From the desk of
Arthur S. Lazerow
Chairman, Alban Inspections, Inc
And Retired Home Inspector March, 2019
Musings of a Retired Old Home Inspector
I was inspecting for a married couple who could not attend, so they sent Grandpop. We chattered as two grandfathers and he concluded saying “I love being a grandfather so much, I wish I had done it first!” That is how I have always felt about being a home inspector, since I loved the excitement of working with homebuyers and the detective work involved. My real disappointment is that I did not keep a log book of interesting inspections and findings. Finding voltage on the surface of an electric panel box, detecting carbon monoxide spewing out of a water heater, seeing collapsing walls, termite damage, reverse grading outside and leaking toilets into crawl spaces were always “gotcha” moments, protecting my clients, while educating them about all aspects of their new dwelling.
Looking back, evidence of unnatural movement of an element of a house under review was the most challenging aspect of home inspecting. Here are a few that I vividly remember.
Let’s start on a Halloween eve at a new-construction, recently- settled home in Frederick City. I met the wife and she ushered me in, asking that I stand at the doorway entering into her beautifully decorated dining room. She kicked her cat, which went prancing across the dining room floor. With that, crystal glassware in a china closet rang out like wind chimes, demonstrating how limber the floor assembly was. I was startled, for sure. We then went downstairs into the basement. Checking the depth of the floor joists and the spans between bearing structures, it was obvious that the floor joists were too shallow in depth for the long span between their supports. I wrote the client a detailed report, recommending that the builder return to the home and reinforce the floor. My client call a month or so later to report that the builder admitted that the floor joists were wrong and it installed intermediate supports to shorten the distance between bearing points, which solved the problem to my client’s satisfaction.
My other favorite memory is an inspection in an old neighborhood in Silver Spring for a lovely couple in their thirties with a newborn daughter. Remember the days were every listing received three or four home inspections before offers were tendered during the supercharged real estate market of many years ago My personal protocol was to inspect the roof first, then outside conditions of the house, grading and other exterior items. For some reason, we started in the basement and then outside. In the basement, the level of carbon monoxide being exhausted from the water heater into the house was so high that I shut down the water heater and called the listing agent so she could arrange for a plumber to make an immediate repair. Then outside we went. What a disaster. The driveway was on the right side of the home starting at the street and going to the back of the home, with a masonry retaining only three feet from the edge of the driveway on the property line down its entire length. For most of its length, it was at least five feet high, but it was also leaning noticeably toward the property I was inspecting. Also, and very dramatically, the next door home was only about 15 feet from the retaining wall, which clearly would slide toward our property if the retaining wall continued to move and topple. My smartass comment was to recommend that my clients not park their cars next to the wall until corrective action was taken. My recollection was that the neighbor who owned the wall would not cooperate, and without a resolution of this problem, my clients decided not to make a offer and move on. I inspected their next home, which they bought.
There are many other memories. A house in Columbia built by a project builder whose name every Realtor knows. Its masonry contractor used wall ties that sere too light-weight to hold the brick veneer in place. The wall was moving, in some cases pulling windows with it and in other cases leaving windows attached to the wood framing, crating wide gaps between drywall and the window frame in second floor bedrooms. Then there was a fantastic home in Libertytown Md. whose stone work was failing on one side, so some unknowledgeable contractor decided to anchor the stonework with metal straps and anchor them onto the second floor (non-structural) finished wood flooring. As the stone wall continued to fail, it pulled the flooring with it to leave unsightly gaps at numerous ends.
One more, an inspection of a civil war era home in Washington County Md. with a failing front wall. Interesting inspection, in that the wife was buying the home to restore its period decor, but the husband was buying a fixer-upper. The wall movement at some point caused a structure engineer to install a wall crack monitor. During the period from its installation until my inspection, the crack monitor had moved over one inch. If left alone, that wall was headed to Hagerstown.
These are all interesting stories. But for Realtors®, be sensitive to unusual conditions, such as odd cracks, leaning or bowed walls, or limber floors. Each is a symptom of an underlying problem. Being sensitive and knowledgeable to the condition of a home, I believe, makes a Realtor® a better advocate for his or her clients, whether on the buyer or seller side.
Alban Inspections Chairman