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    What to Expect When You’re Inspecting

    BT052914-ONLINE-4I attend as many of my clients’ home inspections as possible. One reason is that I care. The other reason is to learn the basic things to look for prior to writ­ing an offer. Each inspection turns up something new, sometimes exciting and sometimes horrifying.

    Just recently, I was at a home inspection with a client for a property she was in contract to purchase. We were standing at the entrance to the crawlspace waiting for the verdict from the home inspector. It went something like this:

    “How does it look down there? Does the foundation look OK?” I called.

    From deep within the bowel of the 100-year-old house, the inspector re­plied, “Well, how does this look?” as he chucked a fist-sized chunk of foundation in our direction. It was slightly firmer than sushi rice that had been left in the refrigerator overnight. While the client got her deposit back, she still was out the inspection fees and time lost in her home search. There’s got to be a better way!

    The lesson to learn is that there are a few key things to check out when you’re open housing (inspecting) to make sure you don’t waste your time and inspection fees on a place that will ultimately be a soul-sucking, bank-draining, marriage-ending lemon. Just remember this mne­monic: FERP (Foundation, Electrical, Roof and Plumbing).

    Foundations are tires to never leave un-kicked. Carry two tools with you when you go out open housing: a small screw­driver and a flashlight. Use the screw­driver to tap around different parts of the foundation. Look for loose, flakey or squishy concrete. This is a major red flag. If you can’t bolt to the foundation, it won’t be any good in an earthquake. You can also use the screwdriver to very lightly tap on the wood trim and fram­ing around the house to see if you can detect areas of squishy wood.

    Use the flashlight to look deep into crawl­spaces. Check for bolts, sheer panels and other seismic upgrades because they are very expensive to do yourself. Also, look to see that there isn’t a big stretch of brick foundation that you couldn’t see from the outside of the property. Look for signs of moisture in the subareas as well as this can be caused by poor drainage.

    Electrical

    Electricity is everyone’s favorite miracle that can also burn down your house. Fun! It’s also no fun when your electrical system is constantly shorting out because you are trying to dry your hair, micro­wave your coffee, and charge your Tesla at the same time.

    Here is a fast check that I always do:

    Find the electrical panel on the exterior of the house. Does it look like it was in­stalled after 1985? Awesome! At least one of the previous owners realized that the glory days of the fuse were over. Check interior subpanels as well, because they are usually good signs that the electrical isn’t totally horrible.

    Roof

    Roofs or, as I like to call them, “House Crowns,” are not an end-of-the-world expense to replace. However, a neglect­ed roof could have been letting in mois­ture for some time causing all manner of ickiness. Step back away from the house, a little farther, almost there… got it! See how it looks like the roof is waving like a lake on a windy day? Yeah, that prob­ably means that roof has two or more roofs underneath. Ironically, three roofs are not better than one.

    Plumbing

    Ask a pal to help you by turning on two or more faucets at the same time to see how that affects pressure. Remember the “dreaded toilet flush while shower­ing” trick? That doesn’t happen with modern plumbing. Look at the pipes too. Galvanized pipes are not good. If there are galvanized pipes in the house you are considering, they are old. Very old. Like, Nixon/Kennedy old, at least. They will be all rusty inside and will need to be replaced sooner or later.

    Heating makes an honorable mention here. Is there a floor furnace? Is there a steam-punk inspired monster in the basement that looks like it’s from the set of a Buck Roger’s serial from 1939? That’s going to lead to another sizeable expense.

    These items on their own are not neces­sarily deal breakers. They just cost mon­ey to fix. You want to make sure that you have some idea of what you’re getting in to, so that you’re not in too far over your FERP. Happy hunting!

    Taylor Sublett, a life-long Bay Area resident who now resides in the East Bay, has been selling residential real estate since 2007. He was top producer of his office for 2013 and is a tough, but fair, negotiator who likes to work out solutions that make for win-win situations. Find out by contacting him at taylor.sublett@sothebysrealty.com or 510-301-9569.