by Frank J. Delle Donne
Flipping houses has become an occupation for some. There are many homes that have been restored and updated by investors and DIYers. Many of them are very nice. However, as home inspectors, we’ve come across a number of flipped houses that fall under the category of what I call “Buyer Beware”. One such example was inspected October, 2022.
Due to some findings at this house, I was motivated to write this article as a word of caution to prospective buyers of flipped houses and a strong word of encouragement to hire a professional, licensed home inspector. Your due diligence includes the inspection of the house including a termite inspection, sewer scope and tank sweep at least. Most flipped houses are not occupied when you are thinking of buying it and have been empty for a while. Many flipped homes are old.
The standard, New Jersey home inspection covers structure, roof, electric, plumbing, etc. All very important things. I am also licensed to conduct a termite inspection and both inspectors here at Regal Home Inspections are also licensed to conduct radon tests. Commencing in the very near future, one inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC will also be NJ licensed/certified to perform LEAD PAINT testing as well.
From what I’ve learned, anecdotally, many mortgage companies require a termite inspection. Even if yours does not, it’s very important that you hire a thorough inspector for Wood Destroying Insects (WDI). WDI usually include termites, carpenter ants and carpenter bees. There are others but these are the three, most common.
While most houses should have a radon test, Monmouth County, for example, has a number of towns that are classified by the NJ DEP as, “High radon potential” areas. A few towns in Middlesex County and Somerset County. No towns in Ocean County are classified as high radon potential areas but we have seen homes with levels of radon that require mitigation. A radon test is important for a home you’re buying and periodic radon tests are important for occupied homes.
Back to the, “Flippin’ Flippers.”
The flip-house we recently did in Monmouth County had a nice looking kitchen and nicely renovated bathrooms and floors, etc. But what exists outside of the obvious is what matters. For this home, the major issues included:
Extensive, structural damage in the basement from termites.
Structural damage due to bad trade-practices in the crawl space and
Very poor implementation of aspects of the roof/plumbing vents and fan venting to the outside.
Termite Damage – Sometimes, termite damage is hard to find. It’s often limited and in a small area. Sometimes the indications are seen outside and sometimes inside. In this case, there was termite damage in a number of floor joists and in the subfloor. The termites rendered a number of joists as worthless for their intended purpose. Consequently, floors were no longer level and the structure of the house was compromised. Of course, following the NJ HI standards of practice, this is a material defect. I’m going out on a limb and speculate that the flipper didn’t do their own inspection because this would have/should have been found. In our report to the client we identified the problem, told them why it was important – damages the structure/reduces structural integrity – and advised them on what to do next. In this case it’s getting in an expert to provide a quote to repair and replace all the damaged wood so they can negotiate the purchase price with the flipper and receive some concession.
Structural Damage – While crawl spaces are not places I enjoy going, as I sometimes tell people, “Going into the crawl space was, “worth the price of admission”. In this same, flip-house there were two joists, under a bathroom no less, that had notches and split. These joists are holding up the weight of the tub and toilet and they are now capable of supporting a load that’s only a fraction of the joists’ intended strength.
Roof issue. This is one for the Hall of Shame in my opinion. A sincere, “Thank you” to the flipper for making it so easy to identify. From the outside of the house there were two elements of the roof that caught my attention. Now please note, the NJ home inspection laws require inspectors have an 11 foot ladder. Following the ladder’s safety instructions, that means I can’t get on a roof that more than, approximately 8 feet off the ground. I also carry a 22 foot ladder but for this home, that too was not long enough. So, I use the telephoto lens of my camera and zoom into the roof as close as possible.
The first 2 photos below caused some concern when seen from the outside.
When I went into the attic, I could see what was actually done. To give you an idea, my first reaction was to use a descriptive word for the actions of the flipper such as, “egregious”. A quick Google search for the definition of egregious results in, “outstandingly bad; shocking.” Yes, that’s how I felt. My inspection partner, Brian, told me to edit that out of the report so I did. I substituted it with, “poor craftsmanship” or something similar. The conditions still are material defects. The conditions were these…
For the pipe boot seen from the outside (Right photo above), the craftsman, inappropriately left the plumbing vent short and inside the attic and stuffed a bathroom fan’s vent together at the bottom of the pipe boot. The boot is absolutely not intended for that configuration. Someone knew they were doing that work incorrectly and in a substandard manner but did it anyway.
For the first photo from the roof, someone just stuck the open end of a 4 inch diameter, flexible foil vent duct through the roof! That’s basically a 4 inch diameter hole in the roof. For both of these things, what were they thinking?
Bottom line, these matters were found and properly reported back to the client. There were also other findings that require attention; Electrical, safety and maintenance items (Like clogged and loose gutters).
Bottom line, hire a capable inspection company. Although you have to pay for these things, get the inspection, oil tank sweep, sewer scope, termite inspection, radon test and even a lead paint inspection. There are also other things that may or may not apply such as pool inspections, Level 2 chimney inspections, etc. If you have any questions please call Brian Delle Donne at 732 740 8365 or Frank at 908 902 2590.