Inspections  Pay Dividends


Buyers can avoid horror stories for a few hundred dollars

Ottawa Citizen - Saturday, January 28, 1995
Author: Ina McCarthy


University of Ottawa professor Clinton Archibald thought he had found his dream home. He loved the house and the area. So soon after seeing it, he made the all important decision.

"We made an offer on the condition it passed a home inspection." recalls Archibald.

Looking back, he says it was the best $300 he ever spent.

The home inspector found that both sides of the basement were lower than the rest of the house by 15 to 20 centimeters. That's because the house was built on lead clay, a young type of clay that hasn't compacted properly.

"It was like the hose was floating on a kind of Jell-o pudding." says Archibald.

The owners said they would fix the problem, estimated to cost about $12,000. But the Archibalds walked away.

"We would have definitely bought the house if we hadn't had the home inspection" says Archibald. "There was no guarantee at all that the house wouldn't shift."

This story has a happy ending. But many don't.

In August, Arlene Stacey, a 47 year old administrative officer with the federal government, bought what she thought was a four year old home in Russell without having it looked over.

"I should have had an inspection to protect myself," Stacey says wistfully. Her electrician later determined the house was seven years old.

Her kitchen is freezing and drafty, thank to a lack of caulking on the doors, and none of her kitchen cupboards or doors is level. There's mold in the insulation system; an electrician is coming to redo the wiring. The shingles on the roof are splitting and shifting. The knobs on the doors don't work properly. There's water running down the walls, and no insulation or heat ducts in the basement. Nail pops are everywhere. And to top it off, the nails are rusty.

"All home inspectors are not equal," warns Wilson.

The list is endless, and Stacey figures the repairs will be well over $5,000. "I'm afraid to keep looking," she says.

Paul Wilson, president and owner of Home Inspectors, says he hears a "horror story" like Stacey's every two weeks. Paul Wilson on the job

Sometimes it's because of shoddy builders. Other times it's poor renovations done by the owners. Often it's an incompetent home inspector who didn't catch something. And still other times it's because there was no home inspection at all.

Houses shifting. No heating. Missing insulation. Hot water pipes leading into the toilet, cold into the Jacuzzi. Cracks in the foundation. Lights that flutter.

Right now Wilson is working on a fourplex in Aylmer that is sinking in the middle. The people in the four units can hear each other burp, snore, make love and even use the bathroom.

"When people in the top apartment turn on their Jacuzzi, the ones below them leave the kitchen," says Wilson. "They're afraid the Jacuzzi will fall through."

"It's buyer beware for both resale and new homes" says Wilson.

None of these four owners had their homes inspected before they signed on the dotted line.

Wilson, in business for 20 years, says buying a house, new or used, without a home inspection, "is like buying a car without a mechanic doing a safety check first."

But "all inspectors are not equal," warns Wilson.

As founder of the Association of Ottawa-Carleton Building Inspectors, Wilson says the surge in the number of home inspectors in the area scares him.

"When I first started, there were three of us in business. This year, there are about 50 companies listed in the Yellow Pages."

Of those 50, Wilson estimates only 10 belong to the building inspectors association, whose members must pass a written exam, have insurance and have at least 200 inspections under their belt. Association members agree to follow voluntary home inspection standards set by the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations and the organization holds meetings to update members on new building techniques, practices and codes.

Another 12 to 15 local home inspectors belong to the recently formed Eastern Ontario chapter of the Canadian Association of Home Inspectors, an affiliate of the 6,000-member American Society of Home Inspectors. Members must also pass an exam, have insurance, and have completed 250 inspections. They follow standards set by the American society, which are similar to those set by the consumer ministry.

"We are working towards a more professional industry," says Norm Lecuyer, secretary-treasurer of the chapter.

By 2000, Wilson hopes that number will be up to 100 percent, with home inspections required by law.

Ontario recently passed a bill to register all home inspectors. Wilson is pushing for national regulations for the home inspection industry, as well as a Canadian training organization.

Inspecting a foundation"By no means is a building inspection a warranty. It's an opinion on the structure of a building."

These days, about 40 percent of Wilson's business revolves around litigation. He's hired by people who didn't have inspections to verify what work needs to be done. They end up suing the builder, contractor or former vendor.

About 40 percent of these cases involve new homes, owners suing builders for work yet to be done.

The new-home construction market is a tough one these days. Many builders are struggling to stay afloat, and a few have gone under recently, including MacDonald Homes, Ashbury Homes and Woodlea.

"It's buyer beware for both resale and new homes" says Wilson.

John Reid, regional manager for the Ontario New Home Warranty program, says it's "probably a good idea' to get a new home inspected before you buy it.

Wilson says the day will come when you won't be able to buy a house, new or used, without a home inspection.

About two decades ago, only 10 percent of home buyers got a home inspection. Now more than 50 percent do.

By 2000, Wilson hopes that number will be up to 100 percent, with home inspections required by law.

These days, about 40 percent of Wilson's business revolves around litigation.

Arlene Stacey says a little common sense can go a long way, and she hopes home buyers learn from her mistake.

"People are working to the bone to make do and put a roof over their head. You have to protect your investment."

*** End of Article ***


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