Like the appraiser, a competent inspector should have knowledge of his market. Issues and complaints about neighborhoods can relate to the subject property. One neighborhood in my market has a history of moisture intrusion through the brick into the wall cavities. This is related to the quality of construction done by the builder who built out this subdivision. When I accept an assignment in this neighborhood, I know to take special care to evaluate the home for moisture intrusion and to look for any signs of related repairs. It is also helpful to know the history of storm damage in neighborhoods. Homes which have suffered tornado or hurricane damage can significantly effect the structures. Some of this damage only manifests itself months or years later. I inspected a home in a neighborhood where, five years prior, a tornado had destroyed several homes in the neighborhood of the subject property. The subject property had newer siding and windows, which I was able to confirm were five years old. I could assume this house had sustained some tornado damage, so with that knowledge, I closely evaluated the roof structure from the attic space. I found that part of the roof structure had lifted in the tornado; the roof had not blown off, but had lifted several inches causing a failure of the truss connection plates. This was a major structural defect, which I would not have known to evaluate without the knowledge of the local market area.
If the owner is the current occupant and is in the home when I arrive, I will interview them concerning any known issues with the property as well as the age of the roof. I specifically ask about moisture intrusion issues located in places such as roofs and basements, as these can be difficult to detect if it has been dry for some time. Often, when directly asked about the last time their basement leaked, owners will tell you. Of course, they try to downplay the extent of any such leakage (it only occurs during the 100 year flood). Armed with such information, I can closely scrutinize such areas. Furthermore, owners will tend to move their stored items and furniture in the basement away from damp areas. If you see a cleared area in the basement while other areas contain furniture and stored items, a moisture problem is probable in the cleared area.
I am always happy to speak to a tenant, as they love to tell you everything that is wrong with the home, including both current and past problems. Do not underestimate the tenant as a source of information on the condition, maintenance and issues with the home, even though they don’t own the property.
A vacant house may not have its utilities on line. No one is running the showers and sinks, or flushing the toilets, making it hard to detect plumbing leaks. There is no one living there to tell you about the condition or issues of the home. However, these properties are often unfurnished and easier to inspect, as you can see all wall and floor surfaces. I always pay close attention to the lower living areas of the vacant home for leaks, both in the plumbing and the foundation. In a vacant home, these leaks can go undetected for long periods of time causing extensive damage and mold growth. It only takes 48 hours for mold to start growing after a moisture event.
As with many situations, safety is a concern for the inspector in a vacant home. A vacant home means there are no phones, no one in the home to call out to for help, and perhaps other perils. I once unlocked a home and started an inspection, only to find a homeless person sleeping in the attic. He had a pallet and a couple of buckets and was surprised to see me; I don’t know who was more surprised, him or me, but I did not stick around too long to find out. I always take extreme care when inspecting a vacant house. This means I have my cell phone on my person, and I call my office to let them know I am entering a vacant home (at least they know where to start looking if something happens to me). Once, while in a vacant home, I shut a bedroom door to look at the wall behind the door. When I went to open the door, I found the lockset was defective and myself locked in the bedroom of a vacant home with no way out. Fortunately, I had my cell phone to call for help and was freed from my detention two hours later. Now, I never close the door from inside a room—it is advisable to always leave a means of egress.
Next time I will discuss how the inspector evaluates the neighborhood and how observations on the drive into the neighborhood can give clues to the condition of the subject property. The neighborhood provides a wealth of information for the inspector who takes the time to evaluate the condition and age of the surrounding houses. It is time well spent. Click here to read part 2 of this article.