Watch who does the work
Originally appeared in Hills Publications, January 25, 2002
There is a vast difference in quality and reliability between various firms and individuals who build, repair or inspect residential properties. Knowing who to hire to do significant work on a house is essential.
As a buyer, it is equally important to be aware of which companies were involved in a home you are considering. A reliable, local company will have a good reputation because it stands behind its work. Your agent’s recommendation of a competent home inspector and pest control operator is a key first step.
Termite reports and work
When you read a termite report, look at who issued it and then at the required repairs.
Be highly circumspect when either the seller, or someone he hired, did the pest control work. This is especially true if there is no written certification from the original company that the problems indicated in its report have been handled. Even a certification from a different company may be worrisome.
I know of a situation where the seller, before he sold his house, employed someone he knew to do extensive repairs. The buyer accepted the certification from a second termite company. Two years later, when the buyer became a seller, he was distressed to get a new report showing more than $20,000 in damages. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.
The larger the project, the more concern you should have about who did it. Big jobs, e.g., kitchen or bath remodels, or additions, should have been completed under a permit that has been finaled. Although a permit is no guarantee of quality work, absence of one should be a red flag.
The fact that a contractor does a lot of remodeling does not mean his workmanship is superior. I am familiar with someone who bought a former fixer directly from the contractor who had done the remodeling. This led to major troubles for the purchaser.
Although everything appeared attractive, many money-saving shortcuts had been taken. A top-notch home inspector might have discovered these issues before close of escrow.
Sewer line leaks
It has been years since I wrote a number of articles about sewer line problems, yet I still get calls and e-mails from homeowners. They are seeking advice because they are disgusted at the deceptive and duplicitous behavior of some operators.
A few hints: if the house is more than 40 years old and the sewer line has not been redone, there is a good chance it has, or will have, problems. If the seller indicates he has the line cleaned every year or two, it is probably broken and needs to be replaced.
Besides the smell and inconvenience, sewer line work tends to be expensive ($3000 to over $20,000). Quotes for the same job can vary by $10,000, depending on the company and the homeowner’s negotiating prowess.
Unfortunately, when it comes to resale, buyers give no credit for a $12,000 sewer line fix. This is also true of another water-related trouble: drainage.
Drainage difficulties can cause health and structural maladies. If left unattended for a long period, water under your house can undermine and rotate the foundation.
For large projects, you need to engage the services of a licensed engineer. After you have received his written report, including specifications of necessary work, bring in two or three qualified contractors for bids. As with sewer line work, drainage tends to be costly and in the same price range.
If a seller has already done comprehensive drainage work, read the engineering report, check on the contractor and look for a permit.
There are all kinds of roofs and roofers. Your general home inspector should be able to tell you if you need a roof inspection. Similar to other categories, when work is needed, it is wise to get a number of bids.
Less-than-professional roofers will patch a roof that actually needs replacement. Roofers who give an illogically low bid often use inferior materials and make mistakes, such as not providing adequate flashing. I see quite a few “newer” roofs that were poorly installed.
Take responsibility for the quality and competence of people who work on your house. As a buyer or seller, the person to trust first and foremost is your local agent. The right one will do the watching for you.
Not Just Termites, Part 1
Not Just Termites, Part 2
Sewer Line Blues
Rain, Roofs and Drainage