BY SHANNON MONEO
That Greater Victoria continues to have a hot real estate market is not news. What is somewhat notable is that even when people are willing to lay down $1-million plus for a house or $500,000 for a condo, the majority of buyers bypass home inspections. Often caught in fast-paced bidding wars, they’re worried an inspection will take too long and lead to a lost purchase.
Roxanne Brass offers an unvarnished message: “They’ve completely forgotten about common sense,” says the RE/MAX Camosun realtor. “They’re caught in a frenzy and that frenzy causes them to make silly decisions. Every home should be inspected.”
That includes the luxury, custom-built mansion in Uplands, the just-renovated condo and even brand-new properties, advises Brass, who has 17 years of realty experience. An example: if wet lumber was used or the rooftop vents weren’t opened, a new attic could be a mold factory. And while the appeal of the stunning new kitchen or bathroom renovation can’t be denied, the granite and glam may be distractions from dangerous electrical work or failing perimeter drains.
In today’s fast-paced market, where multiple offers on one property are the norm and unconditional offers (an offer with no conditions pending, such as “subject to” a home inspection or “subject to” financing) are commonplace, trouble lurks on the dotted line, notes Sophia Briggs, a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty.
“It’s a very dangerous market,” she says. “When there are ten bids on a house, it’s tough to slow it down. Buyers, after losing three or four times, will overbid and go unconditional.” If problems surface, perhaps a month or a year after purchase, the home’s value can plummet — and lawsuits may follow.
Closing the Deal
With 12 years of realtor experience, Briggs recalls a first-time buyer who bought a condo without doing a home inspection. Not long after moving in, he was faced with a $47,000 bill for window replacements.
“He didn’t think of the big picture,” she notes. Brass also deals with tunnel-vision clients. “When you go into a condo, it’s not just the unit,” she says. “It’s the whole building … the roof, the building envelope.”
While pressure is on to close the deal, Brass and Briggs can usually get an inspection done the same day or within 24 hours of an offer being made. Russell Cass is one such inspector. Owner of HomeCheck, he’s been doing home inspections in Victoria for 19 years. A certified property inspector, carpenter, technician and appraiser, Cass likens himself to a building scientist who can enter a structure and diagnose problems, be they on paper, the roof or crawl space.
“People generally put their head in the sand,” he says. “They believe problems are easily fixed or instead of replacing a feature like a worn roof, they think they’ll sell the house in a few years and leave it to the unsuspecting new owner.”
When it comes to condos, a few documents are vital: the depreciation report, the strata’s financial report and annual general meeting minutes, Cass says. Using the three records, Cass can uncover future problems and provide a blueprint for necessary spending. For example, a condo with a $25-per-month strata fee, or faulty elevators, indicate red flags. After combing through several hundred pages of paperwork, an onerous task most buyers ignore, Cass inspects the condo and whole building.
His method, be it a condo or house, follows a well-honed system.
“I walk in the front door, turn right, and go through the house. I go on the roof. I walk the exterior. I go through everything.” Cass will check decks’ structural posts for rot, use an instrument to test electrical receptacles or discover if the basement had flooded.
Brass and Cass have worked together for several years and Brass makes a point to attend the walk-through, often with the client. “A lot of agents don’t go, but you need the knowledge,” she says. The insider information allows her to advise that knob and tube wiring aren’t insurable or the extra electrical panel could indicate a grow-op existed.
For detached homes, depreciation reports don’t exist, but that doesn’t mean a home inspector is appreciated. “We’re trained to see things that people aren’t trained to see,” says Marty Erletz, an accredited home inspector. “It’s shocking how many people don’t think about home inspections.”
The DIY Conundrum
In fact, the home inspection business hasn’t paralleled home sales. The Victoria franchise owner of Pillar To Post home inspectors, Erletz says his 2017 business was down “significantly” from 2016. And while 2018 is picking up, buyers continue to make ill-advised choices in the precipitous market.
Since his start in 2005, Erletz has completed 6,000 home inspections. Like Cass, he uses a system when inspecting. First are three trips for the outside, focussed on the landscaping, windows/trim and roof. Inside, the home’s major components are examined: attic, electrical, plumbing, heating, doors and windows. While some think the bedrooms and kitchens are important, to Erletz the essentials are the attic, crawl space and perimeter drains.
One of the leading causes for home problems are bad renovations, either done by the homeowner or poorly-skilled tradespeople. The troublesome trend of people watching do-it-yourself TV shows has fuelled the debacle, Erletz says.
His 1,600-point inspection report takes Erletz about three hours to prepare for a 2,500-square-foot home. Carrying a laptop, he compiles the document as he walks through the property. His analysis, which uses photos, identifies problems, states what will happen if they aren’t fixed and recommends how problems should be dealt with. “But I can’t say, ‘Don’t buy this house.’ We have to remain impartial,” Erletz says.
The Bottom Line
Report costs vary. A basic home inspection is around $500 but can be less for a condo and more for a huge house. Yet some homebuyers are willing to spend 1,000 times that and be saddled with a huge mortgage, but don’t do a home inspection. Briggs has seen buyers walk away from a sale after the inspection found mould in the attic. The $600 cost saved them thousands, she says.
Erletz breaks buyers into two types. One group walks away from a home if they discover small problems like moisture by the toilet while others buy with their hearts, not their minds, falling in love with a home’s cosmetic features and ignoring or downplaying potential repairs.
“When the market wasn’t hot, home inspections were done 95 per cent of the time,” Briggs recalls. “We never recommend not to do it. Some buyers pay for three or four. Others don’t want to bear the cost. They think they can fix problems.”
Imagine purchasing an expensive sports car without having a mechanic look under the hood — that’s kind of what it’s like to buy a condo or house and forgo a home inspection. A house can look good, with fresh paint and staging, but you don’t know what’s going on behind the walls. Getting that home inspection can save you a major headache — and major money — down
TOP INSPECTION POINTS
Here are a few key things your home inspector should be checking and why:
The grounds: When inspecting the property around the house, elements of interest are the lot grading, the drain tile system and the foundation. Any buildup of water, especially in this wet B.C. climate, can escalate quickly. An inspector may uncover evidence of previous water damage in the basement. Inspecting the walls, ceiling and any exposed parts of the foundation for cracks is an important part of a proper home inspection. The condition of the driveway, sidewalk, fences, trim, lights and exterior receptacles should be checked in case anything needs to be resealed or repaired.
The exterior: All exterior openings, including the windows, door and vents of the home should be inspected to make sure they are properly sealed and in good condition. Porches, decks and exterior stairs and walls, along with any handrails, should be checked for wear and tear.
The roof: The roof can be a particular area of concern, given the wet West Coast weather. Areas that should be inspected include flashings, gutters, shingles and downspouts. Chimneys and skylights should be checked to make sure no moisture is seeping into the home.
The attic: Along with the roof framing, an inspector should check the attic, ventilation, insulation and roof sheathing. A properly ventilated and insulated attic will help keep energy costs down.
The electrical system: Electrical issues can be dangerous to occupants, so the electrical components and systems need to be inspected for safety, as well as working condition. Some major electrical components are also a source of heat and should be properly vented with exhaust fans.
Heating and cooling: The components to be inspected depend on the type of system, which could be a furnace, boiler, air handler or electric baseboard in the case of heating.
Other components and systems that should be inspected include cooling systems, hot water tanks, tankless water heaters and sprinklers.