If you are having a new home built and are considering retaining the services of a professional third-party inspector to oversee the construction of your home you need to read this.
Arguably, the most important part of any structure is the foundation. It supports everything else that you refer to as a house. Many new homebuyers forego having a third-party inspector inspect the building site prior to the placement of the concrete in their foundation for many reasons:
They are unaware that this is important.
Their builder convinces them that this is unimportant or maybe even not allowed.
They are attempting to save money.
All of these are poor excuses. Let’s talk more about this in order to help provide you with a clear path for doing due diligence.
The Texas Engineering And Land Surveying Practice Acts And Rules Concerning Practice And Licensure, published by the Texas Board Of Professional Engineers And Land Surveyors constitutes Texas State law and is to be found in the Texas Administrative Code, Title 22. In this document you will in 137.55(a):
“(a) Engineers shall be entrusted to protect the health, safety, property, and welfare of the public in the practice of their profession. The public as used in this section and other rules is defined as any individual(s), client(s), business or public entities, or any member of the general population whose normal course of life might reasonably include an interaction of any sort with the engineering work of the license holder.”
All Texas residences must be constructed in strict accordance with the International Residential Code (IRC) in The Texas Administrative Code Title 16 in rule 70.100(d).
In IRC 101.3 it states:
“R101.3 Intent. The purpose of this code is to establish minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety, health and general welfare through affordability, structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment, and to provide safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.
In IRC R401.2 we find:
“Requirements. Foundation construction shall be capable of accommodating all loads in accordance with Section R301 and of transmitting the resulting loads to the supporting soil. Fill soils that support footings and foundations shall be designed, installed and tested in accordance with accepted engineering practice.”
If you’re still with me after all that, you may realize that the laws of the State of Texas require that engineers design and builders build foundations that actually perform as intended even on the expansive soils in Texas. If we are in agreement, then let’s continue.
It is a verifiable fact that Texas has the third most foundation failures in the United States. See:
Pardon all the reference material. It is necessary because most folks will not lend credence to the knowledge I’ve gained in the past 45 years as a builder and inspector. But, if it is on the Internet or on TV, it must be true . . .
So, why are these foundations failing if they are properly engineered and constructed? They are under-engineered and improperly constructed in almost every case. Can you now see why it might be at the top of one’s list to have a trained eye observe the formwork prior to placing the concrete in your new foundation? If not, stop here and go play with your Lincoln Logs or whatever it is you do to pass the time.
Now that you are aware, let’s talk about your builder. Builders know that the foundations are half-assed and do not want an experienced inspector looking at them. To prevent this they have several ruses they employ:
Tell the homeowner he cannot have the foundation inspected.
Tell the homeowner that only an engineer can inspect it.
Tell the homeowner that he can have the foundation inspected but he will not make any repairs unless the municipal inspector says so.
Tell the homeowner he can have the foundation inspected and then not tell him when he is pouring the concrete so that it cannot be inspected.
This is only a partial list. The complete list is v-e-r-y long, much like the IRS tax code or the list of feckless excuses produced by any teenager regarding whatever you expect them to have done. Adolescent, but in the case of most homebuyers, quite effective.
If you are having a house built in the DFW area it is guaranteed to cost you more than $250,000. In order to save a few hundred dollars on a proper inspection does it make sense to put your entire quarter million dollar investment at risk? I think not.
If you think your builder’s “warranty” will protect you – think again. All of them state that structural damages – foundation problems – are not covered unless the house is so badly damaged that it is no longer habitable. You know, like if Godzilla rose up from beneath it and ate the inhabitants.
Do not depend on your homeowners insurance policy to cover you either. None of them cover foundation problems. Why? Because they are fully aware that the foundations here are under-engineered and fail on a spectacular scale.
Still not convinced. Not a problem. Drive down to CVS or simply get on amazon.com and order yourself the largest tube of K-Y Jelly you can find. You are going to need it when you are bent over your builder’s barrel of bullshit.
I often get requests for summary reports to be attached to my inspection reports.
The Texas Real Estate Commission and its broker and agent minions foist numerous counterproductive ideas upon the home-buying public every chance they get. One of these is the summary inspection report.
Summary reports benefit mostly only the real estate agents by allowing them to better control the sellers, buyers and inspectors in property re-sales. The benefits include, but are not limited to:
1. The natural tendency for most buyers is to avoid reading too much of the mountains of paperwork produced during a real estate transaction. Who can blame them? So then, when confronted with one of my 100-page home inspection reports, they proceed to wilt. Instead of performing their duty of due diligence by actually reading the report, they want someone to predigest it and feed it back to them as pabulum. With the report dumbed-down and truncated, the agent has an easier time of dealing with the profusion of property defects found on every house by all but the agents’ pet inspectors.
2. The summary report also lends itself to becoming a repair list for the agent to present to the seller during a resale transaction. Though they make the lion’s share of profit from the transaction – 1.5% to 6% of the sales price on a $300K house is $4500 – $18,000 – as opposed to the average inspection fee of around $600, they avoid doing anything that resembles actual work.
My errors and omissions insurance carrier strictly prohibits summary reports, as they should. It is often the case that the buyer will simply refer to the summary without reading the entire report, thus missing much of the nuance and most of the significance of the whole document. Additionally, listing defects in an attempt to prioritize their importance is impossible. This sort of non-thinking requires not only the ability to predict the future, but also the ability to predict the timing of future failure events. Care to definitively state when your next flat tire will occur? Which tire will it be? What will be the exact cause of the flat? Good luck with that.
Home builders are also fond of summary reports. With one of these in hand a builder can easily deflect any supposed defects found by simply arguing around the brevity of the summary statements. New home defects must be identified by specific building code citations that do not lend themselves to abbreviation or curtailment.
Further, if all of the issues are already contained within a written report, exactly what is the purpose of reiterating these in the very same document?
Finally, if you find yourself terminally ensconced in one of the generations needing helicopter-parenting after leaving home, do us all a favor and find an inspector who will write you a flowery, Reader’s Digest version of a real inspection report and hand you those rose-colored glasses to boot. You won’t find him here.
And, that’s not the worst of it. Neither do his supervisors or subcontractors. That’s saying a lot when one considers that the building code itself requires them to know the code. From the International Residential Code (IRC), which is the code in 49 states and some foreign countries:
“IRC 105.8 Responsibility. It shall be the duty of every person who performs work for the installation or repair of building, structure, electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing systems, for which this code is applicable, to comply with this code.”
How can one possibly comply with regulations one does not know? Not possible.
How does this work? Well, the builders (read: corporations) hire supervisors (read: lackeys) to oversee their building sites. The majority of these folks are not certified in the building codes, never held a hammer or actually built a house. Most of their time is devoted to ordering materials and scheduling subcontractors. They know only what their subcontractors and/or the municipal inspectors tell them. Basically, your “builder” amounts to little more than a construction expediter.
The subcontractors, who are also not code-literate, build everything according to what the municipal inspectors “allow”. Initially, they construct everything in the most expeditious fashion possible, as they are hired on the lowest bidder basis. Then they wait to see what the building official “allows” and make whatever changes the inspector requires.
The problem with all of this is that the municipal inspectors are often themselves not intimately familiar with the codes. Even if they are, they are not allowed the time necessary to thoroughly inspect the houses they are assigned. They look for the low-hanging fruit, and then move to the next house (this is what I refer to as selective code enforcement). Refer to my blog article on the 12.5-Minute Inspection, for a clearer picture.
The municipal inspectors “allow” many things that are blatant code violations because they do not completely comprehend the codes they are entrusted to enforce, or they simply do not have the time to do the job properly. Maybe this has a lot to do with the way they are paid – not much for the amount of work entailed.
Is it any wonder that the houses in Texas are poorly built? On the contrary, the miracle is that they stand for more than a couple of years. But, they do not actually perform their intended function on many levels. The foundations are under-engineered for the expansive soils that prevail here, the materials are often glorified cardboard or glued-together pieces of scrap wood. The windows, doors, appliances, lighting and plumbing fixtures are all “builder’s grade”, which is code for the cheapest available. The houses are basically cobbled together using whatever is on sale and then sold at a premium price (builder materials and systems markups are figured at 300%).
And all of this cobbling is being done by corporations and their employees who have zero verifiable knowledge of the regulations (laws) that govern their profession. The home buyers are then the recipients of the products of a revolting dog-and-pony show euphemistically referred to as Texas custom home building.
While all of this is occurring, Austin (read: Abbott and his dog Paxton) continue to deflect any attempts to actually regulate the Texas home builders. As has always been their motto: big business comes first. Hell yes, the free market will police itself. Such b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t. The same stuff that trickles down on us all from the corporate boys on high.
Reminds me of an old Firesign Theater skit where one guy asks another, “Bend over and roll up your arm. Do you want regular or premium?”
The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) licenses home inspectors and publishes their standards of practice. In this SOP it states clearly that the inspector is not required to know the building codes, manufacturer’s or any other regulatory requirements. See for yourself:
Chapter 535 General Provisions
Subchapter R. Real Estate Inspectors
§535.227-§535.233. Standards of Practice
(3) The inspector is not required to:
(I) insurability, warrantability, suitability, adequacy, compatibility, capacity, reliability, marketability, operating costs, recalls, counterfeit products, product lawsuits, life expectancy, age, energy efficiency, vapor barriers, thermostatic performance, compliance with any code, listing, testing or protocol authority, utility sources, or manufacturer or regulatory requirements except as specifically required by these standards;
Wow. So how is it then that these inspectors are allowed to inspect new houses under construction or even in their final stage? Politics. The Texas builders’ lobby d.b.a. the Texas Homebuilders Association. This group has fought and won the battle to exclude any sort of governmental oversight of home builders since 1944. When third-party inspections of their new houses began during the late 90’s, they arranged with the TREC to allow their inspectors to inspect new houses both during construction and at the final stages.
The idea was sound, from the builders’ prospective. Arrange for unqualified inspectors with no knowledge of the building codes to bless their houses and dupe the home buyers. It was and is disastrous for unsuspecting home buyers. They move forward with the purchase of their new homes with the false confidence instilled in them by an inspection report written by an inspector with no knowledge of the building process or the codes governing it.
How does this directly affect you? Well, other than just the fact that your house will not be built to the minimal standards set forth in the requisite building codes, you will also have a big surprise when you find the need to invoke your builder’s warranty. Almost without exception, the builder warranties exclude any issues that were not code compliant at the time of construction.
One might think that, if the inspector SOP were artfully crafted, this might not be an issue. It is not. The technical provisions of the SOP consist of about 17 pages of poorly-conceived, often anecdotal, delusional meanderings intended to do nothing more than protect the brokers, agents, and inspectors. They provide zero protection for purchasers of newly-constructed homes.
One might also assume that, though the SOP is found technically wanting, inspectors certainly would be required to gain additional knowledge not required by the TREC. Most do not. Many claim to. There is only one method of proving one’s knowledge of the codes and that is through code certification.
The International Code Council (ICC) authors all of the building codes in 49 states and a few foreign countries. This organization provides both training and rigorous examinations for those desiring to prove their knowledge of the codes regulating the construction of houses. Four separate exams lead to a Residential Combination Inspector certification or ICC R-5. If your inspector does not have these credentials he is not qualified to inspect your new home, or any other home for that matter.
Let’s do a straight up comparison of the volume of information needed to obtain a TREC license vs. an ICC R-5 certification. I already mentioned that the TREC SOP consists of 17 pages of mumbo jumbo. I’ll be generous and include two volumes that are often used during the training or TREC inspectors. The Principles of Home Inspection Systems and Standards 3rd Edition is a 1086-page tome used by many of the training schools. Add to that the National Home Inspector Examination Home Inspection Manual which weighs in at 659 pages. We now have a total of 1762 pages of required knowledge to obtain and maintain a TREC inspector license.
If your inspector is ICC-certified the volume of information required to have been mastered grows exponentially. One must peruse and fully understand the International Residential Code (IRC) at 2903 pages and the National Electrical Code (NEC) 1371 pages. What’s more, the IRC, in Chapter 44, lists an additional 26 pages of referenced standards that are, by reference, an integral part of this code. Likewise, the NEC lists pages of referenced standards that are to be treated as a part of that code. All of the pages of reference standards add roughly an additional 1500 pages of information.
Further, the IRC often defers to the International Building Code (IBC), for some items in the IRC such as slab-on-ground foundations in expansive soils, et al. The IBC adds yet another 2908 pages to the mix. Then there is the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC), the National Fire Protection Association’s various publications pertaining to natural gas, propane gas, fire safety, smoke alarms, et al.
OK, enough. Perhaps you get the picture. The basic TREC inspector might know about 1762 pages of information while the ICC-certified inspector must know at least 10,444 pages of info. That, of course is not all-inclusive. Materials and equipment manufacturers’ installation instructions, Consumer Products Safety Commission requirements, . . . etc. ad infinitum, must be in the inspector’s wheelhouse if he or she is to steer your new house safely to the point of occupancy.
Yet another ploy you should be aware of is the multi-inspector firm whose principal may indeed be ICC-certified, but is not actively involved in the inspections performed by his company. He uses the certification to lure customers in and then sends out his uncertified lackeys to inspect your house. Cheesy, but common.
Another thing that might interest you is that HUD requires an ICC R-5 certified inspector to perform inspections on all FHA and VA loans for new construction.
So, if you are in the market to purchase a new home, hire only a qualified inspector who is ICC R-5 certified, or roll the dice on the other guy. It’s your money.
It is commonly understood that governmental agencies are
notorious for distributing “information” that is, how shall I say,
specious. In my profession, dealing as I do with home builders, municipal
building inspectors, real estate brokers, agents, et al., I am accustomed to
being inundated by a tsunami of bullshit. That said, occasionally some
outrageous statement appears that astounds even jaded me. Something so
stupefying and outrageous that it defies the wildest imagination. You know, presidential
I came across this wild-eyed quote while keeping up with the
meanderings of the folks who issue one of my licenses – The Texas Real Estate
Commission (TREC). This agency was recently reviewed by the Texas Sunset
Advisory Commission regarding its efficiency and found wanting in many areas.
One that affects home buyers more than the others is the educational
requirements for licensing home inspectors. The Sunset Commission opined that
the requirements were in need of a change in order to produce more informed and
competent inspectors. The TREC perfunctorily agreed. The following statement
reflects just how they plan to go about this.
“The Inspector Committee met on October 7 at the Texas Real Estate Commission. Many of the items before the committee were proposed at the July meeting. The Committee received public comments on the proposed changes. The Committee considered those comments, and the proposals moved forward as written. The most notable changes in the rules are those to the pre-licensure for home inspectors in Texas. The new process cuts the number of hours required approximately in half for the most utilized track to become an inspector while equipping inspectors to more readily be able to perform an inspection upon completion.” (Bold and italics are mine)
If you find nothing askew with the preceding statements
issued forth from the Texas Real Estate
Commission’s Inspector Committee, then read no further, this is not for you.
You’ll find your designated reading corner in the children’s section of the
local library next to the wooden blocks and the Big Bird stuffed toys.
Would you assume that reducing the amount of children’s
education to half of what it is now would somehow miraculously increase their
K-6 ≥ K-12
is math that simply does not compute.
The requirements to become a home inspector in the great
state of Texas
have always been minimal. No real construction experience is required. No
building code knowledge is required. Simply take a course for $3000 (less if
online) that teaches the multiple-choice test one must pass, pass the exam, and
voila! you get your Cracker Jack box license. No sweat.
This has led to some, if not most, folks who hire home inspectors in Texas apparently being led down the garden path by questionably-educated, ill-informed, quasi-competent “inspectors”, who are foisted on us all by the folks who brought you the revelations quoted at the beginning of this vociferation. But, let me not cast aspersions.
The moral of this story is that you must thoroughly vet your
home inspector. Relying on a mere state-issued license to do business and/or a
referral from your avaricious agent will not protect you. Practice the level of
due diligence that accrues with becoming an adult and buying a house.
I’ll end this now before I segue into deviant terminology .
The bedlamites in Austin have been at it again. As of September 1, 2019, in all municipalities in Texas, the minimal building codes will be dealt a severe blow. The morons whom some folks have voted into the legislature, in their infinite ignorance, have deemed that Texas municipal building inspectors can no longer choose to adopt any building codes that are more stringent than the national model codes. As if the current codes are not lenient enough the builders can now skirt the building officials who want to eliminate the use of questionably safe, durable, or outright dangerous building products and procedures.
This is yet another move on the part of the powerful Texas homebuilders lobby
to gut the codes, thumb their noses at regulation, and proceed to make a profit
to the detriment of the home buying public. Previously the same regime that has
been in power in the state for decades negated the code requirements for
fire-suppression sprinkler systems in all houses.
If you voted for these imbeciles, please take a moment prior to the next election to actually think about who you are supporting. Regardless who you voted for please consider contacting your senators and representatives to complain about the passage of House Bill 2439 during the last session of lunacy.
One of the prevailing myths, i.e. anecdotal bullshit stories, in my profession is that all inspectors are either required to or at least certainly should walk upon all roof surfaces during inspections. Nothing could be further from the truth. These sorts of stories are perpetuated by real estate salespeople – agents and brokers – and oftentimes by know-nothing inspectors themselves. Let’s look at the facts.
Mounting a roof is a dangerous activity that should never be taken lightly. This sort of activity should only be undertaken when absolutely required, such as in the case of a roofer performing an installation or a roof repair. How dangerous is it? Enough so that OSHA does not allow it without a significant amount of training and the use of very pricey approved personal protective equipment (PPE). Stiff fines are imposed on scofflaws by OSHA.
Municipal building inspection departments strictly prohibit their field inspectors from climbing on roofs. Most, if not all, home builders specifically instruct third-party inspectors to keep off the roofs during their inspections. All of the major home inspector organization clearly state that inspectors must not walk on roofs.
Even most roofing companies do not actually walk on roofs while performing inspections for hail and wind damage. They rely upon satellite imaging in order to protect their employees. The same is true of insurance adjusters.
So, as a layperson looking to have a house inspected, how exactly might you arrive at the conclusion that home inspectors are less important than all of the above mentioned entities? From your real estate agent, or from the Google repository of unsubstantiated “facts” . . . or both? Thought so.
We are living in a fact-free society. One that allows any blather spewed forth from any mouth to pass as the truth. Everyone considers him- or herself to be an expert. Salespersons, much like our politicians, lead this crowd of nonsense distributors. Though they may assume they have become inspectors via osmosis, in reality they know nothing about houses other than how to sell and buy them. Often as not, they fail at that.
With the advent of the Internet, Google, and other search engines an enormous amount of information is available at the push of a button. How much of it can be believed? Think: Cambridge Analytica. If I now have your attention let’s proceed to the truth about walking on roofs.
There are many safe and certain methods for inspecting roof surfaces without risking injury or death by walking on them. Standing on the ground with 8X42 or 10X50 binoculars will reveal the color of a bird’s eyes that is roosting on the ridge. A moderately-priced 50X camera will take a picture of any defects noted with the binoculars. When possible, viewing the roof from a ladder at the edge is also a good way to avoid death by falling.
Yes, there are some roofs where these methods will not work. Some houses require a 36′ or 48′ ladder in order to reach the roof’s edge. Some roofs are higher than that. These roofs are unsafe for individual inspectors due to OSHA rules of ladder safety. One man cannot safely use a ladder of this height. Other roofs need not be walked upon due to the type of surface or the weather conditions during an inspection. For these roofs a certified roofer or steeplejack should be employed.
Other roofs, like older deteriorated asphalt, concrete or clay tiles, and slate can be easily damaged by walking on them. Even brand new asphalt shingles should not be installed, much less walked upon, in temperatures below freezing or above 85° lest they be damaged. Some other roof coverings like metal are too slick to safely mount.
Walking on a roof, for other than the actual installation or repair of it, is a foolish thing to do. If you want a fool for an inspector be certain to choose one that claims he will walk on ANY roof no matter what the circumstances.
While I do walk on some lower pitched roofs when I deem it both necessary and safe, I avoid most due to an inherent drive toward self-preservation. In the end it is the expert’s (my) choice, and not yours. Unless, of course, your time spent at Google University and listening to your agent has allowed you to surpass the knowledge I have gained during the last 44 years.
Here are a few examples of what I am talking about here:
Those of you who know me understand that I rarely have a
good word to say regarding all things governmental. That said, the FHA
surprised me last August by eliminating their in-house approval process for FHA
inspectors and requiring that those doing FHA inspections be certified by the
International Code Council as R-5 Residential Combination Inspectors, as I have
been for over 20 years.
The approval process in the past was minimal. The inspector
had merely to “prove” (read: claim) three whole years construction experience
and be in possession of a feckless license to do business from the Texas Real
Estate Commission. This ensured that whatever was being inspected, it was being
scrutinized by know-nothings. ICC Combination Inspectors look for compliance
with local building codes as well as specific HUD requirements.
When a person applies for an FHA/HUD/VA/USDA loan it is
usually because they cannot qualify for a conventional loan. This person also typically
does not have the means to foot the bill for any major repairs required due to the
typical and widespread lackluster Texas home builder performance. These folks
need protection and the FHA has finally taken a step in the right direction for
providing this to their borrowers.
Kudos to the FHA Commissioner for doing the right thing.
We should all be waiting for June 16th with bated breath when the half-baked 2019 Texas legislative session finally comes to an end. Every two years the drooling idiots we elect gather in Austin to torment us with their seeming lack of understanding of nearly everything.
This session has proven especially egregious in many
respects. To avoid waxing partisan I will spare you my opinions on most of these,
e.g. immigration, abortion, cannabis, taxes, health care, gun control,
education, et al. I want to focus on just one issue: plumbers.
The Texas legislature, hereinafter known as “the Morons” has,
in their infinite stupidity, decided to eliminate the Texas Board of Plumbing
Examiners. That is the group that is (was) responsible for overseeing the
education and licensing of plumbers.
Texas plumbers have been growing in importance in the eyes
of the Morons for decades. A few years back they decided that plumbers could
also legally perform electrical work on any system they were repairing or
installing – without an electrician’s license. Before that, it was decided that
a master plumber could perform whole-house building code inspections – without code
certification. Renaissance men, I assume.
Now, we have the ultimate. Plumbers have busted out of their legendary phone booth and are prepared to fly above the rest of us unencumbered by any of those pesky plumbing regulations and codes.
That leaves the rest of us circling the proverbial bowl.