Low-Down Dirty

In my little home inspection business, I mostly run across honest folk. With few exceptions, buyers, sellers, builders, and real estate agents tell the truth, and deals go smoothly. I attribute this to what I call The Kroger Factor. Here, people tend to deal fairly with one another, because they know that sooner or later, they'll end up eyeball to eyeball in the aisles of Kroger. But still, for every hundred truths told, somebody will slip in a big, ugly lie. I've heard a bunch of them, and I figure it's time I shared.

The floater-Some years back, a man asked me to figure out why he was getting water in his garage and bedroom every time it rained. I knew the answer when I turned onto his block. His street ran downhill, and his house was at the bottom of the hill. Thousands of square feet of asphalt drained right into his yard, and the yard sloped toward his house.

I explained all that, then the customer laid this on me: "The man from the building company told me that this house is built on a floating slab, so that every time it rains, the foundation will rise up higher and higher, until it gets so high the water won't come in anymore."

Well, there are such things as floating slab foundations, but they do not ratchet upward every time it rains. There was no good way to fix this man's problem short of building a moat and bridge.

It's a bonus!-A woman was interested in buying an older house, so she asked me to have a look at it. When I checked the attic, I saw that the roof framing was charred. I told the woman to ask the owner about the fire-when did it happen, how much of the house was involved, what repairs were done, stuff like that.

When she asked, the owner told her that the house had never been on fire. When she pointed out the charring on the rafters, the owner said, "That's not charring. That's a special protective coating."

Posts good, labels bad-At one brand-new house I inspected, everything looked fine until we got to the crawl space. There we found 16 metal posts, each bearing a big red label with bold black letters: NOT FOR USE IN NEW CONSTRUCTION.

My customer, the buyer, called the builder and complained. The builder's troubleshooting guy said the posts were fine-they were just mislabeled at the factory. I suggested that the buyer get this in writing from the post manufacturer. Don't you know, the manufacturer never did write that letter.

Don't worry, it's just the birds-A young couple bought a house clad with synthetic stucco. Since 1995, synthetic stucco has become famous for trapping water inside walls and causing rot. So the couple asked the sellers if there had been any problems with the walls. The sellers said no. Even so, the couple hired a home inspector (not me) and asked him about all the brown spots on the stucco. He told 'em not to worry; he was sure that the spots were caused by birds eating holly berries from the shrubbery, then pooping on the house.

Well, it turned out that the brown spots were actually rusty fasteners, which corroded because of water trapped in the walls. And it turned out that the sellers had hired a contractor to cover up problems with the stucco just a few weeks before they sold the house. Last I heard, this one was heading to court.

Watch that spin-While we're on the subject of lies, deception, and general chicanery, I feel the need to point this out: If you buy a brand-spanking-new house, there will be some things wrong with it. The problems could be minor, or they could be serious. If you point the problems out to your builder, he might just treat you right and fix things. I hope he does. But I want you to be wary if you hear any or all of the following mantra: "We've been doing it this way for 30 years. Every house in the subdivision is like this. The house passed a codes inspection. The house is guaranteed."

Well, chances are, they have been doing it this way for 30 years. That's not a good thing. It's better, I think, to improve the quality of your work over time. Most likely, every house in the subdivision is like yours. Things that are done well have been done well all over, and things done wrong have been done wrong all over.

Now, about that codes inspection: Shoot, every house passes a codes inspection. A house could be on fire and still pass a codes inspection. In our part of the world, codes enforcement is extremely poor. Every new house I've ever seen had some glaring building code violations.

Finally, about that guarantee: Try to find one homeowner who ever got something fixed-not just patched-under a new house guarantee. If you find one, let me know.