When Staircases Are Lemons

Home Inspector with Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC 3380-000723

When staircases are lemons.

From my Oxford Dictionary of English -

Lemon - informal - an unsatisfactory or feeble person or thing.

In this 21 year old townhouse, three levels, when walking up and down the staircases, all of them, that is ALL OF THEM, bounced, sagged, squeaked and felt unstable.  Some bouncing was dramatic!

The only place I could see the structural components was in the small crawl space under the lowest staircase.

And it was revealing!

It was apparent that many repairs had been done over the years to try to correct this issue.

You can see from the red arrows:

-->  Separations, shown on the left.

-->  Drywall screws used to "shore things up."  Drywall screws are not strong enough for this application.

-->  Nails used to "correct" bouncing and sagging.  As I said, some of the bouncing was very pronounced.

Of course nothing has worked.

My client, an investor who trusts me, and the agent who has referred me for many years, both saw what I was referring to.

The house was being sold "as is."  Usually that means the seller knows of things that there is unwillingness to repair.  This issue alone was enough to turn the investor off.  He is not interested in inheriting a potential risk.  In my opinion, and his, this problem is dangerous.

What did he imagine?  A heavy tenant, adding to his weight by carrying something heavy up the stairs, and having one or two collapse under him.  How fun! 

What a phone call that would be, to the property manager or to my client, the homeowner.

Do we have a big, balloon, liability insurance policy?

And both the Realtor and I pointed out that one day he would be selling the house and at that time the buyer might want proper repairs done to all the staircases.  That could be very expensive, with drywall removal, carpentry, possible replacement of staircases, and the rest.

My recommendation:  sometimes it is one thing, and only one thing, that can turn a buyer off.  And this was the one thing in this house!  My client moved on.  We are scheduled for another inspection later this week.  It pays to trust your home inspector to evaluate, inform, educate and warn.  Sometimes there are no issues!  And sometimes there are.  And observing and reporting THAT is the objective of a home inspection.



Posted by

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comments (15)

Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Wow, what a mess under those stairs. Bouncy stairs are never a good sign!

Aug 15, 2017 03:15 AM
Randy Hilman REALTOR® Associate Broker
Randy Hilman Homes in partnership with Bean Group - Moultonborough, NH
Guide & Mentor to Home Buyers & Sellers

Sometimes it is best to walk away Jay Markanich .  As we like to say in my neck of the woods, "nothing is a problem until you have one".  Thanks for the post.

Aug 15, 2017 03:37 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

This is great information to share with prospective home buyers.

Aug 15, 2017 04:00 AM
Wayne Martin
Wayne M Martin - Chicago, IL
Real Estate Broker - Retired

Good morning Jay. The buyer was wise to walk away from those stairs. Enjoy  your day!

Aug 15, 2017 04:30 AM
Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI
HomeSmart Realty West - Carlsbad, CA
Presence, Persistence & Perseverance

I think we have all been in homes where the risers or treads and not scaled properly; that is just one of the many design defects stairs can hold, and the defects you pointed out would be intimidating for many. Someone is going to have to correct these problems and most likely it will be the seller.

Aug 15, 2017 04:53 AM
Barbara Todaro
RE/MAX Executive Realty - Happily Retired - Franklin, MA
Previously Affiliated with The Todaro Team

Good morning, Jay Markanich well, that's a horror show but it's fixable.... make sure the framer is not hungover ....

Aug 15, 2017 06:02 AM
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Jay. You are the go to guy for finding problems apparent or hidden. Scary stuff here.

Aug 15, 2017 06:48 AM
Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

That's why we get paid the.... mediocre bucks! When one of your clients walks, and uses you again, you indeed saved them from a possible catastrophe... it's a good feeling!

Aug 15, 2017 07:50 AM
Joe Pryor
The Virtual Real Estate Team - Oklahoma City, OK
REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties

Something like that should be a red flag to a buyer that the property has not been properly maintained and repaired.

Aug 15, 2017 07:59 AM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

They were frightful, Kat!  And none of us was very heavy.  Those stairs are an accident waiting to happen.

Randy - it didn't take this buyer long to decide that.  Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and home buying!

It is, Roy, thanks.

After walking on them, Wayne!  But only once.  Nobody wanted to take them on a second time.

Aug 15, 2017 08:37 AM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

S&N - if she wants to sell the house.  A little play in the stairs is normal, but not the kind we find there.

Barbara - sure, it's fixable.  But my investor buyer wasn't interested in that unknown expense when there are other fish to fry out there.

Sheila - this one was hard to miss!  When the realtor arrived he came downstairs and met me and asked if I noticed "those stairs"...!

Fred - I expect that repairs to those fellows was more than mediocre bucks.

Joe - who knows?  Those stairs may have been like that for a long time.  A single lady lives there, and maybe not very heavy.

Aug 15, 2017 08:41 AM
Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

It is good that your investor has you looking out for him "Every Step of the Way".

Aug 15, 2017 01:25 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Jay- And this is why every buyer needs a qualified home inspector! Yes, you may have felt some give when walking on them in the first viewing, or you may have heard a squeak but you need an inspector to find out what's truly going on. 

Aug 15, 2017 06:40 PM
Stephen Weakley
Nationwide Mortgage Services - Rockville, MD

Well done Jay.  I can only imagine the money and legal exposure you just averted for your client.  Sadly, someone will come along and purchase this property and inherit the issue.  Keep up the good work!

Aug 15, 2017 07:03 PM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Good one, Belinda!  And thanks.

Kathy - it was more than a little!  But I was glad we could get into the crawl space underneath to see it.  Sometimes they are so jammed with stuff that it's not possible to see much.

Thanks Stephen.  I find investors to be more risk averse than other buyers.  And necessarily.  And some people might think it normal!  No one present at the inspection weighed that much - I was probably the heaviest at 215.  And still, everyone noticed.  Plus, in the kitchen, my Red Devil Shooter marble rolled all the way from the entry door to the middle of the floor.  That's always an object lesson!


Aug 16, 2017 12:55 AM