Home Inspector or Detective?

search and inspection of the houseBeing a Home Inspector, I often feel like a Detective. Seller’s disclosure forms don’t always tell the whole picture; it’s a nice idea but, frankly, sometimes these forms aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. For instance, inspecting a home yesterday, the Seller disclosed that the roof had never leaked and that there weren’t any drainage issues with the property. The house was, after all, an otherwise clean home; so apparently clean, in fact, that the experienced Realtor had to insist on a home inspection, paying for it herself, as the clients felt it was totally unnecessary.
Unfortunately, two major issues came to light on this inspection. First, the torch down roof was in marginal-to-poor condition. The Seller-Contractor argued with my assessment, to which I simply told him I’m recommending further evaluation by a qualified roofing contractor; “alligatoring,” or cracking, was presenting in several areas of the roof surface. Plus, there were ceiling water stains noted in several areas; I probed these with my moisture meter and they were DRY. The Seller told me those were there before he bought the home 10 years ago. OK, still recommending further evaluation to be safe.

Fortunately, the Seller had to go to work, so I could resume the inspection. This property was a rental and, as luck would have it, the Renter was present. I asked the Renter if there was anything he wanted to share about the home. He was VERY hesitant, and worried about the Landlord potentially suing him for saying anything (I was now VERY curious!). I told him he didn’t have to share anything and if he did, his comments would remain strictly confidential. Then, he opened up and told me the roof had been a CONSTANT problem in the five years he’d been renting. The Landlord had to patch the roof on numerous occasions, and they had repainted the interior three times in as many years. Quite a hassle for the Renter. And, this was a closed roof system (i.e. unventilated), so issues with entrapped moisture could very well be present. So much for the Seller’s disclosure form.

I finally ventured into the crawl space. Nice and dry, BUT…. something was wrong. Sediment deposits were present on almost all of the black plastic vapor barrier. This shows as a film of white or light brown silt on the black plastic barrier and is evidence of previous standing water. I then looked at the foundation walls and, lo and behold, there was clear water staining running the entire perimeter of the foundation interior! The water stains ran about 20 inches up the foundation wall. This was evidence of what appeared to be flooding of the crawl space. Here in the Pacific Northwest especially, wet crawl spaces are frowned upon; elevated moisture can lead to structural damage from wood destroying organisms (WDOs) and can undermine the foundation itself, amongst other issues. Fortunately, no WDOs or structural damage, but this is a major issue that needs to be resolved before it becomes a big problem for the homeowner. Sometimes, simply ensuring that gutter downspouts are directed well away from the foundation can solve this issue. Other times, more expensive measures (such as improved lot drainage or the installation of a sump pump) are necessary. Ultimately, you should never see standing water in the crawl space; if you do, take measures to get rid of it forthwith!
So, the lesson from this post is to hire a good home inspector detective, or Home Detective! One who is truly experienced, has a keen eye, and UNDERSTANDS the home as a system. Doing so, even if the home seems “clean as a bell,” will at the very least put your mind at rest that your home is in great condition, as judged by an experienced, unbiased third party. In fact, I ALWAYS get a home inspection when I buy a home. And, I NEVER do the inspection myself! Why? I’m too emotional about the home (I LOVE IT and am not looking with a critical eye). The prudent decision is to order the home inspection and make a truly informed decision. Understand, up front, what you’re buying. Makes all the sense in the world to me.

For this home, three roofing contractors said the roof had to be replaced (bids ranged from $18K-$22K). The drainage issue in the crawl space was another $7K. In this particular inspection, the clients were so impressed with the inspection, and their Realtor, that they insisted on paying for the inspection themselves.

Tim M. Hance
Board Certified Master Home Inspector, “Inspected Once, Inspected Right!”
(360) 298-1163