BEING SAFE EARLY PREVENTS BEING SORRY LATER
BY TIM WOOD
It’s a milestone moment in our adult lives, and especially in today’s housing climate, a culmination of searching, making offers and riding an emotional roller coaster to what feels like a triumphant finale.
Walter Henegar says that’s the moment a home inspector is most needed.
“People go in to buy a house, they’re looking at color of walls, where the furniture will go, how they’ll remodel; they’re not looking at the bones. They’re making a connection and don’t want to see the negatives,” said Henegar, the owner of Bluffton’s Playing It Safe Home Inspection, 23-year veteran in the field and the leader of the first home inspector training school in the state in 2002. “We’re the objective eyes, the trained eyes.”
The three big-ticket items those eyes are looking at are roof, structure and HVAC systems. Home inspectors will look at life left on the roof, as most insurers will not issue policies to homes unless there is at least five years of remaining life with the roof. In South Carolina home inspections are not mandatory, though some insurance companies may require a wood inspection to ensure the house is free of termites and other wood-destroying fungi. Henegar said those requests are more common upstate, as the Lowcountry has fewer crawl spaces and most new homes are built on concrete foundations.
“And one thing most customers don’t know is that South Carolina requires builders to be liable for foundation damage for 10 years,” he said.
FHA and VA loans for mobile homes require a $600 foundation engineering certification, which Henegar is trained to perform. “Engineer is a curse word for the housing world because in most cases, getting an engineer to just step foot on your property will cost $1,000,” he said.
With foundation issues he recommends having a consultation with a foundation repair company, which will send an engineer as part of the consultation.
As for HVAC, it is more about keeping up with current codes and systems. For example, if an older home has an R-22 system from 2006 or before, if the system breaks down, it will likely need to be replaced; the Freon for that system is no longer made. In terms of what to expect on the day of your inspection, Henegar said it’s all about attention to detail.
“We’re trained to look for 100 things you might not even notice. The majority of folks don’t look up, period, when they go into a home. So, we’re looking in every nook and cranny,” he said. “I prefer folks are home to let me in but then just let me do my work for the next hour without distraction.”
Older homes come with more built-in issues, like asbestos used for insulation and popcorn ceilings, lead paint, aluminum wiring and galvanized iron used for plumbing in homes from the 1970s.
“Those are all big no-nos, all of that has to go before a house can be sold,” Henegar said.
While inspections are usually initiated by the buyer, sellers sometimes request an appointment just to know if the house is ready to be put on the market.
When it comes to new houses, Henegar said it’s all about buyer vigilance.
“The day-of-closing walk-through is key,” he said. “You’ll do a walk-through a week before closing to go over any issues the builder needs to address, where they’re mark all the spots with blue tape.”
Henegar suggests having an inspector there for the final walkthrough, but if you can’t get one on short notice, make sure you spend at least an hour on site and don’t be rushed by anyone.
“Take your own pictures, make your own videos at the blue tape meeting and make sure that every blue tape mark was addressed. Check every bedroom, every closet, every door, turn on every faucet and open every window, turn on the HVAC and every appliance one more time.”
Henegar is a licensed builder and a retired Navy “Seabee” chief. He is in the twilight of his inspecting career, working with referrals and still teaching home inspectors the craft. He’s not angling for business when he says to take care of issues up front before the house is officially yours.
“It is blue-moon rare that I don’t find one thing wrong in a house, old or new,” he said. “Once you get the keys, it’s your problem to address, so the money spent before that for an inspector many times saves you thousands of dollars in headaches.”