inspector review their home, I recommend sellers have an inspection when the home is listed to eliminate surprises later.
Excellent post!


Sep 09, 2012 12:47 PM #19
Judith Abbott
Coldwell Banker Residential - Dallas, TX

Bruce, I had to Google Bryan to find out that he had other shows.  I knew there had to be others because I just couldn't imagine people blindly turning over their home improvement budget to a totally unknown TV personality. 

The thing I like about Bryan is that he doesn't play the shame/blame game the way that another TV-personality home inspector does.  When Bryan finds something wrong, he just wants to get it fixed.  About the worst thing Bryan does is make funny faces when the home owners bungle trying to DIY something with his supervision. The point he makes is that most Home Improvement jobs requires skilled labor...kindda sortta like buying or selling a house...and DIY usually isn't all that good an idea.

That other TV home inspector makes it sound as if everyone in the business is an incompetent crook.  That shame/blame finger pointing doesn't get things fixed.  It just irritates me.

Sep 10, 2012 01:12 AM #20
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Judith-- thank you for bringing up this concept of the infrastructure of the home.  We once ran into situation where there was leak in a pipe in wall, because someone tried to nail something to the wall, and missed the stud, hitting the pipe instead.

Sep 10, 2012 04:58 AM #21
Judith Abbott
Coldwell Banker Residential - Dallas, TX

Oh man, Steven, it happens.  Yes it does!

Sep 10, 2012 05:16 AM #22
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