A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Archive for Home Inspections Houston

The things you find when cleaning your kitchen

I give my kitchen a good cleaning once a week, but during the holidays I faltered in my routine. When cleaning this past weekend, I realized that I had not cleaned the filter in the vent of my range hood. It is easy to forget. I thought that I could mention it here, because it may be something that you might overlook.

Why would this be so important? As an inspector, I have to check this vent and filter out for my report, and I do get a few glances my way when pulling this filter out. When cooking, some of the smoke going up through your vent contains grease. This grease collects in the filter, or along the sides of the vent if you have no filter. This does two things which you will not want. As you cook under the vent, and the grease heats up, it will drip back down into your food. A flavoring agent that you may not want. The grease can also catch on fire. I admit that these two occurrences may not be so common, but I have seen both happen.

Grease fires are hard to put out, so you should have a good fire extinguisher in your kitchen. When buying an extinguisher check that it can handle different types of fire. Locate it in an easy to grab spot. It is better to ruin a dinner than to let a fire get out of control.

Alright, this was not the most glamorous of topics for a blog, but I thought it may be a good reminder.

Appraisers and Inspectors

In the past week, I had two instances where people equated appraisers and inspectors, so I thought that I would do a brief description of the difference. I imagine for a home buyer that you could wonder why you would need both professionals to look at your home, since they both look at its condition. In fact, I saw a website that suggested that all you needed was an appraiser, because they do the same thing as I. A good appraiser would never make such a claim, and I would never state that I could replace an appraiser.

An appraiser is checking the condition of the property, but his concern is towards value. He will not be dealing with all of the details of the condition to the building as an inspector would, because these details do not effect value. For example, we would both wonder about the foundation. We would both acknowledge the current condition of the foundation, but then we depart in our investigation. With the basic condition determined, the appraiser would move on. As an inspector, I would be looking for signs of future concerns, and what may be happening now. This does not effect the value of the home. It does let the homeowner know what to look out for.

The appraiser is necessary for checking market value against an appraised value. Part of the current real estate crisis is that market prices kept soaring, and now they are crashing in some parts of the country. Appraisers have to consider market prices in their estimation, but generally their values are conservative in comparison to the market. This allows the lender to figure out if a loan is for the proper amount. An inspector valuation of the house is always neutral when it comes to price, because I am only looking at the condition of the systems of the house with no regard to its relevance to price. I would also be looking at more systems of the home than an appraiser. An appraiser would be looking more broadly at the neighborhood, which I do not do. Well, that is the summary in brief.

A Mysterious Leak

I was writing on a different subject this week, when I was reminded of an inspection that I performed in the summer. Late one evening a past client of mine turns up with a friend in tow, asking if I would please come look at her house. There was a roof leak that was driving her nuts, but no one could find it. I pulled out my tools, and went over to her house.

She explained that she already had called out an HVAC contractor, a roofing company, a plumber, and a general contractor. They found nothing, but they all agreed with her that it had to be a leak from the roof. She had a closet where the rug was soaked, and in another part of the house a carpet was wet. The contractors had checked the various pipes, pans, and shingles, but they found no leak. To truly find a roof leak is difficult. You may find evidence of a trail of water stains on the framing down to the insulation, and then on to the walls in the interior, but I saw none of this. I did find a problem with the framing, and with a vent pipe that was improperly installed, but no moisture. These issues were not mentioned to her by the other contractors.

After crawling through the attic, I looked at the house, specifically the bathrooms. One of the leaks could have been from a lavatory in one bathroom, but the other moist spot could not have been explained by that means. I told the homeowner that I was going to walk around the house. She looked puzzled. If it is a roof leak, why was I going to look at the exterior walls?

Directly outside of the closet wall, I saw that the grading was high. In fact, it was up to the weephole in the brick. The weephole is there to allow moisture to escape from behind the brick. A palm was directing rain water from its leaves to this spot. The wall here was soaked. I walked to the other side of the house to see a brand new patio with beautiful stone pavers. Instead of taking out the old patio, the contractor cemented these stones onto the old patio slab. The new patio was slanted to bring water back towards the house. The new stones happened to also bring the patio up to the weepholes. For two different reasons, the rain from the roof was getting into the house, but not through the roof, rather through the walls. When I pulled back the carpet where the weepholes were, I found moisture stains emanating from the walls. Score one for the inspectors; other contractors zero.

Sometimes a client becomes so fixed on an idea that the contractor who comes out to look at the problem will go along with it. If you are a homeowner, try not to influence the opinion of the worker who is coming out for the repair. State the simple fact without your conjectures. Let them explore the possibilities. In this case, the first guy out might have discovered the source.

Down in the Gutter

I was inspecting a home yesterday where the owners had done a nice job taking care of it, and they added a nice porch to the backyard. The house had very little in the way of problems, but it had one fault that could have been so easily avoided: water damage due to a bad gutter install.

I think that the homeowner had installed the gutters themselves. The front yard gutters were great. Everything that I want to see. Water was collected from the roof and diverted away from the house through extensions on the downspouts. Perfect. I believe that the owner must have been worn out after the front, because there were two major mistakes on the back yard gutter system. There were no extensions or anything at the base of the gutter downspout tube. Water just splashed down onto the ground. This caused the base of a door to start rotting, but it could lead to more issues with the structure of the porch and with the foundation. This was not the end though. There were no caps on the end of the gutter runs, so water flowed out of the ends to whatever was below. On one end, it was a seat built into the porch. The framing for the porch was rotting away, so the seat was a swing. I could just see my kid playing on that seat, then having it collapse.

Gutters are not essential on a house. Proper grading can divert water away from the building, so damage from moisture penetration can be avoided. I recommend gutter installations to my clients, because I know that a good gutter system can get the water from the house quickly. Foundation companies make this suggestion too. Water is the biggest enemy of your building, so handling its path around your home should be of concern to all homeowners.

Gutters seem to be the last item that we want to take care of. I realize that cleaning them is a chore, but there are products to help you with this. I know that they can be easily banged up when doing yard work, but they are also easy to fix, with parts being reasonable in cost. Some complain that they are unsightly, but they could be the same color as your trim, so that you will not notice them. Give your gutters some tender loving care, and your home will thank you.

Oh, For a Beautiful Exterior

As more people are beginning to realize that they are having issues with stucco or EIFS exterior coverings, I have seen an increase in using masonry coverings. These can be a truly striking feature on a home. However, if you are not careful, they can also have the same problems that stucco and EIFS have.

Any wall exposed to the elements needs to have a way for moisture to come out of it, and it needs to be kept above the foundation. Our friends the termites love to have hidden paths into our homes. By having the masonry covering come down to the ground to cover that unsightly foundation, you have accomplished two things: 1) created a perfect hiding place for termites to move up into your home; and 2) allow moisture to migrate to your wood framing. In the past, the code called for at least 4 inches of foundation to be exposed for masonry veneers, but I heard that this has been change to 6 inches. Weepholes or screens at the bottom of exterior coverings like stucco, EIFS, or the fake stone work covers helps the moisture behind the walls to seep out. This has been the biggest problem for exterior sidings: the lack of a means for moisture to escape. As long as the means is present, these wall coverings can work well with no problems to the framing.

Why do I choose to write this post? I have seen an increase of builders covering their foundations on homes, not leaving the 4 inch gap. I read an article this month from a builder who instructed other contractors to do the same. You see, a builder will construct a home to your tastes, and if the public complains about an unsightly foundation, the builder will cover it up. The builder might not even know that he just caused a problem. In a reversal of fortune, some affordable homes are built better than luxury/custom homes, simply because the buyers do not make many special requests. One study showed that affordable housing (housing under $135,000) is built to better energy efficiency standards than other housing.

The best course of action for builders is to educate their clients on what can happen if a home is built the way that they want it, and for those people considering building your own home to educate themselves first before making requests. In the end when you sell the home, you will just have a nasty old inspector like me pointing out your beautiful flaws.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Home Inspector Marketing Part 2

Most business that inspectors receive come through Realtors suggesting your service to their clients. A good Realtor may provide you with eight jobs per year. However, word of mouth plays a big role in your success as well. The real estate industry is changing. Consumers are becoming more savvy about what they want, and what they need. Most homes sold in the United States still are found through Realtors, but the internet is catching up fast. How people are finding inspectors is changing, so you will need to keep up on trends to find out how your marketing will need to change.

In my last post on this topic, I went over my current internet campaign (maybe skirmish would be a better word), but traditional marketing still plays the biggest part for inspectors at this time. For new inspectors, most of your business is developed through direct customer contact, while older inspectors have more business because of their Realtor contacts. Some older inspectors boast of how they do not rely on Realtors, and there is a website dedicated to this group, but I know for a fact that the inspectors listed in my area are favored by Realtors, and these inspectors cater to them. As an inspector, you want to develop close ties to the best Realtors, but this is hard to do. Here are the means that I have used to generate business.

I network at parties, company picnics, or any place that has a crowd of people were I am invited. I am not hard selling my services, but I do let people know what I do. I answer questions about their homes, and I give them advice on where to find services. I make myself useful. If I find that someone is in a related business, I ask them for their contact information to pass along to my clients, and they will do the same. On most occassions, the person that you speak with will not hire you, but they will pass your name along, and this eventually leads to work. I do not push people to use me, because it is probably their friend who will use my service. This method has led me to real estate investors, who consistently use my service, which means steady income. Sometimes one client recommends me to another, and sometimes the seller uses me. I treat everyone that I meet with respect, since they may be a potential client or their friend could be one. This has actually been my best marketing tool. I joined a chamber of commerce for this same networking opportunity. The people in the group might not use me, but they will give my name to others.

I go to various meetings where Realtors will be present, and I introduce myself. With Realtors, I really take a low key approach. Texas has a law in place which discourages a Realtor from saying you have to use a certain provider, because this could be used to scam the consumer. Good Realtors appreciate good inspectors. Introduce yourself; be helpful to them; but do not push. As Realtors consistently see my face, they begin to use me more. I directly market to Realtors by two means. I send a package in the mail with beneficial information for their clients, to which I include coupons for my service. I also send out e-mails with links to this blog and my website. I inform them that they might find information for their clients here. They get information for free, and I eventually get business out of it. I do my best to make them look good to their clients, even if they are not using me. In time, this good will pays for itself. I have found that this marketing can be hit or miss. Many Realtors seem to be on the move from firm to firm, so your efforts may go unnoticed. The return in responses is around ten percent of what I sent out.

I have done some print advertising, but this has brought me the least amount of business. Currently I am reworking my campaign to include my website, which my original campaign did not do. I think that the data on the site would produce some good will on the part of the consumer, so this may cause the print ads to work better than they did before. I will let you know. Pick magazines or newspapers that will be seen by twenty five to thirty five year olds or those over fifty five. The younger group is looking for the first home, and the older group is looking for their vacation home. Check out the publications in you area that might appeal to these people.

Since I have a good deal of material for Hispanics, I am developing marketing schemes where I can effectively each them. For example, the local soccer games draw crowds. You may find a group that is interested in buying a home, and you might discover where they gather. Offer them free advice along with your business card. I think a singles group at a church would be a good place, or maybe a social club like the Masons. Some place or group can work for you. This type of marketing is an extension of the social networking that I mentioned above.

I hope this gives you enough to get started. Again, if you have any comments or suggestions, leave a comment to help me and others.

To conclude, I would say be consistent. Keep the same look on all of your marketing materials. This gives a professional look to your business, and it helps make you recognizable. Keep sending out marketing materials each week. The materials may be different things, but by keeping it up, it will pay off.

Home Inspector Marketing Part 1

I noticed that some people have been coming to this blog for marketing information, and I have had some people analyzing my site for keywords or other marketing data, so I thought that I would make it easier on you, and give away what I do.

Well, firstly, you have picked the wrong person to research. I am not that accomplished. I will go over what I am doing on the web here, and the next post will go over my other marketing attempts. I have been doing my own SEO (search engine optimization). My nature has led me to figure out how to do it on my own, rather than hiring a firm. I just wanted to understand how it is done, and then I will probably hire someone later. I have been in business for awhile, but my internet presence started in August of this year. I created a website and then this blog.

Before these sites, I had advertised on a local search engine, which did not produce a good return on investment. When choosing to pay for an ad on the net, ask the provider if the figures on searches are national or local. I was led to believe that national numbers were for local searches. Consumers are using the internet in greater numbers for real estate searches, but the numbers are pretty dismal for consumers looking for inspectors. This may change, as buyers start relying less on their Realtors to find better value service providers. For this reason, I maintain my web presence, even though it has not generated much income for me. Most of my business has come from other sources.

Most people who come to my site type in my URL into their browser. I use my other marketing means to promote my site. All of my marketing material, which is any item coming out of my business, has my website listed. They come back to the site, because I try to make it useful for them. About fifty percent of the people come to my site by this means. The remaining 50% breaks down to people coming to my site through search engines (25%) and through links (25%). About ten percent of those coming from the search engines are actually looking for an inspector. Most come looking for some type of other information. The most successful links that I have which bring people to my site have been websites that deal with real estate in my local market. HoustonTexasRealEstate.com and InvestorNationBlog.com have been great for this. However to make these links work, I produce material for them. I am actively involved in posting to their blogs and answering questions. Another link strategy is to post comments on other blogs. These comments lead back to your site. If Realtors in your area have blogs, this could be a good way to introduce yourself, while also having other people find you. I only post comments on blogs that interest me, and I only make a comment when it is appropriate. A comment for a comment’s sake is useless, and it probably be deleted, so my comment strategy makes my presence known, but it is not really marketing.

I do have listings on Active Rain (which is a social networking site for real estate professionals), LinkedIn, and Naymz. To be honest, I do not get social networking, and I do not see how these sites can help my business. I have made some contacts though, so I guess that I need to put some more effort into this medium. Facebook or MySpace could also be a means for marketing, but again, it is not my cup of tea. I think that YouTube could be great. You could show people what you do. I am an ugly man, and no one needs to see me crawling through an attic, but I offer this idea as a good tool. I am a member of the Houston West Chamber of Commerce, which links to my site. Being the only inspector listed has caused interest in me.

My site does not show up high in the rankings for inspection services, but search engines rank my site high for information about the home and the process of buying and selling. There seems to be a Catch-22 for new websites. You need links to be recognized by the search engines, but the penalize you if you are new site who is building links. I noticed that the inspector sites that rank high are ones that have been up for around two years. I did pay for links on sites like Joeant, Gimpsy, Sitesift, and WOW directory, and this has led to minor interest in my website. Writing articles for Ezine Articles has been good. The first ten articles are free, and good posts will get you noticed. I am currently experimenting with Adwords, but this has not brought in business for me. I will continue to play with it to see if I can make it work.

The all important keywords. The term “home inspection” seems to be the most common search phrase. I just use phrases that are used for the profession, like home inspector, real estate inspector, or phrases that describe the service, like home inspections. Other keywords for my different web pages describe those pages. The two best tools that I have found for analyzing other inspector sites are my web browser and a plug-in for that browser. My browser is Mozilla Firefox. It is a free download from Mozilla. Any browser will have this option though; look at websites with the page source option, where the HTML code is given. Keywords are on the top of the page. There is a plug-in for Firefox called SEO for Firefox. This is a great tool for understanding how your competitors have built their links. There are many free tools out there, but these are the ones that I use on a regular basis.

I also subscribe to the e-mail letters from MediaPost Publications. These are free, and they have good marketing tips. Posts and articles are collected in one easy place with some great ideas. The number of e-mails can be overwhelming each day, so pick the ones that you want. I have picked up a few books from the library to skim through. I would not buy one of them.

Well that is it for my internet marketing. In the next post, I will tell you my other marketing means. I am not pursuing a clear cut SEO strategy at this time, because I think that the search engines are of no use to me at this point. The most useful purely internet marketing has been other local websites and the Ezine Articles, so I am concentrating on them for now. My main marketing focus is still outside of the internet. If you have any tips or suggestions please feel free to leave them as a comment. If you have a good inspection blog, tell me about it, and I will give you a link from this blog. Hey, Google may not like you for it, but maybe it will help you.