Inspections

In this section I’ll discuss the inspections you should consider having and what they typically cost.

It’s VITAL to thoroughly inspect a property – the goal is to understand everything you can about the property BEFORE fully committing to the purchase and while there’s an opportunity to negotiate with the Seller regarding repairs etc.  Get going with a general inspection right away.  Depending on what turns up, you may need to conduct additional inspections and you only have so much time according to the contingency period you agreed to (you can request more time from the Seller but they don’t always agree to extend). The Buyer pays for inspections directly to the inspector on the day of the inspection.  If you don’t go through with the purchase, you don’t get reimbursed for those costs.  If possible, you should plan to be there during the inspection so the inspector can better explain and point things out to you.   With a condo, you’ll only be focusing on the systems inside the unit since much of the building is the responsibility of the homeowners association (I’ll address condo’s specifically further down the page)

If the property was under contract previously, ask if there are inspection reports – you’re entitled to see copies of those.   Ideally you should review the disclosure documents from the Seller prior to having inspections.  If for example, the Seller discloses they had a roof leak that was repaired, that’s something you should point out to your inspector.  Choose your inspector carefully – a good agent will have several qualified inspectors to refer to you.

General inspection – start with the general inspection first.  The inspector will look over all the major systems in the house – roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical, heat/air, the interior and exterior of the property.  They can only address what they can actually see and they will often recommend further inspections by specialists if they see something that could be a potential issue.  General inspections usually run anywhere for $350 and up for a typical home.

Sewer Inspections are a wise thing to do because sewers often have issues that you can’t see without running a camera through the pipes.  Tree roots are a common problem and can cause shifting and cracking in the line which can lead to blockages.   These inspections run about $250 but sewer repairs can cost many thousands so it’s money well spent.  This inspection should be done at the same time you do the general since the general inspector can’t tell you much about the sewer.

Chimney Inspections  If the house has a fireplace it’s smart to have that inspected with a video camera at the same time you do the general and the sewer inspection.  Chimney’s often have issues and you want to be certain it’s safe to use.  A chimney inspection is usually $275 to $350 per chimney.  Again this is money well spent because chimney repairs can be expensive and rebuilds  ARE very expensive $10,000 to $25,000 or more.   If the seller has had work done to the chimney make certain that work was done with permits and those permits were finalized by the city inspector. That is the only way to be sure the work was done to the proper city codes at the time the work was done.  Many chimneys were rebuilt after the Northridge earthquake.  So many people were performing those rebuilds who weren’t qualified to do them and they also didn’t always pull permits so be careful with these.  If a chimney is rebuilt incorrectly it may need to be torn down and rebuilt again to be considered safe to use.  The inspector will inform you about the required repairs if needed.

Drainage – water is a big cause of problems and it’s important that water isn’t settling around the foundation or under the house.  A drainage inspector can tell you if any improvements are needed.  These inspections typically cost $300 or more.

Foundation/Structure – this inspection should be done if the general inspector sees a reason for it or if you know there are issues.  Don’t freak out if there are a few cracks or settling – this is common on older structures and may be mostly cosmetic in nature. Retrofitting an older foundation is often done to help keep it from moving in the event of an earthquake.  Retrofitting refers to installing big metal bolts to the base of the foundation framing into the concrete foundation.  Cripple walls are the bottom portion of the framing above the foundation and retrofitting includes nailing plywood to these walls to further strengthen them.  If the house you are looking to purchase is already retrofitted your general inspector should be able to see if the work is up to code.  An older home that has been properly retrofitted can reduce your insurance premiums.

Geological – these inspections are usually done on homes in the Hills.  The Buyer wants to be certain the home is built on solid ground (ideally bedrock) – the inspection is expensive and just a few qualified people do them  They cost about $600 for a verbal report and closer to $1000 to $1300 if you want a written report.  Given the issue in Southern California with landslides, these inspections are worth doing on certain properties.

Mold – if you know of water intrusion, smell anything musty, a mold inspection is a smart idea.  Mold is something that can be inside the walls and can lead to serious health issues for some people.  In some cases mold isn’t that expensive or difficult to clean up but in other cases it’s a major expense and a reason not to purchase a property.  A general mold inspection can run about $400 to $500 with additional fees to take air samples that are sent to a lab for analysis.   The cost to re-mediate mold (clean up and get rid of it) is hard to estimate until you open the walls and know exactly how bad it is.  This is a reason Buyers usually ask the Seller to take care of the remediation prior to close of escrow.  Mold remediation must be done by licensed professionals who follow specific standards to remove the damage and the mold in a way that doesn’t spread it all over the house.

Pool – if the home has a pool it is often a good idea to have a specific pool inspection done.  The general insepctor usually doesn’t have the knowlege to provide a thorough inspection.   Especially in the case where the pool looks old or has been drained – it should be looked at.   Allowing a pool to sit empty can damage the pool and the pipes which can cause big issues.

Termite – it’s a good idea to have a termite inspection.  The inspection is typically $75 to $100.   Make sure they inspect the house and any detached structures like garages or decks.  With Condos, the inspector would be inspecting just the interior of the unit since exteriors fall under the HOA.   If termite treatment will be performed and who will pay for it is a negotiable point.

Survey – Having a property surveyed is the only way to know where the exact property lines are.  Never assume fences, hedges or walls have been constructed on the precise property line.   Most people do not get a survey done unless they have concerns about the property line or plan on doing some construction where property lines may come into play.  They can cost $500 to several thousand but may be worth doing in some circumstances.

Permits – You can check recent activity online by visiting www.ladbs.org (the Los Angeles Dept. of Building and Safety) and select the online services bar and then select property activity report.   It will give you some information but to get more thorough info I like to use www.thepermitreport.com – it costs about $65 and may take a couple of days but they can pull any permit records available and it’s much easier than making a trip downtown yourself.  It’s a smart idea to verify permit status on property that has undergone many renovations and changes – especially in Los Angeles where many homes were built in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Check to see if the permit indicates if it was finalized or not – just pulling a permit isn’t the same as having the work inspected and signed off by a city inspector.  I have seen several cases where Sellers were shocked to find out the home they were trying to sell had major additions that were never finalized by the city inspector.

Home Insurance  – during your physical inspection period you must contact an insurance agent to get a quote for homeowner’s insurance and make sure the property is insurable.   The Sellers are supposed to disclose if they had an insurance claim in the past 5 years and depending on what the claim was for, can potentially make obtaining insurance more difficult.  

Introduce yourself to the neighbors – it’s a really smart idea to meet some of the neighbors – they are some of the best sources of information about the house you are thinking about purchasing and the neighborhood.  Because they are not directly involved with the sale they tend to be very open – I had a neighbor tell a buyer that they have seen Rotor-Rooter outside the house he was thinking about buying quite often.  Neighbors will also tell you about the constantly barking dogs and the neighbors no one likes.  All good info to know.   It’s smart to visit the house at different times of the day and night and it’s also a great idea to do a test drive to and from your office if you have any concerns about the commute to work.

Planned Additions and Remodels – during your physical inspection contingency you should verify that any major remodeling/additions etc  are permissible per city building codes.  This is sometimes difficult to do in such a short time frame but you can usually get at least some info on the zoning restrictions and general LA building codes.  Good to bring a contractor to the property to discuss what you’d like to do.   If you’re buying in certain historical neighborhoods known as HPOZ’s (historic preservation overlay zones) there are restrictions preventing you from making major alterations to the exterior of the property.  Restrictions exist in other communities as well so that should be investigated.  Examples include protected California Oak trees in the Hills and some hillside communities have rules regarding trees that could block views.

Converted garages – many garages in LA are converted to guest houses, offices etc. and in most cases these conversions have not been permitted by the city (usually because the city won’t grant permits for them)  The city tends not to crack down on these illegal conversions unless a neighbor tips them off.  If you’re buying a home with an un-permitted garage conversion, be aware that the city could require you to return it to it’s original use.  This is one reason not to get into fights with the neighbors!   Tall hedges and gates in front of the house are also usually not permitted (3.5 feet is the current LA city ordinance).   The city usually doesn’t cite you unless a neighbor complains.   The city will give consideration to the surrounding neighborhood to determine if a tall hedge is typical for the area – that’s why folks in Bel Air can get away with it but someone living in the Miracle Mile area may not.   Illegal conversions are not necessarily a reason not to purchase a home – just be aware of the permit status and the potential issues.   There is always the potential that the city may require you to correct unpermitted spaces or return them to their original use which can be costly.  Un-permitted space will not be included in square footage measurements for the purposes of the bank appraisal.

Never accept communications from the listing agent as gospel.  If, for example, you ask them if the fireplace works and they say the Seller uses it all the time and they have had no problems that doesn’t guarantee there aren’t issues the Seller isn’t aware of.  Even if they haven’t had issues that doesn’t mean you won’t.  Rely on information obtained from unbiased independent inspectors.

Specifics to Condos – With a condominium, anything that is shared in common is maintained and paid for by the homeowner’s association.  That is what your monthly association dues contribute to.  Typically the roof, main building plumbing, exterior etc fall under the association’s responsibility.  Although you are not responsible to take care of these items on your own, it’s still a good idea to review docs you’ll receive from the HOA which tell you how much money they have in reserve.   You’ll want to know if there is anything major coming up like replacing the roof that might trigger a special assessment (that happens when they don’t have enough funds in reserve)  You’ll conduct inspections on the interior of the unit as well as on things like a heating and air conditioning system that are your responsibility alone.

Contact Kevin at (310) 200-4916 or email kevindbacher@gmail.com

 


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