Home Inspector Blog
Michael Burfitt, CPI
Home Inspector Blog
Michael Burfitt, CPI
Welcome to Nova Scotia! There has been a recent spike in people who have chosen to make our city home from both across Canada and around the world and it is wonderful to see the vast and growing cultural diversity when walking around town. My son will get to grow up in a community that is much more welcoming of diversity and valuing of inclusion and I am happy to see our city change for the better.
However, as a professional home inspector based in Halifax and having grown up on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbour, I see a lot of misconceptions about homes in our community. The overwhelming majority of professional home inspectors in the world are in either Canada or the United States and this is not a coincidence. North America is certainly an economically strong region but there is a common misconception that homes are virtually maintenance free. This is FAR from the truth, and I have never inspected a home that did not have at least one issue (yes, even brand-new homes).
Homes in North America are NOT Built Like Tanks
There is a commonly held belief that houses in Canada are well built using strict building codes. This is only partial correct: while major structural issues (such as catastrophic collapse due to high winds) are extremely rare, modern homes are often built as cheaply as legally possible. This means that engineered components that while affordable, need to be properly installed to be effective and have limited lifespan that can be greatly reduced under certain conditions (like moisture penetration), such as roof and wall components. Unfortunately, on many building sites these can be installed by subcontractors not as familiar with proper installation techniques.
We Have Mild Winters (and That’s a Bad Thing)
While compared to the world at large we have brutally cold winters, looking at just Nova Scotia we typically have warmer winters than the rest of Canada. This means we usually get 8-10 mini winters with rain and warmer temperatures in the middle. As a homeowner I appreciate the snow being cleared but as a home inspector this is a challenge to work around. One consequence of our weather is that the frequent freeze/thaw cycles can cause significant destruction to homes through the expansion of water as it cools. Once water gets into building cracks, it can quickly cause further damage. This is one reason with Stucco-cladded homes are so rare in our province.
Homes are Usually Built as Single-Family (3-4 people) Homes
Until recently, it was considered unusual in North America to share a home with another generation or family. Once children reached their 20s, it was commonly expected that they would move out on their own. Today, it is very common to see 6 or more adults living under a single roof. While this is a great way of sharing resources, this is a concern to home inspectors.
Put simply, modern homes need to be carefully balanced: HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems that work great in a 2-person household can experience significant issues in an 8+ person household and can experience major problems that never existed before.
Beware the Flipped House
I have seen many newcomers buying flipped (homes bought, renovated, and quickly resold) houses that I can see have major structural issues. While not all flipped houses are bad, I have seen far too many recent new arrivals pay a premium for homes that still have major and very expensive issues, such as electrical and plumbing problems. Home inspectors as a rule have an overall negative view of flipped homes as many are renovated as cheaply and quickly as possible. Remember, a home inspector is trained and experienced in telling the difference between a cheap cosmetic flip and a high-quality renovation.
There is no question that houses are not nearly as plentiful as they should be, but you should still get all the information about your new home before making that financial commitment as it could cost you a lot more in the long run.
Isn’t it ironic how we have gone from a handful of TV channels as a child growing up in the 80s to over a thousand today yet there seems to be even less to watch? Occasionally I flip through the channels (no pun intended) and see one of the too-many-to-name home renovation shows. The main premise is that the host finds a house with many problems and spends about a half hour overcoming unexpected issues before revealing a beautiful, remodeled home to the cameras.
There is no shortage of houses that are bought with the sole purpose of being renovated and sold quickly, usually within a few months. The common term for this type of property is a flipped house and those who buy these type of homes are known as flippers. Ask any home inspector their opinion of flipped houses is and I doubt there will be many positive stories. The term “lipstick on a pig” is one I hear other inspectors throw around regularly and I can’t say I disagree with it.
The main concern most home inspectors have is that flippers in general have a financial incentive to cut corners, especially in our current seller’s market conditions. There is a saying you might have heard that says “kitchens and bathrooms sell homes”. What this means is that important areas such as plumbing, electrical, roofing, etc. are usually not given as much priority as they should. I compare this to a refurbished car: sure, a new paint job, a reupholstered interior and shiny rims are great, but it is far more important to replace the engine, tires and transmission.
Another concern is that many amateur house flippers, while well intended, simply do not understand the large scope of a home renovation and how difficult, complicated, and expensive a task like this is. This is made far worse by the construction boom we are experiencing, where many skilled trades are booked well in advance on one of the many high rise apartment buildings under construction in the Halifax area. When I was working in home improvement retail in the early 2000s one of the saddest things we saw regularly was distressed DIYers who got in way over their heads and ended up needing to have professionals re-do much of the home improvement work at significant cost and inconvenience.
That isn’t to say that all home flippers are bad or are well-meaning-but-ignorant: there are many quality home flippers who care about providing a great home and a flipped house can be a great way to get a like new, turnkey house in an established neighbourhood. Often it can be difficult to tell whether a home rehab was comprehensive or just done on a surface level and for these reasons and more it is important to always have a flipped house inspected prior to purchase. Home inspectors have the training and experience needed to look past shiny cabinets or granite countertops and towards what is ultimately most important in maintaining an affordable, safe, and healthy home. Hopefully with the help of an inspector your flip doesn’t become a flop.