By: Stephanie Diana Wilson
So, my husband and I are still trying to save up and buy a home unlike many young couples it is because I am working on my MBA and starting my own nonprofit. But, like many young couples in the San Francisco Bay Area we not only are having the hard time saving many are uninformed on how to get started and what issues to watch for both financially and physically with regards to the building itself. We will be covering in this post about the building itself just covering basic things renters, home buyers and investors looking to buy need to watch out for. (If you want info on the loan process I will be writing about that another time but if you need more immediate help email me and I can send some trusted Sales People that are not snakelike in touch with you). Too often while I was working in Mortgage Compliance and Processing also while being a renter myself there are property issue people over look and don’t know that they are a compliance no no. And worse they don’t know that there is a reason they are a no no.
For example I know of a case where the renter had to go to court and fight for their deposit and breaking the lease prior to the year time frame. Now without getting into the specifics of the case we are just going to explore the health issues of the house that they didn’t notice prior to moving in and they are small things that others should look into as warning signs and are huge compliance issues not only for renters according to fair housing laws but are also for buyers/ investors because they won’t pass the QC portion of a mortgage loan and if buying cash the property can get you into a law suit if you don’t fix these issues. Again we are using this extreme case as an example because it has a lot of small things we may miss when viewing a property.
Things To Look For in The Bath Room
First we will look at bathrooms. Look up and note if there is a pinkish discoloration of the ceiling. If there is a pinkish discoloring that is an indicator that there was mold in the bathroom that was scrubbed with bleach and painted over… but wasn’t the kind of mold that you can do that with. Since many think mold and mildew can just be bleached they don’t get that many are quiet dangerous. Also verify that there is a fan installed in the bathroom that works and doesn’t have gunk dangling from it. That gunk can have mold, pollutants and other allergens that can be harmful to you and your family. Also a window isn’t enough so don’t let the leasing agent or the sales rep tell you differently. It is a no no for fair housing regardless if you are section 8 or not and for FHA housing. You can get away with it on a conventional loan or a cash buy but; you should have a fan installed cause if you live in the home it can get you sick down the road and if it’s an investment property it can land you in a law suit. So, be careful!
Also in the bathroom check the tub cocking and the cracks in the tiles both in and out of the tub. This can cause mold under the home and later create a smell. Depending on the plumbing it can also cause hot water to hit cold pipes and over time cause them to crack. Also if the cocking is raised and plump like a roll of clear goo don’t go there! When the tub is not properly cocked it can breed mold and other bacteria that is impossible to clean. Think of it as a lumpy petri dish in your tub.
Another thing to watch for is not only dirt on the back part of the toilet but also that the plastic caps are on the back bottom part of the toilet. This cap helps keep sewage gases out of the unit so be sure that is on good and tight. That isn’t good for anyone health wise and I don’t imagine anyone want’s their home to smell like Market st., in San Francisco when they clean the porto-potties on a cold morning.
The Grossest Place In A Home…The Kitchen
Moving on to the kitchen which is thought to be the most germ filled place in your home. Here are some things to look for that most people miss I find this is especially true for renters. Let’s start with the appliances. If there is a dishwasher there must be a garbage disposal! The reason I say this I what I have learned doing Property Management and thus having to work with maintenance workers so much is that if there is no garbage disposal that if any food particles even small ones are on your dishes in the dishwasher it clogs the drain. See, the drains in your sink are connected to the drains used for the dish washer and the garbage disposal helps catch those items and next time you use it the disposal grinds the left overs to keep everything flowing. You’d be surprised how many landlords don’t know this and rent properties like this.
While on the subject of the dishwasher, ask the person showing the property to pull the dishwasher out a bit so you can check if there is some serious mold growing there. That can be dangerous to you and your family. Also check the frame around the dishwasher because mold can grow there too.
Now let’s look above the stove. Above the stove there NEEDS to be (and per the HUD guidelines for buying or renting a home this is required) a hood fan/ vent. Now the reason it is required is when you cook even if you are using gas or electric you are making a chemical reaction that can do long term damage to your lungs. Now those who try to tell you a window is enough that is BS because there isn’t anything forcing it out of the house. And depending on how the wind blows (no pun intended) it can force the chemicals to spread throughout your home. So, the hood sucks it up and out protecting you and yours.
Now another thing to watch for is look at the walls, storage walls ext., to make sure there are no holes, or small crevasses. Few realize just how small rodents can make themselves and how they can easily get near your food and pretty much poison you on the DL. For land lords and people who are buying/ investing all you need to do is after you have the professionally have your home inspected for pests and cleared of them if needed. Also don’t forget to clean the house from top to bottom. Than go and cover the holes and crevasse. Basically make sure they don’t come back again. Now buyers/ investors, and land lords; I know certain loan products make it optional to get a pest inspection and I know it is extra money. Trust me it is worth it so don’t let anyone try to talk you out of a pest inspection! It can save your investment.
Same with a mold inspection which brings me to our next area to inspect; under the sink can also be a health and safety of the property issue. Make sure that the curved pipe known as the P trap doesn’t drip. And that you can press on the wood around the bottom and it isn’t soft. That can foster mold and can cause long term damage.
The Rest Of The House
Now that we have covered all the major places let’s take a look at the rest of the home for warnings. First because of the growing number of people diagnosed with asthma we see a rise in hardwood floors being used as a marketing perk to buyers and renters. Now this is well and good but with all flooring there are things that need to be observed. Such as lots of creaking, now most old homes make noises however, if you feel like you are falling through the floor in different spots in the house that’s not good. Also note if there are nails being pushed upward as if someone is under the house hitting them upwards with a hammer. Also check for divots and holes. These can be indicators of termites. Again I can’t stress enough how important pest inspections are for all parties involved no matter what the situation is. Landlords if you rent and a tenant falls through the floor you are responsible!
Also don’t be afraid to ask to see the crawl space. I don’t care if you are a renter or buyer you need to check there! Here are a few things to look for. One don’t get a place that has what is called “a clean crawl space” unless they have it open still so predators like cats, snakes and large spiders can get it in and either you or someone else is willing to have it cleaned regularly. Now I know what you are thinking “I don’t want those things under my house!”. Well, in fact you do! See, those things eat and kill rats. And if you don’t want them to get under the house and into the walls making nests and living alongside you and yours. Also if it isn’t cleaned under there regularly the rodent droppings can accumulate and cause health hazards through breathing the air inside the house.
After looking down let us look up at the ceiling. If you see what look like patched cracks but they are not in straight lines this could indicate issues. It can indicate a multitude of issues from mold, to faulty materials to other forms of structural damage. If you see a lot that are straight inquire why the owner has done so much repair work on the ceiling? An engineering report is a wise idea for those buying.
Be sure to check around the windows that there are no black or green spots or paint cover ups around the window frames. This can also indicate mold or spotty installed windows. This can also be an indicator that they will let in cold and moisture which can be murder on your health and your PG&E bill.
Plug sockets are also an over looked item. Be sure it has three prongs. I understand some older homes may not have them and it can be seen as a charm thing. But, this can be a fire hazard as the wires are not grounded. This can cause some shocking issues later on.
Water heaters HAVE TO be in a garage, patio or some other locked space where the air isn’t seeping into the house. Few know that water heaters give off CO2. And this can be harmful to your breathing. Speaking of CO2 be sure before you sign anything that you make the land lord, real estate agent, leasing agent, ext. test all smoke detectors and CO2 meters. If they don’t work you’re at risk. And if you move in and they don’t work the land lord can charge you for new ones. For buyers it means that you’re soon to be property is vulnerable to fire and gas poisoning. It also means it won’t pass ANY appraisal inspection.
I understand I have thrown a lot of info at you. Please see below the links for more info. I hope this helps give some info on some things to watch for to help make the readers here a better renter, buyer or investor. Remember the case we used for these examples is an EXTREME case and not the norm but it does highlight some examples of serious things that are often over looked. If you have question reach out to your local fair housing department for your region, housing authority and for buyers Fannie Mae’s website is what is primariliy used as the bones for all conventional and federal guidelines for loans so their appraisal guidelines can help give you info on what to watch for so you can better protect yourself from making offers on places that you can’t get a loan on because of the property.