Saturday, February 22, 2014

Real Estate Revelations

As many reading this may recall, shortly after beginning this inspection business 16 years ago, I began an e-mail newsletter for Realtors with the goal of attempting to assist with your business, especially as it relates to home inspections. That newsletter was very well accepted in the industry and widely read. That action later evolved into my website and later this blog "Today's Home Inspections". All along it was my intent to crank the newsletter back up. Beginning March 1st that will occur with "Real Estate Revelations". This effort will be even more targeted toward assisting agents with better knowledge and timely information to improve their business. It will be less about home inspections and more about you.

Mid March will begin a second newsletter for home owners "The House Whisperer". With thousands of past customers and future customers, there are many who will enjoy and gain from this effort to help them traverse the sometimes murky waters of home ownership. Since most Realtors are also home owners this may interest you as well for your on home and to know what your customers are receiving.

To encourage Realtors to sign up, I am having a drawing for $1,000.00 on the last day of 2014. The drawing will include every active Realtor within the Triad MLS area who signs up for "Real Estate Revelations" and "RecallTrak", which will be explained in the newsletter. Both are required for the drawing!

To participate you must sign up for my e-mail list at this link: 

You will be able to choose "Real Estate Revelations" (required for the drawing) which will go out the first of every month as well as "The House Whisperer" which will go out mid month. I suggest you take a chance and check out both.

Follow the instructions in "Real Estate Revelations" to be eligible for the $1,000.00 drawing at the end of 2014.

Added March 1, 2014 Click Here to see the first edition.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Don't Buy That House Until You Check These 7 Critical Problem Spots

Here is a great article at the Motley Fool you should read and heed BEFORE making an offer to purchase a home or booking a home inspection. Otherwise you may get to pay me twice as happened multiple times in the past few weeks. It's OK for my wallet but you can save much money and heartache by simply opening your eyes and looking as outlined in the article at this link:
"If you're buying a house, you should get a professional home inspection. Its just that simple. Do it. These professionals have the tools, knowledge, and experience to guaranteer there aren't any unexpected or expensive surprises for you and your family after you move int. There is one small problem, however. The home inspection occurs after you already made an offer to buy the house, and it can cost you a few hundred dollars in non-refundable cash."

Sunday, February 9, 2014


This is a rewrite of an article from my newsletter of September 9, 2000

In 2000 I was at a newly constructed home to set a 90-day Radon test. I had inspected this home about a month earlier and was impressed by the visible quality, which was much improved over what I had witnessed in the past from this builder who is a major player in this market then and now.

One of the things noted in my inspection was that the copper front porch roof had not been flashed at the brick wall. Needless to say, this concerned me and was prominent in my report to the buyer. Upon my return visit, the owner ask if I would look at some problems they were experiencing. They expressed concern that they were having difficulty getting the builder to respond to their concerns. Walking through the home I was shown water stains on the drywall below the living room, den and master bedroom windows. There were also water stains on the windows. Should water stains at windows be acceptable in a newly constructed home? I don't think so. So what was going on here?

Before I share my insight on this issue, let me carefully tell a story from my distant past when I was commercial building contractor.

It was pouring down rain as my phone rang. On the other end was a very prominent local architect. “Chris, could you please come to my office? I have a problem and would appreciate you taking a look while it is raining. Water is pouring into my office.”

I had not constructed this building (thank God) which was not very old, but had been designed by the person callings firm. Arriving at the site, my first observation was that the masonry details at the windows were complex making them difficult to effectively flash inside of the wall. Walking into the office in question, even I was shocked by what I saw. It was still pouring down rain outside, and the wall was not just wet or dripping, water was pouring through the wall similar to water pouring out of a bathtub faucet. The architect, supposedly a recognized expert on such issues wasn't just upset, he was mad, cursing the contractor, as he attempted to protect his furniture, equipment, books and documents.

My immediate conclusion?

Overly complex masonry details in association with inadequate through wall flashing. We were employed to check out the total building, which was no small undertaking. The conclusion, this one office wasn't the only issue; this same issue was duplicated throughout the building at most wall openings and roof to wall connections. At some point soon, water may be pouring in all over the building. Overly complex design details associated with poorly managed and inadequate installation of the flashing was clearly causing this problem at most locations. You don't even want to hear the cost associated with properly fixing something like this on a major commercial building. Since that time I have unfortunately had to address this issue on numerous commercial as well as residential structures. I have witnessed deals in the tens of millions fall apart because of this issue!

Flashing is an often-ignored, overlooked and unseen major concern in the construction process. Wouldn’t you love to purchase, or as a Realtor sell, a newly constructed home, or even an existing home and the roof and/or walls leak thirty days after the buyer's occupancy?

Back to our original story on the home with the water stains. Remember, the home inspector does not have x-ray vision and can't see inside of the walls, he must see the results of the problem and conjecture, based on his knowledge and experience, as to what is going on. There had been recent, heavy wind blown rain. My conclusion was the same as the past commercial building. There is inadequate and/or improperly installed flashing at the sills and heads of the windows.

Since this was a brick veneer home, the only proper permanent fix involves removing the brick window sills and the brick above the header (top) support angle, installing proper flashing with end dams and replacing the brick. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? You can believe this is very complex, expensive and messy. Temporary and questionable fix, waterproof the brick. Had this been any other type of siding, the issue is similar as is the fix. The siding must usually be removed, and often the windows to permanently repair the problem.

What makes this even more interesting is that this builder has a reputation for detesting private home inspectors and often commenting: "This home meets code, and I don't have to do anything he says!"

Did this or most homes meet code? Let's look into the code in force at the time and see. What flashings are required? The quotations are direct quotes from the code (in 2000). Take the time to read this, you may learn a lot!
"703.3…Horizontal joints in panel siding shall be lapped a minimum of 1 inch or shall be flashed with Z-flashing."
"703.7 Masonry veneer, general…Flashing shall be installed over steel angle and a minimum of 6 inches under the wall sheathing."
"703.7.3 Flashing. Flashing shall be located beneath the first course of masonry above the finished ground level above the foundation wall or slab, and at other points of support, including structural floors, shelf angles and lintels when masonry veneers are designed in accordance with Section 703.7. See section 703.8 for additional requirements."
"703.8 Flashing. Approved corrosion - resistive flashing shall be provided at top and sides of all exterior window and door openings at top and sides of all exterior window and door openings in such a manner as to be leakproof, except that self- flashing windows having continuous lap of not less than 1-1/8 inches over the sheathing material around the perimeter of the opening, including corners, do not require additional flashing; jamb flashing may also be omitted when specifically approved by the building official. Similar flashings shall be installed at the intersection of chimneys or other masonry construction with frame or stucco walls, with projecting lips on both sides under stucco copings; under and at the ends of masonry, wood or metal copings and sills; continuously above all projecting wood trim; where exterior porches, decks or stairs attach to a wall or floor assembly of wood-frame construction; at wall and roof intersections."
Proper "step-flashing" 
"903.6 Side wall flashing. Flashing against a vertical sidewall shall be by the step-flashing method."
"903.7 Other flashing. Flashings against vertical front wall, as well as soil stack, vent pipe and chimney flashing, shall be applied according to asphalt shingle manufacturer's printed instructions.
"REROOFING…910.5 Flashing. Flashing shall be reconstructed in accordance with approved manufacturer's instructions.
There is one key word in all of this, "leakproof". If it leaks, it does not meet code! All of the rest is just how to make it leakproof. That being said let me share with you some things that I see which don't meet code and/or are not "leakproof". These issues are by no means limited to the problem builders, they are everywhere, even on the best builder’s homes.
  1. The code calls for flashing over steel lintels to be installed "6 inches under the wall sheathing." I have hardly ever seen this done. This is often the problem with water leaking at window headers.
  2. There are some issues with installation of self-flashing windows and house wrap. To be "leakproof" the house wrap should be lapped over, not under the flanges on the top and sides of the windows, and under the flange at the bottom. Do it differently and water will get behind the house wrap and into the wall.
  3. "Self-flashing" windows used in masonry walls confuse most builders. Just because the window is self flashing does not eliminate the requirement for support angle and brick sill flashing.
  4. For a brick sill flashing to be "leakproof" the flashing must extend below the sill on a wood window and below the bottom flange of a "self-flashing" window.
  5. In order for a window sill or support angle to be "leakproof" it must have "end dams". This is referred to in 703.8 with the words "at the ends of" but is not very clear. I have never seen an end dam used in residential construction and very rarely and only recently in commercial construction. To have an "end dam" the flashing must be shaped and turned up on the end in such a fashion to prevent water from leaking over the ends of the flashing. This is also recommended to be installed at the end of all flashing applications such as at the top of openings or anywhere where water could leak over the end of the flashing.
This is NOT flashing!
For those of you who get upset when home inspectors write up existing homes for improper or lack of roof flashing, pay close attention to 910.5 above. When homes are re-roofed, they fall under the current code and must be flashed. Roofing mastic, irrelevant how thick or beautifully applied is not flashing! It will in a short time crack out and leak.

How does all of this apply to existing homes? Remember, home inspections are not code inspections. I guess it all depends on your client. Most clients desire a "leakproof" home, don't you think? The issue is not does it meet code, but will it leak and what repairs will be required to prevent it from leaking.

I could go on and on about this subject. I could talk about the fact that roof flashing at masonry roof to wall connections should extend through the wall, not be applied to the outside. I see this on some older homes, but never on new construction. Flashing must be "leakproof". Flashing applied to the outside of a masonry wall will never be leakproof. Water goes into and through brick and block walls and must be directed back to the outside by through-wall flashing. There are many other issues related to flashing which we will not spend time dealing with here.

The main issue is, builders need to educate themselves and their subcontractors on proper flashing applications, insist that their homes be flashed properly (be made "leakproof"), rethink their priorities, and supervise their flashing installations. Quality construction is much more than what you see on the outside. Just because it looks good, doesn't necessarily mean it is good.

The miracle is that we don't see more leaks than we do. It's definitely not because builders build quality homes to code. They don't leak in spite of our (please note the use of the word our!) poor construction practices.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

HUD REAC Inspections

Added to the Home and Commercial Building Inspections I already conduct
Chris D. Hilton is now a contract HUD REAC Certified Physical Assesment Inspector

Nearly 4 million American families live in rental housing that is owned, insured or subsidized by HUD. That varies from low income and rent subsidized housing to luxury apartments as well as elder housing, group, assisted living and nursing homes. To ensure that these families have housing that is decent, safe, sanitary and in good repair. REAC conducts approximately 16,00 physical inspections on properties each year. Many of these are conducted for HUD, however, many more are requirements of the mortgage lender and are conducted for the lender. I do both types.

This type of inspection can involve a small building with a few units, scattered sites with single family homes or a single large building with many units such as the Nissen Building Apartments where I live in downtown Winston-Salem. Typically, this inspection involves larger properties with multiple buildings and multiple units. The largest one I have done so far involved 36 buildings and 230 units. That required a day and a half. Most are one to two days but can be more. The inspection is the complete site and a sample of the exterior of buildings, building common areas and units not every building and unit on site.

Interestingly, the building I live in has a HUD insured loan therefore falls under the requirements for this inspection. This week I was assigned the inspection for the very building I live in. That is considered a conflict of interest by HUD. Therefor, I had to decline that inspection. I am limiting the inspections I conduit to a 100 mile radius of Winston-Salem and have conducted inspections in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Tyro so far. However, I am certified to conduct these inspections throughout the US and it territories. Currently, I have inspections booked in Charlotte, Gastonia, Salisbury and Kannapolis.

Break down of when inspections are conducted based on their score from previous inspection.
These are the guys I must please!

Learn more about HUD REAC by clicking here

Federal Pacific "Stab-Loc" Electrical Service Panel

The North Carolina home Inspectors Licensure Board, as of January 10, 2014 has suggested the following language to address potential issues with Federal Pacific "Stab-Loc" Electrical Service Panels:
Home Inspector Report and Summary Page recommended language related to electrical equipment.
In recent years home inspections have revealed defects and safety concerns with some electrical panels and equipment. The following language is recommended for use by home inspectors as deemed appropriate for the building inspected.
Recommended Language:
The main electrical panel is a Federal Pacific "Stab-Loc" service panel. There have been multiple reports of problems associate with these electrical panels which could affect the safety and habitability of the home. Determination of specific potential problems for the equipment installed as this home is beyond the scope of a home inspection. Further investigation by a licensed electrical contractor is recommended to determine if the panel should be replaced and the approximate cost of replacement. For more information visit:

Two different types of Federal Pacific "Stab-Loc" Electrical Service Panels

Vertical Panel
Horizontal Panel

I encourage you to visit the links above for details about this issue. 

Zinsco Electrical Panel Equipment

The North Carolina home Inspectors Licensure Board, as of January 10, 2014 has suggested the following language to address potential issues with Zinsco Electrical Service Panels:
Home Inspector Report and Summary Page recommended language related to electrical equipment.
In recent years home inspections have revealed defects and safety concerns with some electrical panels and equipment. The following language is recommended for use by home inspectors as deemed appropriate for the building inspected.
Recommended Language:
The electrical panel located (fill in the blank) contains Zinsco equipment There have been multiple reports of problems associated with this type of equipment that can affect the safety and habitability of the home. These problems cannot be identified without removal of the circuit breakers, which is beyond the scope of a home inspection. Further investigation by a licensed electrical contractor is recommended to determine if the panel should be replaced and the approximate cost of replacement. For more information on Zinsco electrical panels visit:

A Typical Zinsco Label

Horizontal Zinsco Panel

Vertical Zinsco Panel

I encourage you to visit the link provided above for more detail on this issue. Also be aware that in many installations these panels are actuality owned by the power provider. Many home inspectors, including ME, will not remove the dead front covers from these brand electrical panels due to safety concerns!

When Things Go Wrong After a Home Inspection

That !@#$%^;* Home Inspector should have told us about this!

Recently, I was called to a home I had inspected about a week before. I arrived, went to the basement, took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants and walked through 4" of water to plug in the basement sump pump. I will not go into the details of that inspection. Suffice it to say that I was told this basement had leaked previously and the finishes, for the most part, were new in a much older home. I could find no evidence during my inspection that whatever had caused the basement to leak previously had been addressed. I did cover potential for future basement leakage in my report. Do you think that made the buyer feel any better? You can bet that it did not. 

Interestingly, the buyer's agent called about a week later stating that it was raining again and the basement was not leaking. No one had done anything to address the issue but the seller (this transaction had not closed) was convinced because it was raining and the basement wasn't leaking this time that it would not leak ever again. Dream On! 

What should you consider when things go wrong There may come a time after your home inspection that you discover something wrong with the house, and you may be upset or disappointed with your home inspection. Before becoming overly upset with me please pay close attention to this article. 
Intermittent Or Concealed Problems Some problems can only be discovered by living in a house. They cannot be discovered during the few hours of a home inspection. For example, some shower stalls leak when people are in the shower, but do not leak when you simply turn on the tap. Some roofs and basements only leak when specific conditions exist. Some problems will only be discovered when carpets are lifted, furniture is moved or finishes are removed.
No Clues 
These problems may have existed at the time of the inspection but there were no clues as to their existence. My inspections are based on the past performance of the house. If there are no clues of a past problem, it is unfair to assume I should foresee a future problem.
I Will Always Miss Some Minor Things
 Some may say that I am inconsistent because my reports identify some minor problems but not others. The minor problems that are identified were discovered while looking for more significant problems. We note them simply as a courtesy. The intent of the inspection is not to find the $200 problems; it is to find the $2,000 problems. These are the things that affect people's decisions to purchase.
Contractors' Advice
 The main source of dissatisfaction with home inspectors comes from comments made by contractors. Contractors opinions often differ from mine. Don't be surprised when three roofers all say the roof needs replacement when I said that, with some minor repairs, the roof will last a few more years. Contractors are in the business of replacing roofs. I am in the business of documenting the facts. 
Last Man In Theory
 While my advice may represent the most prudent thing to do, many contractors are reluctant to undertake these repairs. This is because of the "Last Man In Theory". The contractor fears that if he is the last person to work on the roof, he will get blamed if the roof leaks, regardless of whether the roof leak is his fault or not. Consequently, he will not want to do a minor repair with high liability when he could re-roof the entire house for more money and reduce the likelihood of a callback. This is understandable.
Most Recent Advice Is Best
 There is more to the "Last Man In Theory". It suggests that it is human nature for homeowners to believe the last bit of "expert" advice they receive, even if it is contrary to previous advice. As a home inspector, I unfortunately find myself in the position of "First Man In" and consequently it is my advice that is often disbelieved.
Why Didn't The Home Inspector See It
 Contractors may say "I can't believe you had this house inspected, and they didn't find this problem". There are several reasons for these apparent oversights:
1. Conditions During Inspection 
It is difficult for homeowners to remember the circumstances in the house, at the time of the inspection. Homeowners seldom remember that it was snowing, there was storage everywhere in the basement or that the furnace could not be turned on because the air conditioning was operating, etc. It's impossible for contractors to know what the circumstances were when the inspection was performed.
2. The Wisdom Of Hindsight
 When the problem manifests itself, it is very easy to have 20/20 hindsight. Anybody can say that the basement is wet when there is 2 inches of water on the floor. Predicting the problem is a different story.
3. A Long Look 
If I spent 1/2 an hour under the kitchen sink or 45 minutes disassembling the furnace, I would find more problems too. Unfortunately, the inspection would take several days and would cost considerably more.
4. We're Generalists
 I am a generalists; I am not a specialists. The heating contractor may indeed have more heating expertise than I do.
5. An Invasive Look
 Problems often become apparent when carpets or plaster are removed, when fixtures or cabinets are pulled out, and so on. A home inspection is a visual examination. I don't perform any invasive or destructive tests.

Not Insurance 
In conclusion, a home inspection is designed to better your odds. It is not designed to eliminate all risk. For that reason, a home inspection should not be considered an insurance policy. The premium that an insurance company would have to charge for a policy with no deductible, no limit and an indefinite policy period would be considerably more than the fee we charge. It would also not include the value added by the inspection.
What do I do NOW?

With all of this stated, what should you do if there is an issue with one of my home inspections?
  1. Read your home inspection report and our contract along with all internet links throughly. You will find a sample contract and the internet information on my blog at this link:
  2. If you think you have a legitimate claim and purchased a one year home warranty (this may have been provided by the seller or purchased from you Realtor) contact the warranty company. 
  3. If it is within 90 days of your inspection or 22 days following your closing whichever is longest check out the 90 day warrant I included free with your home inspection. You will find information at this link:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What a client thinks

Recent comment in the Lowe's Mover Thank You guest book: " We used Chris Hilton to do our home inspection and found him extremely responsive to the critical deadlines within the contract/closing. Further - he was very thorough in pointing out major and minor issues with the property. His price wasn't bad either. WH