Category Archives: home appraisals

House of Horrors: 6 Things a Home Inspector Might Not Catch

bathroom shark attack

Before buying into a monthly mortgage payment, 77% of home buyers hire an inspector to go through their new digs with a fine-toothed comb. This is a very good idea.

That extra set of eyes gives buyers peace of mind that a new house won’t have a leaky roof or cracked foundation. Or something even worse. But what you might not realize is that countless conundrums go unnoticed during a home inspection simply because the inspector doesn’t look for them.

And those undetected flaws could add up to expensive repairs.

Here’s the deal: Home inspectors aren’t regulated by federal guidelines. Each state has its own licensing and/or certification requirements. They vary from Texas, whichrequires 130 classroom hours of real estate inspection training, to Georgia, which requires an inspector have a business license and a letter of recommendation—and little else.

That means home buyers have to do their own homework to make sure they’re working with a reputable and thorough inspector. Make sure to verify an inspector’s references and ask to review the checklist of items covered during an inspection.

And, once you’ve done that, ask your inspector to check for these budget busters.

Runny appliances

If you’re buying a home for the first time, you’re probably swooning over the idea of having your own washer/dryer or dishwasher. And to make sure your new BFF won’t break—and break your heart—an inspector should run these kind of appliances to check for functionality and leaks.

But inspectors don’t always go over all the bells and whistles on appliances.

“Checking the water dispenser for issues on a fridge isn’t standard,” says Tom Kraeutler, a former home inspector, author of “My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure,” and a syndicated radio host.

That oversight could mean you walk into a flooded kitchen if the seal on the water dispenser is faulty or the ice machine springs a leak.

Leaky faucets

To put a home’s plumbing through its paces, all faucets should be turned on; toilets should be flushed multiple times; and drain pipes—even if they’re under the house—checked for leaks while the water is running.

When it comes to sinks, the faucets need to be run long enough to fill them before draining in order to spot a leaky pipe or drain. In the shower, an inspector will need to block the drain pan with a washcloth or rubber jar opener and fill the shower to the top of the “pan” or floor, The water should sit for 15 to 20 minutes to test for leaks in the drain, Kraeutler says.

“That also helps spot if the shower pan is faulty, which is a super-expensive fix,” he says.

Another thing: Leaky shower tiles happen when gaps form in the tile grout or caulk. And they show up only when wet. To simulate showering, the inspector needs to splash his hands under the water and check the integrity of grout and caulk.

Cracked sewage and drainage pipes

Home inspections are always limited to what is visible and accessible, Kraeutler says. So cracks in underground or buried pipes and drain lines will be checked only if your inspector conducts a camera inspection.

That in-depth look into your drain will cost you extra. But the additional few hundred dollars are a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands you’ll shell out repairing or replacing faulty sewage and drainage pipes.

Corroded central air conditioning

Did you know that air-conditioning units can’t be tested in certain temperatures?

It has to be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside in order to run a unit—temperatures lower than that can cause damage to the air conditioner, Kraeutler says. That means inspections done in cool temperatures could have an inspector ignoring the AC altogether.

So if it’s too cold to run the unit, ask your inspector how he looks for potential problems. You’ll want to make sure the inspector examines all connections and looks for signs of damage, says Will Hawkins, owner of All Pro Drain in Austin, TX.

And, if the temperature is 55 or higher, make sure the AC is run for several hours to test the functioning of the unit’s condenser coil.

“We’ve had customers notice condensation or water seeping through the walls in a few hours [of turning on the air conditioner] or overnight,” Hawkins says. “And unless the AC is run for several hours, that’s something a home inspector would be hard pressed to see during his run-through.”

Dangerous DIY improvements

It might be tempting to spruce up your home with some DIY projects before putting it on the market. But if those home improvements are completed with low-quality materials or not installed properly, a buyer could face an exorbitant—and unexpected—renovation.

A DIY renovation could be dangerous, too. If a basement or attic is finished without proper permits, electrical and plumbing work might not be up to code. And that could mean potential damage—or even danger—to the residents.

Although many home inspectors check for construction permits with the local municipality, Kraeutler suggests verifying that step isn’t overlooked.

Damp porches, decks, and balconies

You might not think of decks and balconies as sources of expensive leaks. But costs of damage can surge up to $100,000, according to Bill Leys, owner of Division 7 Waterproofing Consultants and a deck inspector in San Luis Obispo, CA.

“A deck or balcony can also have serious safety issues and be at risk of collapse,” he says.

Asking your inspector about cracks, rusted flashing, and soft areas around drains can help keep water from seeping into your home.

One final tip: Most home inspections are performed at least two months before closing. A lot can change in that time—especially if a house is vacant, Kraeutler says. Consider having a follow-up inspection the day of (or no earlier than the day before) closing to ensure you’re not purchasing a money pit. 

Source: by Gina Roberts-Grey has been covering real estate news since 2000

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3 features Americans want in their dream home

Most Americans have a clear idea of their dream home — and it doesn’t involve living large.

Fewer people think owning their own home is part of the “American Dream” in 2015 than they did five years ago (71% in 2015 versus 77% in 2010), according to a survey of 2,000 adults carried out by Harris Poll on behalf of real estate site Trulia. Homeownership has become as much of a lifestyle choice than an obligatory milestone, says Selma Hepp, chief economist with Trulia; 75% of married people with kids under the age of 18 say they plan to buy a home to be their primary residence versus 69% of single people with no kids.

Yet only 35% of Americans said they’ve already purchased their “dream home.” Only 14% of respondents who plan to buy any home say they will do so within the next year, the survey found, while 69% plan to wait at least two years. And most people gravitate toward modern homes (18%) with newer features that require less work than older homes, followed by ranch-style homes (15%). People chose a dozen types of homes from log cabins (6%) to Colonial style houses (5%). Only 3% chose penthouse apartments as their ideal type of home and 1% picked houseboats.

Here are the three most popular features people want to live in a home happily ever after:

Americans aren’t big fans of mansions like the kind favored by 50 Cent. In fact, they’re more likely to follow the lead of billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Facebook FB, -0.03% co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, whose primary residences are suburban homes fit for a middle class family rather than members of the 1%. In fact, 44% of respondents want an average-sized home between 1,401 and 2,600 square feet — choosing a home that is not too big or too small.
When describing where their dream home is located, most respondents are evenly split between wanting to live in the countryside (27%) and the suburbs (27%) rather than in the heart of a major American city (8%). And this varies, depending on where in the country the respondents were located. Midwesterners and those living in the northeast prefer the suburbs, southerners want to live in the countryside and Westerners were more likely to say they want to live in the mountains.

But most Americans are less modest when it comes to the amenities they desire in their dream home: 59% say they want a backyard deck. Other features they want in their dream home include a balcony with a view (45%), gourmet kitchen (47%), vegetable garden (40%), open floor plan (38%) and swimming pool (38%). “Most people want a mid-sized, modern home in the suburbs with a backyard deck,” Hepp says. “Americans are pretty realistic and practical when it comes to what they want in their dream home.”


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Real Estate: Study suggests first-timers fuelling market


According to a new survey by the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP), it seems that those responsible for keeping the housing market alive right now are actually the first-time homebuyers.

Even with the housing market prices currently at an all-time high, those purchasing a home for the first time are making up 45 per cent of the 620,000 homes sold over the past two-plus years in Canada.
The Toronto Real Estate Board’s director of market analysis, Jason Mercer, doesn’t disagree, but he believes there are a number of factors to consider as to why the housing market is still so strong.

“I wouldn’t necessarily disagree that it’s first-time homebuyers who are driving the market,” says Mercer of Toronto. “But there is also an added supply of housing now with new condominiums and project completions throughout the city.”

Mercer explains that, if we look at things like job creation and consider where unemployment rates have been trending in the last few months, we would see that Toronto’s local economy has been one of the best performing local markets.

He also credits diversity within the city as a factor in determining why we are seeing so many new homeowners.

“Toronto has one of Canada’s most diverse local economies, so there are a lot of different employment opportunities,” says Mercer. “It’s a virtuous circle in a sense that those employment opportunities attract a diversity of newcomers to Canada, and they choose to move into the Greater Toronto Area,” he adds.

The latest CAAMP consumer survey report released revealed that, even though 18 per cent of down payments are still being loaned to buyers (usually from parents), 53 per cent are using money that they themselves or their co-buyers have saved.

“Everyone questions where the money is coming from, and a lot of it is simply borrowed money, but nobody collects that data because of privacy laws,” says Sherry Cooper, chief economist of Dominion Lending Centres. She believes the money is coming from parents. “It’s baby boomer parents helping out their kids.”

However, Cooper doesn’t agree that it’s first-time homebuyers exclusively who are driving local housing markets, especially with regard to the biggest increases in Toronto and Vancouver.

“Employment might be growing in Toronto, but it is also dampening in places like Alberta, because of the oil patch, so places like Calgary and Edmonton have been negatively affected.” She stresses that the survey was based on all of Canada and to keep in mind that those markets are much cheaper than Toronto and Vancouver.

Source: Post City Toronto BY TINA ROBINSON Published: Tuesday, Jul. 28, 2015, 09:05 AM

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Mike Holmes: Mid-summer is the only good time to repair your driveway

Driveways help direct water away from the home but require regular maintenance, including resealing, which should be done in mid-summer for best results.

Most homeowners forget about their driveway, but it plays a big role when it comes to proper water drainage around the house.

Driveways and pathways around your home should be designed so as to help direct water away from it. They shouldn’t be completely level to the house, and they definitely shouldn’t be directing water towards it.

That’s why driveways and pathways should slant slightly away from the home, following the grading around the house. If they’re level ,you’re going to get water pooling around the home, and if they’re slanted towards the house you’re actually driving water directly to your garage and/or foundation, which increases the chance of a leak.

When we talk about driveway materials the top three choices are asphalt, interlocking stone and concrete (or stamped concrete).

Asphalt is the least expensive. It performs well and it’s what most homeowners opt for. But if you’re going to have heavy trucks or toys sitting on your driveway, they can damage it and wear it out prematurely.

Repairing asphalt isn’t easy. In most cases, it’s a complete do-over, meaning it has to get ripped up and repaved.

Interlocking stone is a good option. Not only is it strong, but the gaps between the stones allow for water drainage and the natural expansion and contraction of materials, so it helps prevent buckling and cracks. Also, fixing and making any repairs is fairly straightforward because it’s usually just a matter of replacing damaged stones.

Concrete (and stamped concrete) is typically the top choice. It’s expensive but it can take the most beating. However, salt (a winter de-icer) eats away at concrete, and if there are no gaps for the salt to drain away with melting snow, it will just sit on your driveway, literally eating it away.

That’s why driveways should typically be sealed with a breathable, high-quality sealant — make sure it’s the right one for whatever material your driveway is made of. Just like we have different sealants for different kinds of tiles, we have different sealants made specifically for different kinds of driveways and interlocking stone.

Sealing your driveway too often can cause problems, such as cracking and peeling, and not sealing it enough compromises its durability and protection. How often you reseal your driveway depends on the material, where you live, the climate, its installation, use and wear and tear; but as a guideline some pros suggest once every three years.

The best time to reseal your driveway is midsummer. Not only is it hot — so it dries faster and you can use your driveway sooner — but materials expand in summer’s heat, and if hit’s resealed when the driveway materials have fully expanded, the pores can take in the sealant better.

If you have an asphalt driveway, use a latex sealant — not oil. Oil sealants might look better — they make an asphalt driveway look shiny and black — and they last longer, but they can cause cracking. (That’s why oil stains from cars are not good for your driveway.) So your driveway might look great the first year, but by next year you might start seeing cracks.

If your driveway is crumbling and you’re starting to see holes, it’s a do-over.

Asphalt driveways should have a minimum of 10 inches of gravel tamped every two inches — some pros say six to eight inches, but I like 10 to 12 inches — followed by a minimum of four inches of asphalt on top.

So, first we make sure we have proper grading. Then we lay the first two inches of gravel, tamp it; add the next two inches, tamp it again, until we have a total of 10 inches of gravel.

If you can do it, I would let that layer of gravel sit for an entire year, to give it time to properly compress and compact itself, and then do the asphalt on top. That gives you a solid base that protects against driveway cracks, dips and heaving.

It took me two years to do my driveway, so don’t rush yours. Have patience because sometimes that’s what it takes to make it right.

SOURCE:  Mike Holmes, Special to National Post | July 3, 2015 | Last Updated: Jul 3 9:58 AM ETWatch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit

Basement renovations start with waterproofing

Lowering your basement floor requires careful underpinning of the foundation, in stages, to prevent the walls from collapsing and destroying the home.

When we first started putting basements under houses, the space was mainly used for storage, laundry and as a place to keep the furnace and hot water tank out of the way.

But as our lifestyles have changed — and property values rose — the basement became an obvious place to add more living space.

But basements are also the parts of houses that are most likely to get flooded. So the first consideration before starting any work on the basement is to make sure it’s properly waterproofed.

With many older homes, there’s virtually nothing to stop water from seeping through cracks and gaps in the foundation and cause all sorts of problems.

Ideally, you’ll want to do it from the outside, by digging a trench around the entire perimeter of the house and then installing a waterproofing membrane to the exterior side of the wall. Of course, with many city homes, there simply isn’t room between neighbouring houses to excavate. In that case, you’ll need to apply the waterproofing membrane on the inside of the walls.

Either way, the membrane will extend below the floor level and get tied into a weeping tile system that collects any water and channels it away from the foundation.

If you’re adding the waterproofing on the inside, you will need to install a sump pit where the water will collect and, once it reaches a certain level, a pump will push it outside. (Note that the building code prohibits the sump pit from being connected to the sewer lines, so you’ll need an outflow pipe to the exterior.)

In the past few years, we’ve had some torrential storms that taught many homeowners a painful lesson. When does the power tend to go out? When there’s flooding. When do you most need your sump pump? When the power’s out and it starts to flood.

I’ve recently come across a great product that helps avoid this catastrophe, the Ion Genesis. It has dual, digital water-level sensors so there’s a built-in backup. It can be combined with a battery backup to keep the system running when you need it. There’s even an alarm system that will automatically call you if there is a problem.

Most older basements have little to no headroom, so before renovating, owners often opt to excavate first. There are two basic options: underpinning and benching. With underpinning, a contractor will excavate below the existing foundation wall, in stages, and then pour a new, deeper foundation below the original.

Benching involves breaking up the floor and pouring a new foundation adjacent to the existing one. Benching is cheaper — it might cost about $40,000 to underpin a 500-square-foot basement; benching would be about $25,000. But for each foot you go down, your new foundation has to project a foot out from the existing wall. So you end up with a “bench” around the perimeter that eats into the usable floorspace.

Whichever route you take, you’ll want to use a reputable, experienced company that has all the proper licences and insurance. (Last year, a house near Avenue Rd. and Lawrence Ave. collapsed while being underpinned and a 19-year-old working on the project was killed.)

Breaking up the floor has the added advantage of allowing you to install new sewage pipes, and make other modifications, such as installing a backwater valve. This device prevents water from municipal sewer lines from getting into your home if there’s a backup. The City of Toronto has a rebate program that covers up to $1,250 of the cost of installing a backwater valve.

You might also want to consider adding radiant (hot water) heating or electric heating cables below the floor to warm the space. Or, if not for the entire floor, at least in the bathroom if you’re adding one.

The layers of gravel and insulation that will go down before the new concrete floor is poured also act as a barrier against radon, a naturally occurring radioactive element in the soil that’s found in potentially dangerous levels in some parts of the country.

Obviously, you’ll need to insulate the walls if that’s not already done. The tried-and-true method is to install batt insulation between the wall studs, then cover it with a vapour barrier and drywall. Another option is prefab panels that include framing, insulation and a finished interior wall all in one.

Finally, if your plan is to create your dream home-entertainment centre in the basement, I’d recommend you soundproof it from the rest of the house. Adding insulation in the space between the ceiling and floor above will help muffle the sound from blockbuster movies. I use Owens Corning’s specially designed QuietZone acoustic insulation for this. Finish it off by mounting soundproofing drywall (or doubled-up sheets of regular drywall) on “resilient channels,” metal strips that help reduce sound transmission, and you’ll be able to enjoy movies and music without disturbing the rest of the house.

Source: Toronto Star

Jim Caruk’s column runs every two weeks in New in Homes & Condos. He’s a master contractor, editor-in-chief of Renovation ContractorEND magazine, renovation editor for Reno & Decor ENDmagazine, and founder of the Renos for Heroes program and Build It Yourself Learning Centres in the GTA.

Mike Holmes: Remember when homes used to last? When families would keep them for generations?

Using better products that are durable, resistant and long-lasting on your next renovation will save you money in the long run, as well the environment.

June 5th is World Environment Day, and as a contractor and builder, I have a responsibility to be green. In my line of work I see a lot of materials, a lot of products and unfortunately, a lot of waste.

I can’t tell you how many tons of concrete, plywood, shingles, lumber — you name it — I’ve ordered, used and demoed. It’s enough to make your head spin. And it’s part of the reason I have absolutely no tolerance for bad jobs. Not only is it potentially dangerous (for example, a bad reno can lead to bad electrical or unsafe structure) but it’s also a massive waste of new materials.

That’s why I do things once, and I do them right — so I don’t have to do them again and use twice the materials. And whenever my crew works on any demo job, we save what we can — tiles, brick, lumber, fixtures, etc. — anything we can use again, and we recycle whatever materials we can. For example, you can recycle asphalt shingles.

There are plenty of choices you can make as a homeowner, too. For example, you can collect the rainwater that comes off your roof and use it to water your lawn or wash your car; you can install low-flow water fixtures, use eco-friendly paint, power off when you’re not using appliances, and use alternatives to cooling, such as awnings over your windows. You also can switch to LED lights and start incorporating solar lighting around your home. (Going completely solar is obviously a top choice, but it might still be too big of a leap price-wise for some homeowners.)

I read an article that did a very good job of spelling out the situation we’re in today. It said that 50 years ago, we knew we had a consumption problem. But now we have double the population and our consumption has skyrocketed. Just one generation ago, if you bought a car, that was the car you had for the rest of your life. Today we change our cars like we change our tools — almost every five years.

And what about our homes? Remember when homes used to last? Families would keep them for generations. Same with the furniture and the finishes. I’ve seen homes where the tile on the floor is the same tile that was there 70 years ago. Not only did it last, but the homeowners never wanted to change it.

We need to think about why we renovate, what choices we make for our homes and why.

Are you renovating to make your home more energy-efficient, watertight or healthy? Are you increasing its durability and longevity? Or are you just tired of the paint colour, or maybe the neighbours redid their kitchen and now you’re thinking yours needs an update, too?

I’m not saying don’t renovate, but what I am saying is do it smart. Work from the outside in. Before you start updating the kitchen and bathrooms, make sure you have a good roof and a strong building envelope that protects your home and saves you energy. Always hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Yes, it will cost more, but cheaper is always more expensive because you will have to do it again.

And choose materials that you won’t need to replace five years down the road. That’s why I’m a big fan of materials that last — things like quartz, composite wood, metal roofs, quality insulation, etc. And that’s why we make sure everything is installed properly. Because you can have the best materials, but if they are not installed properly they are going in the garbage, and so is your money.

Protecting the environment benefits all of us — every single person on this beautiful planet. The bottom line is that we need natural resources to survive. So let’s be smart and use them responsibly and protect them. We all have a role to play here, and let’s make it right.

Source: National Post

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit

Cheap but crucial curb appeal fixes

Curb Appeal Can Curb Buyer Enthusiasm

Source: Real Estate Professional

Jazzing up the exterior of the home will set high buyer expectations – before they even set foot inside. And many of the fixes outside the home represent some of the highest return on investment of all renovations. To boot, they’re oftentimes the cheapest. Here are four easy – and inexpensive – outdoor renos.

1 – Doors
Doors are one of the first things a buyer notices about a house. Changing the front door can change the entire look of the home. Add a door with square feet of glass for a light and airy look; or try a steel door for better security. Plus, lots of doors are customizable, making it easy to set your client’s property apart from others up for sale on the same block.

2 – Gates and Fences
Just as there are several different types of doors, there are a slew of different styled fences and gates that your clients can choose from. And, like doors, these fences can be used to compliment the style of the home. A quaint property might benefit from a traditional picket fence, while a large stone house might be completed with a wrought iron gate.

3 – Front Yard
Nothing’s changed here: Simple landscaping maintenance continues to go a long way to enhancing curb appeal. Suggest your clients lay new sod, if necessary, or add colourful plants to a flowerbed. Lawns will need to be mowed as often as twice a week while the property is listed, and weeds pulled. In the wintertime, ensuring walkways are plowed and salted are also a must.

4 – Back Yard
Canada’s brief summers put outdoor living spaces on almost any buyer’s wish list. There are several ways your clients can play up the house’s backyard space. Again, ensure the lawn and flower beds are well-groomed. If the property has a pool, have your clients clean it of any debris before showings. Staging an outdoor space is increasingly a good investment. That exercise extends to adding a patio set and a barbecue and laying deck tiles. Show buyers what their summers can be like if they’re lucky enough to win this house.