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Jun. 29, 2009 - Extreme Home Inspection

When Home Inspections fail, it is usually because the participants didn't pursue the problem at hand to a satisfactory conclusion. No amount of money will resolve an unknown problem, as you can't determine if the amount is sufficient to cover that problem.

A recent example involves the buyer's home inspector determining that there was a higher than normal water reading inside the floor (underneath the hardwood floor) and in the wall (outside wall) of a cantilevered 1/2 bath (powder room). Now we know we have a problem, but we don't really know what that problem is.

The buyer submitted a request to have a contractor come in and make a hole in the exterior siding above the front door. Even if the seller is willing to allow this, it is not a good idea for a buyer to take on the cost and liability of making big holes in the seller's house that he may not buy once he sees what is inside that hole.

In most inspection negotiations, the contract would fail once the seller answered "no, you can't make a big hole in my house". Not many people would say yes to that. In the instant case I was the agent for the seller. I paid for a 2nd inspection, of that one issue, to see if there was any way to determine the cause, and thus the fix, without tearing the house apart. My partner Kim and I met the seller and my inspector (not the buyer's inspector) at the property. Because the higher level of moisture was not around the toilet, indicating the problem was the wax seal of the toilet (most obvious likely cause) we identified 3 or 4 possibilities. It could be the washer in the room above the 1/2 bath, as the plumbing pipes were stacked. It could be a roof vent leak, because the moisture could be coming down the wall and into the 1/2 bath floor, instead of from the floor and into the wall. It could be a leak in the window or siding in the outside wall of the half bath. Lots of "could be" and after about 30 minutes with the 2nd inspector, no clear definition of the problem.

My most excellent seller client grabbed a hammer and started making a hole in the siding covering the overhang under the toilet.  (see photo below) We were dumbfounded at his response. He will forever be one of my favorite clients as he chose "let's get to the bottom of this" vs. "how can we make this problem go away".

An inspector can't make a big hole in the house to see the problem. Having the best inspector in the world isn't always going to help you know everything you need to know about the house. The buyer, the seller, the agents and the inspector (and sometimes 2 or more inspectors) are sometimes needed to get to the real and right answer.

The seller then proceeded to make a hole in the wall in the powder room next to the toilet and near the window.  The seller and the inspector studied all of the wet areas under the toilet and in the wall, and still the likely cause of the problem could have been any of the above possibles except the window leaking. The area was dry closest to the window.  The inspector climbed up on the roof and the seller pulled out the insulation and studied the water marks on the insulation for pattern of water flow.  The roof vent was ruled out as the pattern of water on the insulation did not reach the top, and so could not have come from above. That ruled out the washer as well.

A wax seal is often an obvious answer, but this property was only 4 years old, so we were not satisfied with that conclusion for a number of reasons. The seller pulled out all of the fixtures and part of the wood floor. In the meantime the buyer via their inspector asked for a new wax seal as the remedy.

At that point the seller could have agreed, except we all knew the problem wasn't simply the wax seal. Here's the wonderful part of this inspection. The seller could have signed off on the wax seal and the contract would have proceeded to close. Instead, we (the seller's side of the fence) determined that a new wax seal would hold for a short time, as the original one did for a few years, but the REAL problem was the builder had cut the pipe to the toilet too short. If a builder doesn't allow for a hardwood floor thickness vs. a laminate floor, the pipe will be cut at the wrong height. That was the final determination of the problem, but not the end of the fix.

To understand why that is, you have to understand what "cantilever" means. There are very specific rules for cantilevered aspects of a home.  Usually the cantilever is a deck, and any time you see a short deck off a second floor, you automatically expect it to be a cantilever. When the bottom of any cantilevered area gets wet and is subject to rot, that rot can travel under the floor and inside the home floor joists. A cantilever, be it a deck or a part of the home, extends the floor joists on a 2/3 to 1/3 ratio as the support of the extended portion. All too often an inspection fix for "new wax seal" for the toilet does not address the areas damaged by water while the wax seal was failing. Subfloor, joists, behind baseboards, drywall...all potential mold issues causing further continued rot and mold contamination.

These issues are like a cancer. You have to address the area completely, or new issues will surface long after the buyer has a potential claim against the seller, especially if the seller MERELY does what the buyer asks for.

Instead of simply adding "new wax seal", the pipe was extended to its proper height by a plumber before the new wax seal was put on. Here's the hard part. We still didn't know if it was the toilet or the siding that failed. There is no way to know without testing it and there is no way to put the wax seal on without putting the toilet back and there is no way to put the toilet back without adjusting the flange to the hardwood floor level, so the hardwood floor has to go back.  The buyer is asking for their inspector to come back and look at the fix with everything open (don't put anything back into place). But there is no way to fix the problem and test it to see if it IS the problem (water stops leaking and starts drying out) without putting things back into place so you can flush the toilet repeatedly and see if any water is still leaking.

Sometimes an inspection phase will fail because the buyer is asking for the wrong thing, or something that is not possible or practical or even sensible. In the meantime the seller HAS to fix it correctly for several reasons. One, if the buyer does not close, the seller has to be assured the problem is fixed for the next buyer. Two, if the problem is fixed incorrectly, the buyer could have a problem a few years later and not know it, as the water travels in places that are not easily seen when the problem is easily fixed at the onset of water leaking.

There is no problem this big and complex without frustration from everyone, including both inspectors, both agents, the buyer and the seller. My job became managing everyone's emotional positions at each turn, while moving forward with the long process of finding and fixing this problem.  You have to keep things "open" so they dry out before you close them. NOW, how the heck do we get the buyer's appraiser through so the loan process and escrow can proceed, with big holes all over the place including above your head when standing at the front door.

Truth is, while all of this was a royal pain in the butt for a long time...I loved it.  I loved that we moved forward in a positive way that would really fix the problem, and not just "keep everyone happy". In fact, in most cases the process of fixing it right made no one happy, because it prolonged the inspection timeframe, it prolonged the loan timeframe, it required an extension of the close date as we had to delay the appraiser coming out until the fix was complete...but it was done well and done right. At one point we had to decide between fixing it right and maybe losing the buyer in the process, and just making the buyer and the buyer's agent happy. We chose fixing it right, and I am so proud of my seller client for making that choice. It then became my job to keep the communication level going, so that we both fixed it right and did not lose the buyer and escrow.  Mountains of extra work to do it well.

The seller thanked me at the end for my perseverance, as there were many times when the buyer wanted to just walk. There were many times when the seller wanted to tell the buyer to just walk. But my job is to be the glue that holds everything together, and get the job done well without losing the participants on all sides.

I'll take a minute to thank the nuns who pretty much raised me for 12 years. In my brain they branded this saying which never shakes loose: "Anything worth doing, is worth doing WELL." 

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Jun. 29, 2009 - RE: Extreme Home Inspection

Posted by Dan Edwards

I like your take on this process and kudos to your seller for working through and issue.  I think it is important to get down to the bottom of a problem it reflects well on both agents. 

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Aug. 5, 2009 - RE: Extreme Home Inspection

Posted by home inspection new jersey

i like how you view this topic! Good blog, nicely done!

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Aug. 14, 2009 - RE: Extreme Home Inspection

Posted by home inspection sussex county

This is really great, i love reading about these kinda of blogs.

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Aug. 19, 2009 - RE: Extreme Home Inspection

Posted by home inspection new jersey

 Great article. Very useful info. Thanks. Will visit again.

I just started reading all the blogs. This one is great.
 
Kathy – the inspector
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Jul. 27, 2010 - RE: Extreme Home Inspection

Posted by Manhattan Beach real estate inspection

Very interseting blog i like this thanksss..

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Aug. 18, 2010 - RE: Extreme Home Inspection

Posted by Torrance Home Inspector Service

Hey this is really a great information, this gonna help everyone who are going to inspect their houses and can get it well. Thanks for such post.

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Apr. 28, 2012 - Palos Verdes Estates real estate inspection

Posted by Palos Verdes Estates real estate inspection

 I am totally agree with the reasons that you have given in your blog for a property and home inspection. It is a must step before buying a home and property. I am also searching Rancho Palos Verdes property inspection online. Please share some services for me.

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Dec. 4, 2012 - RE: Extreme Home Inspection

Posted by Rancho Palos Verdes Home Inspector Service

 Inspectors spend time in home which you are supposed to buy and note down all factors that are good or bad for you. If you have hired a right home inspector definitely you will get better results.

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ARDELL DellaLoggia of Sound Realty on Seattle Real Estate process and market including Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Green Lake and most areas around the top of Lake Washington North of Downtown Seattle. Phone: 206-910-1000 - Mailto:ARDELLd@gmail.com

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