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How to Look

at a House

A blog with answers
to your questions about

Photo - SW Florida Water Management District

More blogs posts about similar subjects:

  1. What is a chimney sinkhole?

  2. How do you determine when the house was built?

  3. How much is the ground required to slope away from a house?

  4. Should I buy a house that needs a new roof?

  5. What are the warning signs of a dangerous deck?

  6. Does a recent termite company inspection sticker mean there are no termites?

  7. I’m buying a ‘50s modern house with a “gravel” roof. Is it going to be a problem?

  8. How much of a roof truss can I cut out to make a storage platform in the attic?

  9. How can I tell if cracks in the garage floor are a problem or not?

  10. There’s cracks running along the home’s concrete tie beam. What’s wrong?

  11. What can you tell me about buying a house with structural problems? It’s priced cheap!

  12. Should I buy a fixer-upper?

  13. What causes cracks in a driveway?

  14. How much can I cut out of a floor joist?

  15. We looked at the house carefully, and it seems alright. Do we really need a home inspection?

  16. Should a home inspection scare you?

  17. What should I look for when buying a “flipper” house?

  18. How can a tree damage my house?

  19. What causes stair-step cracks in a block or brick wall?

  20. Why is the concrete window sill cracking?

  21. What causes a horizontal crack in a block or brick wall?

  22. How can I tell if a diagonal crack in drywall at the corner of a window or door indicates a structural problem?

  23. The house has asbestos siding. What should I do?

  24. There’s an old fuel oil tank underground in the yard. Is it a problem?

  25. What are the most common problems with older houses?

  26. What do I need to know about buying a 1950s house?

  27. What are the warning signs of a dangerous attic pull-down ladder?

  28. Why are there score line grooves in the concrete floor of the garage?

  29. What are the common problems of different types of house foundations?

  30. What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970’s house?

  31. What is a “continuous load path”?

  32. Is painted bathroom tile acceptable?

  33. Is a ridge board/beam required for a roof framed with rafters?

  34. What should I do about a tree with roots running under my house?

  35. Should I be suspicious about a concrete block house covered with siding?

  36. How can I make sure I don’t get screwed on the home inspection?

Welcome to our blog!
We want you to be an informed homebuyer, and each blog post is a question that we have answered for our friends and customers over the years. Hope they help you make a good choice for your next home.

  1. 1)Be sure that the house is insurable. A quote from an insurance agent is not a guarantee that you can actually get insurance. “But it is more likely if the agent is savvy enough to ask you a few questions first—like the age of the house, age of the roof, and if there are any known previous claims,” according to Greg Banks, of Banks Insurance Group. Previous claims which were not disclosed that turn up later when an underwriter does a claims database check may cause problems, but that is outside of the buyer’s control. To learn more about the requirements for seller disclosure, especially as it relates to sinkholes, see our blog post “Should I trust the Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement?”

  2. 2)Make sure that sinkhole coverage is included in your policy, or in a rider. Ask your agent for details about your coverage.  Florida law now requires authorized insurers to provide coverage for “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” but the law’s interpretation of it means that the damage by many sinkholes will not be covered. The law defines a sinkhole as “a land form created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater.” A “catastrophic ground cover collapse” is defined as “geologic activity that results in all of the following: 1) The abrupt collapse of the ground cover; 2) A depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye; 3) Structural damage to the building including the foundation; and 4) The insured structure being condemned and ordered vacated by the government agency authorized by law to issue such an order for that structure.” So, in essence, the damage has to be so bad that the house must be abandoned and condemned.
        Any lesser damage is not covered unless you buy a sinkhole rider or it is specifically included in the basic policy.  All insurance companies licensed in Florida are required to offer sinkhole coverage, usually at an additional premium charge. The insurance company has the option to require testing  before binding coverage and, if sinkhole activity is detected on the property or observed within a certain distance, coverage may be declined.

  3. 3)Hire a home inspector who can help you find signs of potential sinkhole activity. We occasionally examine a house that shows signs of significant structural problems that the homebuyers completely missed until until we pointed it out to them, and it is not that we are any more talented at finding signs of structural distress than many other competent home inspectors. It’s just that home inspectors are trained to find these kinds of defects and look at hundreds of houses each year. If you are concerned about potential sinkhole problems, find an experienced home inspector that you trust to look at the home with you. To find out more about what to look for, see our blog post “What are the warning signs of a sinkhole?”

  4. 4)Consider sinkhole testing. While infrequent, an insurance company may require you to have this testing done prior to granting you coverage, under certain circumstances.  A sinkhole forms when water dissolves a pocket of limestone karst under the top layers of sand and clay soil. As it grows in volume, the cavity may begin to slowly collapse, creating structural defects in the walls and foundation of a home that a home inspector can identify for you. But, in its early stages, there are no above-ground signs of a sinkhole beginning to form. To learn more about sinkhole formation and the different types of sinkholes, go to our blog post “What causes sinkholes?”
        Sometimes there are no signs of activity until a major collapse, as in some of the epic sinkholes that open up without any warning and become a dramatic video on the TV evening news. Engineering contractors can locate sinkhole activity that is not yet telegraphing its presence at ground level by using ground-penetrating radar and soil boring samples. It’s not cheap but, if you want to be sure there are no problems looming in the near future, sinkhole testing is a good idea.

  5. 5)Your mortgage lender will require you to have the home inspected. Be sure to ask if the inspection addresses possible sinkhole activity, like cracks in the foundation or walls. Actually, our experience has been that only some mortgage lenders will require you to have an inspection. While a home inspector like us can locate and talk to you about cracks and other signs of movement in the structure, it may not be possible for the inspector to determine whether the structural distress is due to sinkhole activity or a vein of clay soil under the home. For more on this subject, see our blog post “What’s my chance of buying a Gainesville home over a sinkhole?” Also, if you are considering buying a house that has had a sinkhole or other structural problem repaired, see our blog post “Should I buy a house that has had foundation repair?” for more information on how to evaluate the property.

While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here.
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