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New home inspections

There are very important reasons why buyers of new homes should always get a home inspection report before purchasing. Yet most new homes are going to embark on their solo 100-year journey without a home inspection report. 

New construction homes are inspected dozens of times by municipal building inspectors as part of the building process. So, you say, there isn’t a need to hire a professional home inspector if you’re buying a new home, right? 

Home inspectors hear that a lot. 

After the fact, home inspectors hear from homeowners who need help preparing a 2-5-10 year inspection report before warranty insurance expires, or they need help filing a home warranty claim, or they can’t reach an agreement with their builder. 

The general role of the building inspector onsite during the construction process is to inspect for compliance with applicable building codes at a specific phase of construction. Remember, though, that building codes are minimum standards, and many factors are beyond the building official’s control.

Why pay for an independent inspection report on a brand new home? The home is new, and there is a warranty to make things better if something goes awry, right? Usually, though, it is not until after the deal is sealed and the buyer has lived in the home for a while that a home inspector hears from the homeowner about a problem.

I have been following the story of Tina and Ben Wilson. The couple purchased a new build on Coquitlam’s Burke Mountain in 2013. Almost three years later, they are stifled, filed away in a bureaucratic filing cabinet, and are fighting with a new home warranty service provider handling their new home warranty claim. Thank goodness their journey is almost over.

In its basic form, a licensed builder purchases home warranty insurance for their product. Of course, the builder passes the cost of the premium indirectly to the buyer through the purchase of the home, and the buyer is forced to use the home warranty company that the builder chose. When a problem arises, the homeowner is encouraged to work with the builder to correct any problems. 

Unfortunately, some cases result in warranty claims. Usually the insurance provider has leverage to encourage the builder to correct a problem. The third-party warranty provider often acts a mediator between the homeowner and the builder. With the prospect of a claims history, the builder is motivated. 

You would be surprised, though, at the low threshold of coverage provided to new home buyers afforded under the Home Owner’s Protection Office 342-page document, the Residential Construction Performance Guide

In 1999, the government of the day formalized protection for new home buyers by licensing builders and introducing mandatory third-party home warranty insurance program. Standards of coverage, commencement dates, exclusions, and limits on coverage were set to promote clarity and a consistent base-level of consumer protection. 

Now, after almost two decades in the advancement and increase in complexity of new build construction, the Homeowner Protection Office says the province plans to review new home warranty insurance regulations in 2016. 

This move couldn’t come fast enough for claimants and folks like Tina and Ben Wilson.

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Yes, you have bugs

There are quite a few professions that take people into strangers’ homes, almost always for a limited purpose or task. In most cases, the task is confined to a small portion of the home and not much attention is paid to the surrounding environment. 

This is not the case for professional home inspectors, who will even view areas that may not have been seen in months or years. As you can appreciate, home inspectors see a lot of bugs.

I can tell you this: You are not alone in your home. 

Since the New Year, I’ve seen flies, termites, carpenter ants, black widow spiders, dormant wasps, bedbugs, carpet beetles, praying mantis, cockroaches, crickets, stink bugs, silverfish, weevils and fleas. Of course there were also bees, and plenty of ants to be seen, and spiders, spiders, spiders. 

If you are scared of bugs, being a professional home inspector may not be for you (also. don’t forget rats and mice).

Other than ladybugs and butterflies, I have to say that bugs are generally ugly. I suppose the bugs that home inspectors see are viewed as particularly ugly because of the piercing and sucking mouthparts, antennae, and segmented body parts, hundreds of legs, stingers and exoskeletons. 

Insects are smart, and they know that being out in the open can be detrimental to their well-being. Most prefer to live unnoticed amongst us, sharing our houses undetected and in peaceful co-habitation. 

Most bugs in the house aren’t dangerous. In fact, the vast majority of bugs in our homes are not doing harm, either, and some are actually doing good by feeding on other insects in your home. Insects can be found where home inspectors know to look: On visible surfaces, including those accessible under and behind furniture, around baseboards, ceilings, and on shelves and other surfaces. Some insects wander in, and just can’t get back out. 

In home inspection-speak; we classify insects two ways: a) nuisance bugs and b) wood-destroying organisms (WDO). 

It’s the WDO’s we aren’t partial to, because they eat wood found in our homes. WDO’s are insects like carpenter ants and termites. 

Nuisance insects don’t cause much concern because an infestation, if there is one, is always treatable. If you are a pest control expert, the future is looking good, because effective traditional chemicals treatments are being weakened ,and repetitive eco-friendly methods requiring repetitive visits are becoming the norm. For this reason, I think we are going to be seeing more bugs as time goes by.

We know that we are sharing our home with insects, but how many? And what species? 

Well, a recent study by Matt Bertone, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, found that humans share their homes with more than 550 different types of insects. 

Fifty homes were sampled with an average size of just over 2,000 square feet (ranging from 840 to 4,833 square feet in area). During the course of sampling 554 rooms, in the 50 homes, over 10,000 insect specimens were collected and identified (about 200 per home). Although the sample was very small, my pest control friends suggest that homes in the Okanagan are likely to have similar numbers to what was found in the study. 

The most commonly collected groups of insects were flies (23%), beetles (19%), spiders (16%), ants (15%). Book lice were found in 49 of the 50 homes sampled. Book lice are close relatives of parasitic lice and have a long evolutionary history of living, among other places, in close association with birds, mammals, and their nests. Dust mites were found in the majority of homes sampled (76%). 

One of the findings that surprised researchers was that only five of the 554 rooms they sampled did not contain any insect specimens.

The study found much smaller numbers of cockroaches (6%), fleas (10%), and bed bugs (0%) in the sampled homes, leaving one to think that the negative reputation of these insects is undeserved, unless, of course, you’ve had to eradicate them.

The good news is, if you are over 50 years old, or your reading vision began failing earlier in life, you won’t be able to see half of what this study mentions anyway.

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Sell your house at top value

Selling your home in 2016: It’s all about maintenance ~

If 2016 is the year you plan to sell your home, now is the time to get prepared.

In last week’s column, I pointed out that if you’re planning to sell in 2016, you are going to need the help of a professional realtor if you want your home to stand out from the competition. 

It can take weeks, and in some cases months, to make everything sale-ready, but if you take the time, and accept the advice of your realtor, you can make the entire selling process easier for you and your realtor.

First impressions are lasting impressions, they say, and creating good impressions begins with exterior maintenance. The exterior of your home is exposed to the weather year ‘round. Here in the Okanagan, the summer sun can be harsh, and moisture and freezing temperatures take their toll in the winter. 

When on a home inspection, first impressions are the lead in my determination of the condition and level of maintenance the home has received recently. 

When a potential buyer sees your property for sale the first time, they see it from the street, so you should take the time to stand at the property line, or, better yet, from across the street. Ask yourself what stands out, what catches your eye. You may see a few things out of place, such as the garbage bins and some personal belongings. You may see a few routine maintenance items that should be undertaken. A bit of cleaning and tidying, shrubs trimmed, maybe some power washing, or trim painting can go a long way toward building curb appeal. 

Remember, this is how your home will introduce itself to a potential buyer. Curb appeal is something you can work on with your realtor. After all, they see and sell houses every day, and know what it takes to make a great presentation.

If you are not sure about the mechanical condition of your home, a professional member of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors can help you. During a pre-sale home inspection, your home inspector will be able to give you a clear indication of the main areas that will come to light during the inspection of your home prior to sale. 

Fixing and replacing items is voluntary and discretionary, but you may find that some simple fixes can help eliminate unexpected hurdles at the end of the selling process. Getting an independent opinion will help you and your realtor understand the condition of the home before the ever-important open houses begin.

One of the most economical and positive moves that you can make is to have your furnace serviced, cleaned and tested, and the heat exchanger inspected. This is a sure move on older furnaces, and a good move for newer ones. You’ll find that this service is inexpensive, especially when compared to the value that you’ll receive. Nothing feels better than knowing the equipment you are offering is in good working order, and the question of its condition is confirmed at the get-go.

There are other large systems in the home, such as the roof covering, and getting a professional opinion can come in handy. Remember, as the roof covering ages, it can still be performing well within its reliable service life even if it is showing routine indications of aging. The same can be said of the hot water heater and air conditioning systems.

Gather up the warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for the furnace, washer/dryer, dishwasher, and any other items that will be remaining with the house. It may seem as though this task could be left until closing, but knowing the true condition of your home before you sell will help you and your realtor sell your home for top value.


How old is it?

Selling your house in 2016?

If this is the year that you are going to sell your home, now is the time to get cracking. You already know that you’ll need the help of a professional realtor, but if you want your home to stand out from the competition, it can take weeks, and, in some cases, months, to make everything tickety-boo. 

At this point your realtor is your ally. They will help you showcase your home for prospective buyers, and showing your home properly is of prime importance. 

In some cases, your realtor may advise you on improvements that you can make to enhance the value of your home. You may be able to improve the home's aesthetics, but any improvements should be practical. I’m a big fan of home stagers, who, for a nominal fee, can make your home look more appealing to potential buyers. Hiring a home stager deserves some consideration, so ask your realtor for their advice.

It is likely that your home has endured some wear and tear over the years, and components may be aging. There is absolutely nothing wrong with aging components. Just because something is getting older doesn’t make it less desirable.

A professional home inspector may be able to assist in the sale of your home by reporting on its condition. Being armed with the knowledge of the condition of your home prior to sale will give you and your realtor a strong footing from which to negotiate. No matter how great your home looks, savvy buyers, when looking at the components of your home, will undoubtedly ask the question: 

‘How old is it?’ 

In home inspection-speak, the question is interpreted as, ‘Is the component still performing within its reliable service life?’

Guessing the age of the major components of your home doesn’t cut it, ie the age of the roof covering, water heater and heating and cooling systems. Now is the time to dig out your home records to determine the age of the last repair or replacement of those big ticket items, or you can hire a professional home inspector to help you out.

The age of major components is generally determined and reported on during a home inspection. The age of a component relates to its probability of failure and the concept is pretty straight forward: The failure of the system or component increases as the component ages. 

Remember, though, that even a brand new component can fail, although it’s much less likely. Take for example new cars. The odds are good that a new car will not break down in the first few weeks, but in the extreme minority of cases, it can happen.

Let’s take the age of a hot water heater as an example of how it relates to the sale of your home.

It is rare for manufacturers to offer warrantees longer than six years on their tanked water heaters. Home insurance companies have opinions regarding the age of tanked water heaters. It’s safe to say that a prospective buyer of your home will have difficulty insuring a system that is older than twelve years. Most likely the insurance company will want the tank replaced. 

Remember, insurance companies are in the business of eliminating or reducing risk, so a prospective buyer will want to know the age of the tank because it will affect their insurance coverage. This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and get a new tank today, but you do need to know the age of the tank, and how it relates to your eventual sale. 

As a side note, home inspectors see old and aging tanks every day. They work just fine. 


More About the House - Hugh Cairns articles

About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding, turn your home into a nicer more comfortable place to live, and increase its value.

Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency, this column is here to guide you with useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through www.subject2homeinspections.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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