When you are buying or selling a house you will hear a lot of discussion about the building codes. Many homeowners are unclear as to what the significance of these codes is. That uncertainty extends to home builders and real estate professionals as well. So, let’s take a minute to discuss these.
Builders and real estate agents often mistakenly think (and sometimes deceitfully espouse) that the codes are in place to insure quality construction. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Simply put, building codes are the worst that you can build a building by law. You read that right. Building a building strictly to the codes, and not more, will not guarantee a durable, high quality building. The codes only seek to insure that a building is reasonably safe.
Most home buyers expect homes that have greater durability, performance, and quality than the building codes alone dictate in their minimum requirements. Contrast that with the fact that home builders are only required to build to the minimal requirements of the codes and the municipal inspectors inspect for compliance only with these minimal codes. This is the point at which the proverbial stuff hits the fan.
Let’s go a bit further down the rabbit hole, shall we? The Texas Real Estate Commission licenses home inspectors. They not only do not require that these licensed inspectors know anything about the building codes, they specifically exclude any requirement for such knowledge in their published standards of practice for professional inspectors.
Now let’s put this in perspective, if we can. Homeowners expect and demand quality, durable homes. The municipalities and their inspectors only require that the builders build to the bare minimum standards, insuring neither quality nor durability. The independent inspectors the state of Texas foists upon the homeowners are not even required to be familiar with the minimal requirements. What’s wrong with this picture?
Your only hope in assuring a safe, well-constructed home is to hire a professional inspector who is certified in the building codes and has extensive home construction experience. Code certification consists of becoming intimately familiar with the massive amount of information contained in the building codes, sitting for a battery of examinations, and then maintaining proficiency in this knowledge by continuing education.
The International Residential Code is a 904-page volume which contains an extensive list of referenced standards.
The International Building Code is a 690-page volume which also contains an extensive list of referenced standards.
The National Electrical Code, NFPA 70, is an 870-page volume which also contains an extensive list of referenced standards (see Annex A, Product Safety Standards).
These are the core references any inspector of new or existing homes must be intimately familiar with in order to achieve and maintain competence as an inspector.
And, did I mention that each of these codes is significantly rewritten every three years? Hence the requirement to constantly study the codes in order to maintain certification.
In short, if your inspector is not code certified he is unable to perform a competent inspection.
1. Your Texas real estate agent may not assist you in finding a competent Texas home inspector. In fact, they may purposely steer you away from the best Texas inspectors. Many agents will not allow a thorough Texas home inspector to kill their deal. They go to great lengths to insure that you choose an inspector that either is new to the business and knows little to nothing about inspecting or has been in the business long enough to become friends with all of the local agents in order to get their referrals. Meticulous and technically-oriented Texas inspectors are blackballed, especially in neighborhoods with pricier homes.
2. Your Texas real estate agent may not even really be working exclusively for you. If you contact the agent on the yard sign of a house you are interested in and contract with this agent to represent you, you are likely making a huge mistake. This agent’s first loyalty and duty is to the seller, and not to you. What was once somewhat accurately referred to as “dual agency”, is now operating under the more PC name of “intermediary relationship”. This is essentially where the agent is representing both parties to a resale contract. Or, simply put, it is like using your opponent’s attorney to represent you in a civil suit.
3. Your Texas real estate agent may not be licensed. Agents who work for home Texas home builders are not even required to be licensed. Since they have no standards of practice or code of ethics to be concerned with, they can lie to you about anything and everything, and often do.
4. Your Texas real estate agent may be practicing law without a license. While prohibited by the Texas Real Estate Commission, some agents choose to attempt to interpret the resale contracts for their clients without the use of an attorney.
5. Your Texas real estate agent’s commission is negotiable. This tidbit will, of course, never be offered up to you without some significant prying on your part.
6. Your Texas real estate agent may tell you that your home warranty (service policy), or homebuilder’s warranty will cover everything your inspector finds during his inspection. This is simply not true. Home warranties cover only certain parts of some major systems. As with all insurance policies, exclusions abound. Read the fine print.
7. Your Texas real estate agent may not be a trained or competent negotiator. The one essential skill required to be a competent agent is negotiation. This issue is only lightly touched upon in their required training. If your agent does not come to the profession with these skills there is little chance they will acquire them through osmosis. Any reasonably skilled negotiator would understand the value of a thorough inspection and a long, detailed inspection report when dealing with a seller, home builder or their agents.
8. Your Texas real estate agent may not be autonomous. Many real estate teams, consisting of a lead agent and their many minions, have delegated responsibilities for the different aspects of the sales or purchase process to underlings. They follow procedure and are often just going through the scripted motions while dealing with buyers like you.
9. Your Texas real estate agent may tell you that items found by your Texas inspector are not an issue because they are “grandfathered”. This term indicates that the issue was allowed at the time of the construction of the house, but is no longer considered appropriate or safe. The Texas Real Estate Commission does not recognize this as a valid concept. No safety or other issues are grandfathered.
10. Your Texas real estate agent may be incompetent. Napoleon Bonaparte is attributed with the saying, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”. Having said all that, many agents are indeed competent. In the final analysis it is likely better to venture forth into a real estate transaction with even a moderately competent agent than with none.
1. Your builder is unlicensed. Homebuilding is an unregulated industry in Texas, and always has been. Considering how complex the homebuilding process is, how serious the consequences are if it is done incorrectly, and how much of the consumers’ money is at stake, you might expect Texas homebuilders to have to answer to scrupulous regulatory authority. But, Texas homebuilders are not regulated by the state.
2. In order for your Texas homebuilder to build the large houses with all the amenities the home buying public is demanding, corners must not only be cut, but mangled. Low-quality and substandard construction techniques have always plagued the production Texas homebuilding industry, but the recent collapse of the homebuilding market, combined with the ever-increasing costs associated with construction have greatly exacerbated the problem. Now that the Texas real estate market has begun to rebound, labor and material shortages are even further decreasing the quality of new homes.
3. Your Texas builder will build your house on land that is, in the words of the United States Geological Survey, “not suitable for urban development”. The burgeoning North Texas population and consequent urban sprawl means that all of the best land for building houses has already been taken. The highly expansive nature of the North Central Texas soils makes them useful for some agricultural applications and practically useless for the building of homes.
4. The municipal Texas inspectors will not protect you from your builder’s substandard work. City inspectors in Texas are tasked with enforcing the minimal building codes adopted by their cities. They are basically tax collectors in disguise, collecting their permit fees while performing often less than thorough inspections. Your Texas builder often dictates what the municipal building inspection department enforces. Through political pressure on high the builders and developers mold the enforcement of the adopted building codes to suit their bottom line. The result is what is referred to as selective code enforcement. This is where the building official arbitrarily decides which portions of the adopted building code to enforce and which portions to let the builders slide on.
5. Your new Texas home third-party warranty (that’s right, your builder farms these warranties out to others) is not worth the paper it is written on. Texas builders really hard-sell their 10-year warranties, as if they have considerable value. Read the fine print. Did you know that your structural warranty will only actually cover anything if the distress causes the house to become uninhabitable? One of the most popular warranty companies lists over 70 exclusions.
6. Your Texas builder is not selling you a custom home (99% of the time). True custom homes are designed by architects and constructed on property already owned by the person having the home built. All the rest are off-the-shelf production houses that bear little, if any resemblance to their custom cousins.
7. Your Texas builder’s “Builder of the Year” award is a farce. There are too many organizations to count that award these bogus titles. Most are either Texas builder organizations or subsidiary companies formed just for the purpose of distributing phony awards to their members. Much like the “(Your City) Magazine” top-10 lists, the awards are voted on by the members who paid to advertise in that issue.
8. Your Texas builder does not hire skilled craftsmen to build your new home. Most construction crews working for production builders are hired on a low-bidder basis. Many are crews headed by one quasi-knowledgeable tradesman and populated by laborers picked daily from the local taqueria parking lot or labor pool gathering place.
9. Your Texas builder does not know the building code. Along with all of the other negative aspects of being unregulated, your builder is not required to be certified in the adopted building codes. He relies upon his unskilled subcontractors to know how to perform the work at hand.
10. Your Texas builder will often attempt to convince a buyer that his own independent third-party inspector will be inspecting your new house in an attempt to prevent you from hiring your own Texas inspector. Say what? How independent can the builder’s inspector be if the builder is paying him?
The following is a list of books that may interest you:
Bad Move – Linwood Barclay (Read this first if you ever had the urge to do away with your less-than-talented Texas builder . . .)
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
At Home – Bill Bryson
A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder– Michael Pollan
Poetics of Space – Gaston Bachelard
Experiencing Architecture – Steen Eiler Rasmussen
The Ten Books on Architecture – Vitruvius Polli
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction – Christopher Alexander
The Timeless Way of Building – Christopher Alexander
The Production of Houses – Christopher Alexander
Home: A Short History of an Idea – Witold Rybczynski
House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home – Clare Cooper Marcus
House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live – Winifred Gallagher
Tiny Houses – Lester Walker
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
Books by Christopher Alexander
Home: American Writers Remember Rooms of their Own, Sharon and Steve Fiffer
Thoughts of Home: Reflections on Families, Houses, and Homelands, Elaine Greene
The Experience of Place: A New Way of Looking At and Dealing with Our Radically Changing Cities and Countryside, Tony Hiss
A Place Called Home: Twenty Writing Women Remember, Mickey Pearlman
Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values, Yi-Fu Tuan
Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine Benyus
Vaastu: The Indian Art of Placement, Rohit Arya
Vastu Living: Creating a Home for the Soul, Kathleen Cox
An Introduction to Vaastu Shastra, P.N. Ramachandra
The Vaastu Workbook, Talavane Krishna, M.D.
The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui, Gill Hale
Feng Shui Made Easy: Designing Your Life with the Ancient Art of Placement, William Spear
Feng Shui: Step by Step, T. Raphael Simons
Feng Shui: Arranging Your Home to Change Your Life, Kirsten M. Lagatree
Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui, Karen Kingtson
Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter, Howard Mansfield
Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, Lyanda Lynn Haupt
The Forgotten Room, Lincoln Child
House, Tracy Kidder