One of the great things about being the founder and president of a small company is that I can handle many of the business tasks myself and nearly everything is handled by our family. This gives me great freedom to provide outstanding value and go the extra mile (or 1.6 kilometres if you prefer). I personally answer all calls, read all texts and emails, and give clear answers to all inquiries even if I believe another professional would be better suited for your needs. It is great to be free to speak without following a corporate script but there are a few phrases you will never hear me (and hopefully no other home inspector) utter.
This House is Overpriced/A Great Deal/Just Right
I certainly have personal opinions on the current housing market, but they are just that: personal. As a professional home inspector who also completed a business degree, I have extensive training in the subject of making optimal financial decisions within budget constraints. However, this is beyond the scope of an independent home inspector. You will never hear me advise whether you should buy a house or not, but I will alert a client if I believe their expectations are greatly misaligned with my observations, such as expecting a turnkey home when it needs extensive maintenance.
The Home is Full of Dangerous Mold/Asbestos
Contrary to popular belief, there is no way to identify ‘toxic’ mold or asbestos from a visual examination alone. Are there signs that a house almost certainly has issues with either? Absolutely but there is no way to be 100% sure without a lab test. While beyond the standard of a home inspection I usually alert my clients if further testing or evaluation is recommended but you will never see me make any definitive statements because they simply cannot be made in the field.
Call Me to Fix This Issue
One of the many requirements of being a member of InterNACHI (the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) is to follow their code of ethics (InterNACHI Code of Ethics). This is more than a meaningless platitude: everyone who is affiliated with our company is expected to follow it without exception. One such requirement is to avoid all real or perceived conflicts of interest. Therefore, while I fancy myself a bit of a handyman, we InterNACHI members are not permitted to perform repairs for an extra fee for 12 months. Yes, I will occasionally tighten a loose screw or clear a gutter blockage if I am safely able to, but you will never see me charging extra. The inspection fee is the only price I charge and if the inspection takes far longer than expected you still don’t receive any additional invoice or other hidden charges.
Please Listen Closely to Our Menu Options
Few things annoy me more than calling a company and having to navigate unclear menus only to be sent to the wrong department. Amazingly these same companies almost always have a ‘higher than normal’ call volume and my ‘call is important’ despite spending significant time on hold. While I am frequently away from the phone, make no mistake I will always call back as soon as possible and will give you a clear answer to your inquiry.
I am aware that the majority of people calling me can be under a great deal of time pressure and stress, whether it be because they are dealing with the various steps of a real estate transaction, dealing with one of the many issues that being a homeowner can throw at you or are worried about a potential structural problem you can rest assured that we will not add to that stress and can give you clear, immediate answers without having to deal with a headache inducing call centre.
Like most Canadian home inspectors, I have been asked on occasion what I think of Mike Holmes. Overall I have a positive opinion of him and have learned plenty watching his many shows over the years. My biggest criticism, however, is that he tends to exaggerate relatively minor issues and unintentionally misrepresent how easy it is to renovate a home, which given the limitations of television is understandable.
Before I became a professional home inspector, I imagined it was a lot like a TV show, where I look at an issue and loudly proclaim: “this is X, will cost Y and will take Z to complete!” The truth is that while many issues are black and white (i.e. missing safety devices) many defects I come across require me to draw upon my vast knowledge of building systems to evaluate. Here are just a few examples of symptoms that can be anything from cosmetic to catastrophic.
One of the most concerning things a homeowner can face is a home that is sinking on one side. This can be a very expensive repair and in extreme situations it may even be cheaper to rebuild the entire house! While that sounds terrifying in reality this is a rare situation: nearly every home has foundation cracks and they are generally not a big deal. There are a number of variables I look at:
Methane gas not only unhealthy and explosive in large concentrations but smells terrible and can be very concerning. If a home smells of sewage, this could mean a sewer line clog or even worse, a break. Both are expensive to remedy and are disruptive to a home’s occupants. Before waving the white flag and calling for a plumber, an inspector knows to check a few things first, particularly the home’s toilets. These are the only fixtures where the waste pipes do not have a trap to prevent sewer gas from escaping (they are in the toilet itself) and over time the wax seal keeping it in place to the floor will crack and loosen, leading to the unpleasant smell. This is a relatively minor repair and can be easily completed by the homeowner.
I recently had a real estate agent ask me how much of a concern Asbestos is for home buyers. The short answer is that it depends on where in the home it is located. If you follow this blog, you already know that Asbestos is very dangerous to long term health but only when in a friable (easily crumbled) state, where loose fibres can coat the lungs over time. If a house has asbestos (and a significant number of homes, particularly on the Halifax Peninsula or Downtown Dartmouth likely do), my advice will vary based on where the potential asbestos is located. If it is discovered in flooring tiles or siding the best option would be to leave it alone but it is in insulation, I generally suggest either covering or preferably having a qualified abatement contractor remove it. Ideally, I would love to wave a magic wand and remove all asbestos from homes but in reality, it is very expensive and time consuming to completely remove safely from a structure.
Just like a doctor will usually suggest not searching the internet for symptoms, as a homeowner you should be cautious when looking at information online. There is a lot of scary information about topics such as Polybutylene Pipes, Flammable Insulation and Dangerous Decks but reality is far more subjective than the blanket statements I often see. These symptoms can suggest a wide variety of conditions but in my experience, they are usually on the mild end of the spectrum.
One of the most overlooked and misunderstood hazards in a home is asbestos. There are six types of asbestos with chrysotile being by far the most common in homes, making up about 95% of all asbestos in residential properties. However, all types of asbestos are known health and safety hazards.
Canada banned the use of Asbestos except for extremely rare uses in 2018. The good news is that in home construction it is rare to find asbestos in residential properties built after 1986. The bad news is that asbestos can be literally anywhere in a home (especially homes built between approximately 1940-1960) and there is no way for an inspector or homeowner to confirm the presence of asbestos visually. There are, however, certain clues that strongly indicate to the home inspector the possibility of asbestos in older homes, including:
While this sounds very scary, the truth is that asbestos-containing products by themselves pose little to no danger: the issue comes when it is in a friable state, or in other words can be crumbled into small pieces. This can release microscopic fibres into the air that can potentially lead to an aggressive and deadly form of cancer known as Mesothelioma.
In many cases, especially when discussing flooring tiles or insulation, the best way to reduce the risk is to leave it alone while in others (such as in drywall) the best solution is to hire an abatement contractor to evaluate and remove asbestos, especially before renovation activities.
If there is one takeaway, the dramatic shots on TV of workers taking a sledgehammer to a wall is an extremely dangerous practice for many reasons (and those are topics for future posts) and can easily spread asbestos fibres in the air. Remember, there is no way to visually confirm asbestos without a professional laboratory and it is always best to assume a house built before 1986 has asbestos until proven otherwise.