Here it is the start of September and most of you are probably wondering what happened to the summer. From a building maintenance perspective, we are getting right down to the wire for completing exterior maintenance projects before the temperature dips below the minimum for exterior painting (55 degrees). Whether you’re preparing an old home for sale or are looking forward to your first fall in a new one, now is the time to kick yourself in the hindquarters and get outside to see what needs doing before Old Man Winter arrives.
The first thing you should do is complete a thorough exterior maintenance checklist. What needs to be done? This is not brain surgery. All of the building trades are required to install their products square and plumb, with minimum exposure to the weather. They should be sealed in a way that prevents winter elements from infiltrating the building envelope.
Walk around the exterior of your building to examine the structure, including the roof. You should be on the lookout for holes, gaps, tears, missing mortar, spilled oil from equipment, loose wires and rust. Each of these issues and others will need your or your association’s attention. The cardinal principle in building maintenance is “deferred maintenance becomes more expensive and more involved.”
Some of my clients use binoculars (do this during the day so you aren’t arrested for being a peeping tom at night) and walk the exterior of the building at the sidewalk or street level. Look for the following deficiencies:
Missing or loose mortar.
Siding that is loose or has holes.
Holes in the dirt around building providing harbor for animals (these are usually about 2 to 6 inches in diameter).
Bubbling water or surface water.
Doors and windows that will not close.
Photoelectric cells that were not working last winter (never leave exterior common areas dark in the winter).
Loose or damaged stairs or handrails.
Broken garage doors.
Spalled or damaged concrete.
The above list is a partial one, but it’s a good starting point. Make note in each area where you see a deficiency and call the appropriate contractor. The same contractor will perform painting, caulking and weather sealing work, and masonry, tuck pointing and roofing also are often performed by a single contractor. Concrete work is a unique specialty.
Start calling people for quotes the minute your list is complete and your condo board or association has agreed to repairs. It is always a good idea to get three estimates or bids. Remember to get competing contractors to bid apples to apples. You are in charge of the scope of work, not the contractor. Should you decided to paint the lintels over the windows and doors, insist that the painting contractors provide a bid for “painting the lintels,” not for repairing brick and painting the lintels or some other repair they may think is necessary.
Make sure to convey to your contractors what your expectations are. You should always tell them that you expect good quality work that meets the industry standard for their trades. Allocate the money to hire the approved contractors in advance, and of course, check their insurance.
It’s also important once the work is done to check it thoroughly. You may not understand all of the terms in the contract and be surprised later if the work doesn’t meet your expectations.
Through all my years of experience in this industry, I’ve only met a dozen or so homeowners who were familiar enough with contractor’s language to be able to compare the work completed with the contract. Every industry in our society at some point uses its pet vocabulary to confuse or broaden the scope of its work and justify a larger fee.
There are no perfect associations, trades, or professionals. You may have to hire an independent building inspection professional to check the quality of work done, or call on the services of a friend with a solid knowledge of construction. If you’re smart, you will have this person look at the work in progress. Personal experience has proven that this approach can prevent many ugly lawsuits down the road.
For more information on industry standards and tips on proper repairs, you might visit the following groups on the Web: the National Roofing Contractors Association, the Masonry Advisory Council, the National Fire Protection Association and the Portland Cement Association.
Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc. a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work.