I recently sat down with Mark Jones, owner of Top Choice Inspectors, a home inspection company that operates from South Denver to North Pueblo. In this episode, he discusses how to use the home inspection process to your advantage, unique things found in Colorado Springs homes, and what it means to be “up to code.”
- Listen to the podcast “#24: Inspecting Colorado Springs Rental Properties with Mark Jones” on the Colorado Springs Real Estate Investing Podcast
- Watch the YouTube video (at the bottom.)
- Read the blog post. Note, the blog is an executive summary. Get the in-depth breakdown from the podcast or video.
How can I use the home inspection to my advantage?
The home inspection may seem like a perfunctory phase in the home buying process, but according to Mark, smart investors and sellers can use the inspection process to their advantage.
For investors, there are three key parts to the process that are often underutilized:
- Use the home inspection to find defects in the home before buying it. Investors know that you make money when you buy a property, not when you sell it. Knowing ahead of time things that will need to be fixed or changed can help them make an informed decision.
- Discuss with the home inspector ahead of time what level of approach they should take in their inspection. For investors who plan on flipping or remodeling the property, inspectors can help them figure out the best way to go about it and let them know what issues they may face.
- Treat the home inspection report as a living document and not just a snapshot of when the inspection occurred. These days, home inspections are on the cloud and can travel with the house. As changes are made to the home, the report can be added to and provide a thorough history of the property.
Sellers also have the potential to use the home inspection to their advantage. Before going on the market, they can have a home inspector go through the property and discover what issues will come up when the prospective buyer has their inspection. This way, the seller can decide whether or not to make repairs in advance, or let buyers know that up front what issues are non-negotiable.
Home inspections provide a wealth of information about a property and when used as both informational and negotiating tools, buyers and sellers can benefit.
What are some unique features found in Colorado Springs homes?
The Colorado Springs area is full of unique geographic, weather, and historic features that affect the ways homes are built. Below are some of the most common items that come up during home inspections:
Colorado is full of bentonite soil, a type of soil that becomes heavy and expansive when wet. Bentonite soil is so strong it can easily push through concrete flooring and move the walls of a home. To prevent this movement, many homes are now built with floating walls in basements. Floating walls are walls that aren’t built all the way up to the ceiling, giving them the ability to move up and down. The weight of the house is calculated and a structural column with footer is placed in the basement to prevent the grade of the house from shifting. If the walls do not have the ability to move and down with the soil, they can be pushed into the ceiling joists of the floors above them, causing cracking and bowing throughout the entire home.
Before 1992, homes were not required to be built with floating walls, so older homes often have walls with some movement. Most of the time, the heaving has already taken place and as long as the grade is still good, a little movement is not an issue. Home inspectors will look for active cracks that are a sign that movement is still occurring.
Newer homes that have floating walls will often have movement around the structural column. Because all of the weight of the house is going into the column, the bentonite soil can’t move the footer but will move the floor around it. The movement in the floor is not structural and is not generally an issue.
Sewer lines in Colorado Springs tend to have unique patterns and issues due to the age of most homes and the soil in which they’re built. Home inspectors can perform a sewer scope that will run a camera through the sewer lines, mapping out the exact route of the line and finding existing and potential problems.
The closer to downtown Colorado Springs a home is, the higher the likelihood of the sewer line having a strange route. Many older homes were built before indoor plumbing, meaning the sewer lines were added later. Often times, the sewer lines can run out of the back of the home and through neighboring properties. It is also common for there to be two lines: one for plumbing and one connected to the kitchen and used as a grease trap.
The bentonite soil commonly causes cracking, slipped joints, and bellies. Cracking can cause leaking and root intrusion that can be costly and disruptive to repair. Slipped joints occur when the soil separates junctions of the sewer pipes and causes leaking. Bellies are formed when water leaks from either the cracked pipes or through the slipped joints and creates a cave into which water and debris fall.
Having a video of the sewer scope is helpful both for knowing the state of the sewer line and for homeowner’s insurance. Top Choice Inspectors can perform their own sewer scope or use their partnered plumbers for a more in-depth look.
The most common issue with electrical panels in Colorado Springs is the presence of Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panels. These panels are common in homes built between the early 1960s and early 1980s. The panels lost their UL listing, a safety compliance standard, and can’t be certified by electricians anymore. Although they are no longer deemed safe, they shouldn’t scare potential investors, as they simply need to be replaced or closed off and moved outside.
Is My House Up to Code?
Most buyers want to know if their prospective property is “up to code”, but Mark says the answer to that question is no. Homes are a reflection of the period in which they were built, which means they weren’t constructed to today’s standards. For example, a house built in the 1940s isn’t going to have electrical grounding that is required now because it simply didn’t exist when the home was built. Instead, Mark says, it’s important to know that the home is safe and functional.
It can be overwhelming to receive an inspection report full of findings, but keep in mind that all homes, especially older ones, will have some of these issues. The important thing to do is hire a home inspector who can educate you on what the findings mean and how to fix them. Not all safety findings entail a costly repair, and not all repairs need to be done all at once.
Conclusion and Contact Information
With the current state of the market, a lot of buyers are waiving the home inspection or treating it as an obligatory step to go through in the buying process. However, by looking at the home inspection strategically, buyers can use this step to their advantage as both an informational and negotiating tool. It’s important to know the common issues that will come up when buying a home in Colorado Springs, and to not get overwhelmed by findings in the home inspection report.
If you’d like to reach out to Mark and Top Choice Inspectors, you can contact him here: