An article in the latest edition of the Journal of Light Construction, the leading trade magazine to the home building industry, discusses just a few of the hundreds of construction defects I encounter every day while inspecting new homes.Construction Defects Article JLC
McKinney, Texas is no small fry. It is one of the largest suburbs in the 4th largest metropolitan area in the nation. It is also among the top 10 fastest growing cities of over 100,000 population in the nation. Of course, this means there is a lot of home building going on in this city in northern Collin County.
I have performed many inspections of houses in McKinney over the past 20 years. While in the process of doing research for an inspection I had scheduled at the end of this week I happened upon their website which has a slick professionally-made video singing the praises of their building inspectors. In it the announcer clearly states how last year 12 technicians inspected 60,000 houses. She also adds that this is not a process to be rushed. I guess she never did the math. Additionally, the lady mentioned that this seems to be a daunting task. That is a monumental understatement.
Let’s take a look at the math, shall we?
So, 60,000 inspections by 12 technicians means each did 5,000 inspections last year. Impressive. I can barely manage 200 in a very good year.
If one figures the average 260-day work year that equals 19.2 inspections per day. Wow! One per day is all I can muster.
If one assumes an 8-hour work day and then subtracts a 10-minute drive between each of these and an hour for lunch one is left with 12.5 minutes on each site. Speedy indeed! My inspection times average 2.25 hours onsite with eyes on the house plus another 2.5 hours report writing. This does not include research time, scheduling, time spent answering client questions both onsite and later via phone or email.
This, of course, assumes that the technicians never have to answer the call of nature, get caught in traffic between stops, stop by the convenience store for a coffee, talk on the phone, confer with builders or other inspectors, go to mandatory office meeting, study the building codes, go to seminars, fill out paperwork, nothing. Just hard-nosed, all-work kind of guys. My hat is off to them.
Did you know that the average American worker, while eliciting sympathy about how they work 60-hour weeks, actually only works on what they were employed to do for about 3 to 3.5 hours per day, or 17.5 hours per week? But, perhaps I digress. Maybe McKinney has located the crack employees of the universe for roughly $45K in salary per year. Kudos McKinney!
2014 Energy Code Adoption Report, after studying code officials and inspectors in the 213 most populous Texas cities that only a little more than half of Texas municipalities required code certification for their inspectors? The study stated in part,
“Through our survey of building code officials we identified that there is consensus that the permit offices and staff need to be better supported to take on this important enforcement role. Not unlike the fire department, their enforcement can help to prevent house fires and plumbing leaks that are life threatening and expensive to repair. However they report that they are typically:
Short on time and/or staff to complete adequate inspections.
There is a need for education or training, but only half reported that the certification was required for the job, and it is difficult to get time or funding to go to training.
Salary levels make it difficult to fill the positions as they become avail
In this survey, building code officials also suggested that these barriers to code enforcement are similar within all the building trades. In the summer months when building industry is at its peak, there is little time to do adequate training, so they rely on the building inspectors to check their contractors’ work, or to let them know if there is an issue in the plan review. This requires the building inspectors and plan reviewers to spend even more time working to educate and inform
builders and contractors regarding standards and codes.”
While it is almost certain that the city of McKinney requires code certification from their inspectors, are they really that good? Can they work like madmen under these conditions of extreme work overload for relatively little compensation?
Who do you want inspecting your new home that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars? The guy who can spare a mere 12.5 minutes running through the jobsite or the man who literally spends hours meticulously cataloging construction defects in your new home?
How is it then that we come to this dilemma? In short, Texas is builder- and big business-friendly to a fault. Through manipulation of every facet of their industry they manage to avoid almost any meaningful oversight of their activities. They are not regulated by the state and require no licenses or bonds. The contractors working on your home are, for the most part, not licensed either. Only the plumbers, HVAC technicians, and electricians are licensed. The last of those was only required to be state-licensed in 2005.
Please, do not think for a minute that this is in any way intended to be disrespectful of the hard workers at the city of McKinney or other DFW cities. They have an impossible job. The intent is to show you only a piece of the puzzle that, when fully assembled, will give you a glimpse into how the corrupt Texas home building industry with its predatory corporate practices is taking advantage of home buyers like you.
The term “flip” in all its permutations has various, and often ominous, meanings. For example the phrase, “I don’t give a flip”, indicates that you might be on the verge of “flipping someone off”. Wikipedia’s article on “flipping”, says in part: “The term “flipping” is used by real estate investors to describe “residential redevelopment”. Redevelopment of distressed or abandoned properties or neighborhoods has sometimes been linked to malicious and unscrupulous acts in the post housing bubble era.”
Try to make sense of that in the light of all the reality TV shows revolving around, yes even glorifying, that subject. There seem to be two sides to the popularity; the greedy side, represented by the TV house flippers (and their corporate sponsors), and the screwed side represented by those unfortunate dupes who buy into the house flipping scheme or worse yet, actually purchase the flippers’ products. Said another way we have those who are doing the flipping off and those being flipped off. Which side do you envision yourself falling on?
The get rich quick mentality has always been and will always be with us. Like the gold rush miners of a different era the lazy and avaricious are always in line to make that next quick and easy buck. In their minds the house flippers are entrepreneurial builders and developers. These folks envision themselves as the saviors of old run-down houses and the neighborhoods in which they can be found.
Those who fall into the trap of purchasing these homes may be identified in several categories. They can be buyers who want something nicer looking that they can afford; urban pioneers; or just members of the ever-burgeoning class of the clueless living under the spell of the inundation of advertising BS in which they live. Whatever their motive, the end result is the same. They get scammed and screwed to the wall by the flipper and his affiliates.
Somewhere in the middle of (or behind) all this are the picks and shovels dealers. Like those who really made money off the gold rush, the corporations like Dome Hepot, Lowest, HGTV, etc. ad infinitum, are raking in huge profits sponsoring the house flipping mania. They are the ultimate winners, ripping off both the house flippers and their customers.
So, how did this unscrupulous practice become so fashionable? It’s the curb appeal and staging, not the bones, that sell houses. Nothing describes flipping more accurately than the old phrase putting lipstick on a pig. That is, of course, if the pig can be had for a song and the lipstick comes from the Goodwill store. Ask any flipper if they yearn to be a porcine beautician and you’ll get some blank stares, but a house flipper, sure, why not? In fact, hell yes.
It is the same (lack of) mentality that entices the buyers of these piggies to plop down their hard-earned cash for boxes of unwanted surprises. Once the flipper has done his or her worst, the house will be like a scene in a movie with props to dazzle the eyes and draw attention away from their artificial nature and their unsavory surroundings. All of the usual impractical, gaudy features that lure the ovine home buying public are present, only in their cheapest versions, i.e. seconds, surplus, and off-brand crap only suitable for rent houses.
Most cannot hear the oinking beyond the flipped marvel replete with “builder’s hardwood” floors and granite countertops, the latest in shiny new off-brand or “builder’s quality” (a true oxymoron) appliances, shining new no-name replacement windows, cheap-ass carpet, budget plumbing fixtures, and mis-tinted paint splattered in all directions by daubers on low-flying ladders.
Flip houses are what most home inspectors dread the most. Why? Take the average resale home, add lots of deferred maintenance, rowdy renters, multiple occupations by every type of pet, borderline safe parts of town, and stir in the fact that all has been whitewashed and coiffed with building materials found at that elevator stop just beneath the bottom of the barrel, and voila! You’ve got yourself one hot, steaming mess to inspect.
I cannot go into the details, but here is the short list of things found during my inspections of flip houses just this year.
No building permits. There never are.
All work done by unlicensed individuals. They always are unlicensed.
Many materials, fixtures, and systems touted as new are actually used or used and slightly refurbished.
Supposed complete electrical service replacement only included what could be seen at the main panel. All else was 40 years old or older.
Seconds roofing materials with no manufacturer’s warranty. Many of these are not insurable.
Shiny, cheap plumbing fixtures connected to supply and drains systems that are 60 years old.
Major ($60K) termite damage on house that was said to have been taken down to the studs and rebuilt.
Seconds vinyl replacement windows that leak before they are installed.
Clothes dryer vents that terminate in the wall.
Completely rewired house where the flipper had wired everything visible in the attic with copper extension cords. Everything in the walls was aluminum wiring.
This list could go on to infinity. Of course, all of the flooring materials are seconds or surplus, so you’d best not crack or damage anything – there will be no matching it. Most of the appliances are off brands or below-builder’s grade with little or no warranties. The same is true of the windows, doors, door hardware, cabinets – all of it.
The situation in my area – the DFW, Texas market, is getting worse for the flippers and the flipped by the day. This part of the country has never experienced the kind of property evaluation it is seeing now. It’s perhaps one thing to play urban pioneer with $100K. That is no longer possible. $150K might buy you a complete dump if you pay cash and get lucky during the bidding. The last such gem I inspected was listed for $329K in a ratty, blue collar neighborhood backing up to the busiest highway in the city.
So, lusting for a screwing? Jump right in to the house flipping game – from either end – it’s all the same. But, if you adrenaline junkies are ready to take that leap, use a bit of common sense and hire a competent home inspector. You’ll wish you had. If it looks to good to be true, it’s likely been flipped.
Some builders attempt to impress new home buyers with inspections performed by so-called independent third-party inspection firms. This is patently absurd. The builder’s subcontractor simply cannot, by the very nature of his relationship to the builder, be impartial. This is often merely a dog and pony show intended to both manage the buyer’s expectations and even (hopefully, from the builder’s point of view) deflect any real independent inspections of the property.
This practice is controversial enough in areas with formal building inspection departments. In those rural and extraterritorial areas where no direct oversight is available by a governmental official and third-party oversight is required by law, it can be a real problem. It is certainly a questionably-ethical trade practice that has the potential to be deceptive.
When unqualified or under-qualified inspectors are tasked with ascertaining building code requirement compliance, structural and safety issues can be and often are overlooked. This results in substandard buildings that are unsafe. Even when inspectors are competent, subtle or overt pressure from their clients – the builders – can lead to issues not reported.
Because you are in a position to possibly be misled, whether purposely or inadvertently, you are strongly urged to consult with an attorney who specializes in residential construction law regarding this controversial practice and to have him or her advise you as to how to proceed in your dealings with your builder.