Thoughts on Common Inspection Concerns

During home inspections, there are a few common ‘oh no, what do we do’ that come up, making buyers and sellers feel like there is a chance that the contract will possibly fall through.   My guess is that 1/5 times, the buyers will terminate based on one of these items but with proper expectations and if the issue is properly addressed. Aside from Chinese drywall, I feel that none of these should be a reason to terminate a contract.

Those ‘bigger ticket items of inspection concern’ that I often see arising are: Radon, Synthetic Stucco or EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finishing System), Polybutylene Plumbing, LP Siding (Louisiana Pacific Siding), and Mold.

NOTE: The one thing that can pop up but is very, very rare is Chinese drywall. If you find the house has Chinese drywall, this is a reason to terminate as it can cost 180k+ to remedy.  I have heard of homeowners walking away from homes, giving them back to the bank, as they cannot sell the home and they should not live in the home.  The only way to know for sure is to have an inspector look for it specifically.  They can go into the attic or basement and pull off a piece of drywall to inspect the back.  Sometimes the drywall with ‘bow’ out and often times it creates an egg-like sulfur type smell throughout the entire home.  There were just a few batches of this drywall brought to Georgia during the hurricanes when it was tough to find drywall. Florida had much more delivery of this material than Georgia did.

On to the others!

Radon: Radon comes up every once in a while.  I have heard that 1/15 houses have elevated radon levels in Georgia. Radon is a radioactive element that is part of the radioactive decay chain of naturally occurring uranium in soil. You can not smell, see, or taste radon gas, but it can kill you.  The effects on the body are not immediate but more long term, as it can cause lung cancer. It is the #2 producer of lung cancer in humans.  The scary part is that you can be exposed for years and never have a clue.   How does it get in? Imagine your house like a chimney and within your home, as the air warms, it rises. It goes out the attic and out the upper level windows, which creates just a very small suction of the lower ground air, pulling this radon out of the ground and into your home.  I just closed a home two weeks ago in Sandy Springs, GA where the level was noted at 11 and 2.6 and less is the noted norm of acceptable levels. The USEPA and IEMA will say 4.0 or below but be sure to stipulate 2.6 or below to be sure.  There are companies that will assure this 2.6 or below and it can be done.  For the home in Sandy Springs, GA, we did a three pipe remediation from the ground, through the home, with sensors/monitors.  The whole remediation ran about $2600 to the seller and my clients are happy and in their new home, with baby.  Of course, we tested the baby room and each individual room, to be sure there is no worry.  People will tell you that it costs $800-2000 to remediate, but I would say to go on the high end and add as many pipes out as possible and the monitoring system.  Some people believe that caulking the cracks and the openings in the basement floor will stop the radon from entering the house, but in reality, it is unlikely that caulking the accessible cracks and joints will permanently seal the openings radon needs to enter the house.  Some buyers would have ran from this home but with the proper inspector to explain and the proper remediation, it was not a stopping point for this buyer or seller.

Synthetic Stucco or EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finishing System): Synthetic stucco is very similar to masonry stucco and can be a very energy efficient and low maintenance system.  The ‘stigma’ of water issues with EIFS lies in what the builders first believed who used it.  They were told that the closed cell polystyrene used in EIFS is water resistant, and so many homes were built without the proper sealing and flashing to protect it from water intrusion.  Without this proper flashing and sealing, moisture would collect between the inner wall of the home and the foam, especially around the foundation as well as the doors and windows of the home.  Both EIFS (synthetic) as well as hardcoat (masonry) stucco start by putting a 3 layer exterior grade plywood (or OSB as the name). The next step for both is to apply a waterproof paper (like a roofing paper).  With EIFS, foam is the next layer, then fiberglass meshing, then the base coat and then the top coat.  With masonry or ‘hardcoat’, they use a metal lath as the third step. It is very common for masonry stucco to have synthetic trim as you can get more decorative/creative with EIFS vs masonry.  How do you know? Knock on it and if it makes a hollow sound, it may be EIFS. You can also often look behind an exterior light fixture to see as they should be sealed but often times are not.  If you are a seller, you will be expected to have the home inspected and provide a report from a certified stucco inspector. You will want to do all necessary repairs.  Often times, this is simply having the windows and doors properly flashed and caulked as well as removing any stucco that is noted by them as too close to the ground. The product is not a bad product, it just needs to be sure to have been properly installed, flashed and sealed. If a buyer chooses to remove the stucco of a home and replace with hardiplank, this cost can range from $8,000-$20,000 per side of the house.

LP Siding (Louisiana Pacific Siding): Louisiana Pacific is a company that manufactured a pressed wood siding that builders used from the 1980’s to mid 1990’s. I see a lot of this in East Cobb and West Cobb.  It has varying ‘grades’ of quality and the lowest of those, which was often used, has a tendency to absorb moisture if not caulked, sealed and painted on a regular schedule/basis.  There is often rotting in areas around the chimney or windows and doors.  If the siding is near to the ground, you can sometimes see rotting there as well.  These are all the typical areas where water would hit/collect/pool more than other areas.  How do you see it? You can go into the attic and look behind the insulation.  Louisiana Pacific would have stamped the back of it with their name.  From the outside, there is often a knot hole pattern to it but not always.  A qualified contractor or an inspector is your best go to on being sure if it is or is not this type of siding.  Just like synthetic stucco, the key is to inspect it and make sure that the home has properly sealing, caulking, flashing as well as being far enough away from the ground.  If there are rotten boards, you will want to take them off and replace with a hardiplank or some other fiber cement siding, then caulk/seal/paint.  Again, not a dealbreaker, just something to be aware of and properly maintain the home.

Mold: During the ‘down 5 years of the market’, mold and appraisals were what made me crazy as I’m sure did many a realtor!  While we were going through the market downturn, appraisals were a weekly battle and it felt like mold was a monthly battle on one home or another.  My first few years of real estate, mold was introduced by inspectors to buyers as ‘every house has moisture and some level of microbial growth’.  Even if they said ‘mold’ it was never a big deal to inspector nor seller or buyer.  This excludes that fuzzy growth taking over a home that had been sitting vacant for months and you really could not even breathe.  I remember going in many of these homes and thinking that banks should not even have these homes available for show.  Now, they fix it but for years, they did not and we all had some fun ‘surprises’ and headaches to go along with it.   Then, all of the sudden, inspectors must have all gotten a ‘warning letter’ because all at once, everyone recommended $400-450 in mold testing even if it was under the home in tiny almost non-visible amount in rafters.  This had always been a ‘every home’s rafters have microbial growth’ and passed over prior.  Then, with this ‘change’,  the inspectors sternly recommend that you to do testing and full remediation.  This full remediation on one small ranch’s rafters ‘under’ the home in the open crawl space at the start of this ‘ah! mold! run!’ turn, cost my client $4200 to remediate with air scrubbers and the works.  A year early, it would have been noted as the norm and there would be no $4200 additional cost.  Now, we are somewhere in the middle and I still wonder what the inspector will say.  I would say that in 80% of my inspections, mold is noted but it’s not a big red flag and we come up with a  plan that works and often ends in a dehumidifier to be sure that they keep it at bay.  Again, fixable!