There goes Gretchen again!

#258 in a series of true experiences in real estate
October 1998, Hills Newspapers

My friend Gretchen called the other day to ask if I thought she should have her house inspected. “Inspected for what?” I asked. “Is anything wrong?”

“Well, I know that the garage gets wet in winter,” she said, “And I’m sure there must be other things I should be doing something about.”

“Are you sure you want to know?” I asked. “For example, I haven’t had one of those mini-cam inspections of my sewer because if I have one and I find out that the sewer’s cracked, I’ll either have to replace it or I’ll add it to my already long worry list.”

What I was thinking was that Gretchen’s house looks great. Sure, she could find things wrong with it. All houses have things wrong with them but should they be periodically inspected? Maybe so; I was giving it some consideration.

It took a day or two after our conversation to realize that Gretchen’s question was completely consistent with her own mode of operation. She has lived in her house for about 8 years during which time she’s attended to it pretty well. Just before she bought it, the roof was replaced. The fireplace man assured her that the fireplace was fit and the termite work was completed.

It was not long ago that she had the entire inside painted and all the wood floors refinished. Last summer she spent several months planning and selecting materials before hiring a contractor to remodel the main bathroom. And at the moment she’s figuring out a new configuration for her kitchen. It’s going to have a concrete sink and concrete counters.

I seem to recall that she had some problems with her hot water heater awhile back. It’s true that there was water in the garage during winter, but last year, whose basement didn’t have water? All in all, I think that her house is probably in quite good condition.

Before this house, she owned another where she lived for a dozen years. She made sure that the house was visually pleasing. She had fences built and trees pruned and she grew a beautiful flower garden. She painted all of the rooms inside, hung nice window coverings, replaced the kitchen cabinets and counters, and she expanded the main bathroom to include a washer and dryer.

For some time after these accomplishments, she was content. Then one day she called me with a plan. She’d been thinking and she had come to realize that her house had deferred maintenance. She wanted to deal with it. Did I know someone who could advise her about which things to do and what they would cost?

I think she hired a contractor to help her make a list. I do remember that she felt she needed quite a lot of money. One expensive item was dry rot in the roof eaves. But the work was never done because she walked into a single Sunday open house, fell madly in love, and bought it. Within 6 weeks, she’d sold her old house and moved to the new.
Gretchen tends to be impetuous and she thinks big. I know that. “Why not do it all and do it well?” is how she thinks about most any subject that has caught her attention.

Her question about inspections shouldn’t have surprised me, I guess, yet it did. Buyers about to be new owners usually have their houses inspected. And friends and clients both ask me for the name of an electrician or a painter. But “old” owners usually know there are things wrong with their houses. When they have the time, inclination and money, they provide remedies. Or they don’t.

I had to stop and think for a moment before saying to Gretchen that day that it would cost around $350 for the kind of professional inspection that buyers hire. This is for a written report. A verbal report which costs less might be enough; she could always take notes.

An inspection takes about 4 hours; she would be there following the inspector around, hearing what he has to say, and she would learn a lot. But would it be overkill? It depends on what she hopes to find out.

“How about a termite inspection?” I asked. “A termite inspection costs only about $125″. “What’s the difference?” she asked.

There’s a big difference. A termite inspection deals with wood: bugs that eat it, water that has rotted it — those kinds of things. The inspector won’t comment on the foundation or drainage, roofing, electrical or plumbing. Many people get a termite report every couple of years. The idea is to know about problems before they get worse.

A physical inspector goes up on the roof, looks at the surfaces and the chimney. He goes underneath the house to see the foundation and earthquake retrofitting. He considers the drainage around the house and all of the systems of the house. In other words, he looks at everything that it is possible to see and tells you things like whether your electrical outlets are grounded, how the fireplace box looks to him and the condition of the hot water heater. He tells you as he goes along what his concerns are and also how the construction of your house compares to present building codes.

Anet always says that it’s kind of like going to a GP. If he finds something specific that is not his expertise, he sends you to a specialist. “If he suspected, for example, that something was not right with your furnace,” I explained, “he would suggest you call P. G. & E. and/or a heating contractor for more information.”

“I had no idea,” Gretchen said. “Well, I do think I should have all these inspections. Termite too. Thanks.”

That was a week or so ago and I haven’t heard what, if anything, Gretchen has done about having her house inspected. It’s possible that she’s already off on another tangent. Yesterday she left me a message asking what I know about chest freezers. Do I think she should buy one?

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