A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

On the Steps of an Affordable Home

This has been a busy week for me, and I have not been able to work on the posts that I wanted. Yesterday, several inspectors and I were on two job sites to look at some affordable homes under construction, which led to some big surprises for me.

Phase inspections are becoming common  for buyers of higher end homes. Since I decided to go after a market of median to lower end homes, I never was called upon to do phase inspections, because they can eventually cost the buyer a good deal of money. I should stop here and explain what a phase inspection is. Inspectors refer to inspections of a building project through its various phases of construction as phase or phase one inspections. The phases are important points of the construction, such as the foundation, the framing, the rough in of plumbing, HVAC, or electrical systems, and the sheathing/roofing. Prices for this service can vary greatly from inspector to inspector, depending also on how much you may want them to be involved. Some inspectors go out once or twice a week, while others go only at certain construction points. For example, my fee is $60 per visit, and I have heard as much as $100/visit, to give you an idea of the cost (and remember this is in Texas).

Affordable housing is becoming more important in this nation do to large working class families needing more space. Apartments can fill this need, but the American dream is to own a home, which many immigrants and their children strive for. Both builders were attempting to produce a nice looking home, which met the needs of a growing family. I really liked the look of the completed homes by one builder, but when I looked at a house that had been framed, I found major problems with the foundation and material used for the construction. If I inspected this house once the building was complete, I would never see these defaults. Probably in five years, given Houston’s clay soil, these defects will become quite obvious. I especially liked the fact that the builder had fixed the foundation with duct tape. What an incredible product, I did not know that duct tape could fix a cracking foundation.  The framing was creative too. Much of  it was unique, but it would work. My main concern was on a load bearing wall were an engineered joist  looked as if it had been sitting out in the rain and was beginning to come apart on the surface.  The other builder’s home looked better at this point, but when I was trying to determine what  the rooms were  going to be, I could not determine the function of one room. The other inspectors came to the conclusion that it had to be a bathroom,  and I thought it might be, but I asked how were they going to accomplish it with no plumbing. Water lines to the space would have been easy, but there was no place for the waste water to go. If they had a commode, the waste would have had no where to go. That would have been a nice smell.

I think these builders intended to do a good job. At the one site, I spoke to the builder, and he seemed a conscientious man. I watched him go from home to home, and I have to say that I do not always see that on all job sites, but something was wrong if these issues were not being addressed. I do not know if costs play such an important role that buyers of these homes should be treated thus.  If you are buying an affordable or median priced home which is being built for you, you may want to budget for at least one phase inspection. Have it performed once the framing is up and the builder is starting the rough ins for plumbing and electrical. At that time, an inspector could see some real issues, if they are there.

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