Lesson in tales from the front: buyers beware

Some weeks in the home inspection business are especially disheartening and the last few have been full of prime examples. Here are just a few recent samples that should keep buyers on their toes:

Yesterday while inspecting one of 10 units for a group of condo owners waiting for their units to be turned over from the developer, I discovered a gas leak in one home that was serious enough to send my instrumentation screaming – even though the readings were taken in the master bedroom. My inspector and I stood in disbelief as I moved my Tiff 8800 Combustible Gas Detector from the bedroom through the patio door and back, the instrument alternately screaming and falling silent.

In a closed-house environment this level of gas could have been lethal. Methylene Mercaptin is the odorant that Peoples Energy inserts into odorless natural gas so that human beings can smell it. The three of us present at the inspection nearly gagged over the odor throughout the condominium. When the instrumentation zeroed in, we discovered the gas leak behind the kitchen stove. However, the gas odor had traveled approximately 50 feet to the bedroom, where it was concentrated.

One of the people in our three-member group was a unit owner who spent the rest of the afternoon berating the developer, the workmen, the real estate agent and the architect. In addition to owning condos, this unrelated group 30-plus buyers also soon will become the proud owners of all of the building’s common areas – and problems – when the developer turns them over to the new association.

Recently, while doing a common area inspection of a roof for a condominium building with more than 20 units, my inspector and I discovered large water blisters beneath the roofing surface on this 10-month-old building. The roofing product had just been applied and was composed of a series of epoxied layers, material and fabric. The roof had a very shiny appearance, yet small pieces of stone penetrated the top layer, providing the necessary friction to allow people to walk safely across its surface.

A routine walk around the roof’s perimeter, however, showed that all of the rainwater was being directed towards and collected near the fire safety exit doors. Sounds like winter trip-and-fall problems. The roof itself has about 15,000 square feet of surface area, and individual homeowners expect to spend several thousand dollars a piece to tear it off and replace it. Of course, we were all sad to see that the roof drains were in the high spots, and our unit owner was outraged that he could be assessed an additional $3,000 to $6,000 so that the association can have new concrete poured to provide the needed drain angle.

On Monday of last week, another inspector and I looked at a recently purchased single-family home. The building was more than 100 years old and had been “rehabbed.” The master bedroom windows leaked water onto the heads of the new homeowners during last week’s heavy rains. An investigation of the building’s siding proved that it was haphazardly installed over an irregular surface.

Wavy and loose siding is usually a dead giveaway that your building’s exterior is of marginal quality or in need of significant siding repair. Understandably, Mr. and Mrs. Jones didn’t like hearing this information. In order to stop water migration into the west side of the living space, the four-year-old material would need to be removed and new siding installed at a cost of more than $25,000.

The buyers’ income as professional musicians was stretched to the limit when they bought the new home, and they can’t afford the siding and window work that is so desperately needed to stop the building from rotting further.

The inspection also revealed that two of the three rooms in the top-floor master suite lacked proper heating and air-conditioning outlets. Even though our homeowners had been uncomfortable for several years, they could not figure out why this level was cooled so differently from the others. Our inspection revealed that five years ago the heating contractor forgot to install two supply registers in the upstairs living space.

Our diva and her husband had completely filled their three-story home with knickknacks, stringed instruments, fish tanks, stuffed animals, Turkish rugs, two full rooms of CDs, tapestries and imported porcelains from around the world and now faced the prospect of cutting through the existing drywall ceiling and wall in order to install heating ducts in what promises to be a very messy job.

We spent two of the three and a half hours of this inspection listening to the homeowners complaints about the builder, his workman, the real estate agent and the lack of recourse this young and flat-broke family had in trying to make their home habitable.

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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