Buyers should look for the construction features that wow home inspectors

 Tom Corbett

Over the years, I’ve talked at great length about the problems that arise when developers cut corners or settle for sloppy workmanship. This month, I’ve decided to talk about how to spot “a good one.” I’m talking about a well-constructed home that has what I call “the wow factor,” the features that make a home inspector exclaim, “wow,” because they are such rare finds.

The building has a four-pipe heating and cooling system. Good stuff! A four-pipe system will last a whole lot longer than the two-pipe variety. Why? In a two-pipe system, the hot and cold water are channeled through the same pipes, while a four-pipe system separates the flow of hot and cold water. Two-pipe systems are more susceptible to deterioration. That’s because minerals are forced out of water by the heat and are deposited in the pipes. Cold water tends to shrink pipes, so the minerals become clogged in the smaller space and the resulting tension on the pipes creates leaks.

The developer has installed a new roof, or a “tear-off.” Discovering this sort of work is the closest home inspectors get to a spiritual experience. I’m staring at the roof of a newly constructed building, and it’s free of construction debris, chemical waste, oilcans and old nails. When pieces of sheet metal and nails are left on a roof, there’s a good chance that the workers will have walked on this debris, creating holes that eventually cause leaks.

When I inspect a converted building, I also am hoping the developer has peeled off several layers of old roof and stripped the structure back to its bones, or the roof deck, before applying a smooth new roof. When the roof is not a “tear-off” and old roof layers are left on a building, water and air become trapped beneath the surface, causing rot and decay.

Often, when developers tear off old roof layers, they also install energy-efficient insulation, which is a bonus for the homebuyer. When you buy a condo in a converted building, make sure it has a tear-off roof. Some developers simply patch the old roof, but contractors often use cheap patching materials that fail to bond with the roof, leaving it prone to leaks.

The kitchen has a Bosch dishwasher, a Jenn-Air range and a Sub-Zero refrigerator. These manufacturers have a reputation for producing durable, high-quality equipment that is less likely to break down in a few years than some other brands. I particularly like to see stainless steel appliances in kitchens, because they are more scratch-resistant than plastic or regular steel appliances. I think, ‘Great, no repair schedule here,’ and busy myself looking for flaws in the kitchen cabinets.

The hardwood floors are professionally installed. About 80 percent of the units I inspect suffer from poorly installed floorboards, so when I spot a professional job, it’s cause for celebration. How can you spot a shoddy floorboard installation? Look for gaps between the boards. These gaps collect mold and mildew, and the exposed edges of the floorboards are prone to chipping, which erodes the boards’ polyurethane finish, and can cut into bare feet.

The building is equipped with a number of “life-safety systems.”  When I inspect the common area of a condo building I like to see the following – a back-up lighting system, a fire sprinkler (you’d be surprised how many older conversions aren’t equipped with sprinklers), an electrical generator, and an annunciator system capable of communication to individual hallways or units. The first two are no-brainers – there’s simply no excuse for not having them. In the event of an emergency, an electrical generator is better than a battery-powered system, because it is more reliable.

If you find a building with that many “wows,” you are going to make your home inspector a very happy person and potentially save yourself money down the road.

Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc., a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work.

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