Andy Wojtowski

The C-Word

BO: And so I just wanted to have a general conversation on the episode today, get your opinion, Tessa, get your opinion, Reuben. Home inspectors shouldn’t be making a thing about code, period. We are not code officials, we are not code enforcers, we are just people there to give you information, facts about a house, so you can make a good decision. Where do you fall, Reuben specifically, give me your Reuben’s version of how I feel about code as it relates to buying a house.

RS: Sure. I feel very strongly that any home inspector ought to be very familiar with building codes. That’s the basis of what we do. If you follow home inspection standards of practice, whether it be kind of two big ones out there. There’s ASHI and there’s InterNACHI. You follow either one of their standards of practice, I’ll pick on ASHI because we’re all ASHI members at Structure Tech. They say that we’re supposed to report on stuff that is significantly deficient. What is significantly deficient? How do you define that? We’re supposed to report on stuff that is considered unsafe by current practices, I may not have the exact language right. But how do you define that? The only way you can define that is by turning to the building code. That is your only point of reference.

RS: So when practices change, when things become unsafe, well, that’s where they get mentioned in our home inspection reports. And let’s just take smoke alarms for an example. If a house was built in 1950, it was not built with smoke alarms. Now, if we go in there and we suggest adding a smoke alarm, are we doing a code compliance inspection? I’m gonna let you guys answer that. I’m asking you guys. Tell me, what am I doing?

BO: Of course you’re not doing a code-compliant inspection. You’re just making a recommendation.

RS: Alright, very good. Let’s change the question. Let’s say I recommend a CO alarm, carbon monoxide alarm. Now am I doing a code compliance inspection?

BO: No, you’re making a recommendation.

RS: Alright. How about if I recommend GFCI devices?

BO: You’re making a safety recommendation.

RS: I’m not doing code compliance. Okay, alright, very good. What about if the spacing on the balusters at the stairway is big enough for a kid to slip their body through but not their head? Maybe they’re spaced 5-1/2 inches apart, and I suggest adding a level of safety to make it so a child can’t do that, and bring it up to today’s standards of safety? Answer me again. Am I doing a code compliance inspection?

Tessa Murry: No, we do not do code compliance inspections, but we base our recommendations off of what the current code safety standards are.

RS: Yeah, that’s where I’m getting all of these things from, is the building code and the electrical code. That’s where this is all coming from. Let’s just keep going. I feel like this is a fun exercise.

[laughter]

BO: I’m gonna reverse this on you in a minute, when you’re all done with this, so…

RS: Okay. Alright. So my thought is, this is what we base our recommendations on, and if you don’t know what the building code is, then you don’t know what the current standard of safety is, and you’re just making stuff up. You’re making up your own rules and you’re gonna have 100 different home inspectors making 100 different recommendations based on what they feel is safe, and nobody has any idea on what to do. So I feel very strongly that home inspectors ought to be making the recommendations based on code. Now, hear me carefully though. I’m not saying they should make code compliance recommendations. I’m saying that the recommendations they make ought to be based on code.

RS: Let me ask you another one. How about if you have a guard rail and you’ve got the balusters going horizontally? Let’s say you got an outdoor deck and the balusters go horizontally, so you can climb it like a ladder. What about that? What would you say about that? Now, I know there’s a lot of home inspectors who will tell their clients, “This is an improperly built guard. You can climb it like a ladder, it’s not safe for kids, they could fall over, and it’s not allowed.” Well, that’s wrong. There was a very short period in the code where they banned that, but then everybody got super into installing those cable guards. Everybody wanted the cables on their deck railing, so then they changed the code and now it is allowed, but a lot of home inspectors don’t know this, and they just say, “You can’t do that. It’s not safe.” So what is the right answer there? I don’t know. I’m not claiming to have the answer, I personally don’t write it up. I just figure, “Hey, watch your kids.” My thought is, as a home inspector, if I’m gonna find every potential child safety thing, I’m gonna be sure to let parents know about the hazards of stairways. Like, “Hey, you’ve got this super dangerous thing in your home that causes thousands of people to go to the ER every year, and you’re gonna raise a kid in this house? What are you doing?”

[laughter]

RS: And tell them about baby gates, but no, of course we don’t do that. At some point, parents gotta figure this stuff out on their own, and I feel the same way about that guard rail that could be climbed like a ladder, but that’s just me. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m saying that might fall into a gray area. Sorry, Tessa, I’m dominating this conversation.

TM: No. This is a topic that comes up, I think, a lot in almost every conversation we have with a client, a potential buyer or a real estate agent. It’s always trying to figure out what do you recommend, what do you not recommend. In our company, we’ve based our recommendations off of these standards so it’s easier for us, I think, to handle these questions, but it varies from inspector to inspector and from company to company on… Yeah, what do you recommend? And when do you recommend it?

BO: Do any of your recommendations include discussions about negotiations for these sorts of things, because…

RS: You did not just ask that.

BO: So it’s hard for me to separate one from the other, because when you put it in the report, you begin to tell… You give people the roadmap of making this house safer, which, listen, I’m not saying it’s not a bad thing, but it’s very hard for people to understand, where do I start and where do I stop, and there’s a certain amount of advice and guidance they want, and the person giving that guidance and advice is the real estate agent. And so now we have a really good house, it’s a good house for you, but there’s all of these things that could be updated. Doesn’t mean they have to be, but they probably could be. So was that the seller’s responsibility or is that your responsibility?

TM: That’s such a good question, Bill. You know what? We have a class, we have a two-hour continuing education class about this very, very topic called Hassle-Free Home Inspections. And we talk about this because it comes up so often from real estate agents in particular, receiving a report, seeing these recommendations, and then not knowing really how to navigate that with their client, with their buyer. And are these things we should be asking the seller to fix? Are they not? Are they a big deal? Are they not? And really, we can’t answer that, a lot of that depends on the client and what matters to them, but we do have a guideline that actually, I think Reuben, you should go through this, of what we categorize as big deals and what we think makes sense to potentially pursue in negotiations, and what things really don’t make sense to pursue.

RS: That would be an awesome podcast topic, like a podcast all on its own, pedal negotiations after the home inspection.

TM: Yes.

RS: And you know what we should do? We should get a realtor or two onto that discussion. We should invite somebody onto our podcast to dive into that ’cause I don’t wanna cut this short. That is such a long topic. And what Tessa is talking about it, it’s a fairly long document, it’s like a 10-page document that we put together several years ago, titled Negotiations After the Home Inspection, and… Wait a minute. You know what? Before I get into that, let me answer your question, Bill, with a vehement no. Absolutely not. Getting back to the original question. When people ask us, “How do I negotiate this?” We look ’em in the eye and we say, “No.” And we walk away.

[laughter]

BO: Thank you. Thank you because this podcast is going to air after last night’s debate between the vice presidential candidates, and just like they didn’t answer a single question that was asked, you were about to dodge and weave and very gracefully got back on topic. Thank you.

RS: Yeah, I’m sorry. I realized we didn’t make our answer clear. It’s an absolute no. We don’t touch negotiations with a 10-foot pole. That is not what we do. We’re home inspectors, we’re there to give people information about the house, we’re there to provide an education, we’re gonna find stuff that’s wrong, we’re gonna find stuff that’s right, stuff that has deferred maintenance, stuff that’s unsafe by today’s standards, and we’re gonna make recommendations, but none of this has anything to do with negotiations. We tell our clients, “That is between you and your agent. I have no idea what you’re paying for this house, I have no idea what you’ve negotiated, I don’t know the terms, I’m not qualified to answer that question.” And that’s what everybody at our company is gonna say in some variation.

BO: Thank you.

TM: That is refreshing to hear. We can’t tell a real estate agent what to negotiate and what not to negotiate. But that document, Reuben, the Negotiations After the Home Inspection, that can help real estate agents that aren’t sure about topics they might find in a home inspection report of maybe some help in figuring out what they wanna negotiate, right?

RS: Yes. I feel like until a real estate agent has sold a few dozen homes, they’re just getting their feet wet, and there’s so many things that they have never come across before. Once you got an agent who’s been doing it for 10 years, this is old hat, they don’t need our advice. But for a lot of those new agents, they really… They turn to us for advice, and they’re saying, “Hey, do you think we should negotiate this?” When they come to us for advice, we do what we can to help them, and we’ve gotten that so often that we put together this document that I alluded to, the Negotiations After the Inspection, and it’s a list of things that… It’s not saying it should or shouldn’t be negotiated, but it’s discussing a lot of these things, and it’s talking about things that would be reasonable to negotiate, I guess that’s the best word I could use.

BO: I love that word. Reasonable.

RS: That’s as close as I can come to say should or shouldn’t. Maybe reasonable and unreasonable, I guess that’s the best way to put it.

TM: And It’s all a gray area.

RS: It’s all totally a gray area, and this is based on the input from probably about 10 different agents, very well-seasoned agents here in the Twin Cities, and some long conversations that I had with them, and my experience of what I see all of them negotiating after the inspection, and all the things that they don’t negotiate. So we put together a big list of things that it’s almost just petty. And I put some of the stuff that I’ve had to fix at houses that I’ve sold in the past. I remember I sold an old house in Minneapolis and the buyer wanted me to put window well covers on the basement window, so it was like one of the only things they asked for. The $10 plastic window well covers.

TM: To be relieved that that’s all they asked for.

RS: I was, I was. And I did it with a smile.

BO: I was gonna say, did you sprint to the big box store to get those $10 items that…

[overlapping conversation]

RS: I had it done the same day, of course. But it’s just stupid, you’re buying a house and you’re gonna negotiate over this $40 worth of materials and zero labor? What are you doing? Who’s your agent?

BO: Help me out on that. Was it a government backed loan or something maybe that required something of that sort?

RS: Nothing of the sort.

BO: Okay.

RS: It was just extremely skittish buyers, and they didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t window well covers. Oh, and guess what? Guess who did my home inspection? None other than who is now our very own Wayne Rademacher.

TM: Really?

RS: Yes.

TM: Wayne, shout out to Wayne.

RS: Yes, I had not even met Wayne at the time.

TM: Wow.

RS: I didn’t even know who it was. And then, later on…

TM: It’d be interesting to see his report for your old house. Did you get it?

RS: Tessa, I’m dying to see that report. This was back in 2011, and to this day, he won’t share it with me. He’s like, “That’s client confidentiality,” and he won’t let me see the report.

TM: Wow.

RS: So I just quit asking for it. I’m like, “He’s serious about this.”

TM: Maybe he’s embarrassed, Reuben ’cause he put the window well covers on the summary page. I’m just kidding. No, I’m just kidding. Wayne is a great inspector.

RS: He really is.

TM: And he has so much knowledge about water intrusion. He does the intrusive moisture testing for our company too, he’s just a wealth of knowledge.

BO: Not to mention he smiles more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my own entire life.

TM: That’s true.

RS: Yeah, what’s he hiding? What are you hiding, Wayne? No, he’s just a nice guy.

TM: Yeah.

BO: So let me throw some bullets at you here real quick. Should you negotiate a roof that clearly the day that you arrived for the initial tour it looks like it needs to be replaced after the home inspection and the home inspector tells you that the roof is at the end of its service life?

RS: That’s a gray area. I don’t know, I’m not sure. Let’s come back to this ’cause we’re stepping all over a whole other podcast that we gotta do.

BO: We step in stuff all the time, Reuben. This is what we’re good at.

RS: Alright, fine. I don’t know, I don’t know. One of the things that we list on there is stuff that’s obvious when you come to the house. If you walk through a home and you see that there’s a driveway that’s all broken up, and it’s in a major state of disrepair, and there’s cracks, and then you ask your home inspector to be super harsh on that because you want a new driveway, that’s ridiculous. You saw it the first time you were there. Don’t tell me you needed the home inspector to tell you about this. You’re using that home inspection report as a negotiation tool. But on the flip side, I do list roofs that are in obvious states of disrepair that have the potential to leak. I do say that’s a reasonable negotiation item. And so, I guess the question is, did people even have the wherewithal to take the time to walk around the outside of the house and look at all four sides from the ground and see what condition it was in?

TM: That’s our job.

RS: It is. That’s a tough one, Bill. On the other hand, the other day, my family and I were driving by a house and we saw this from a block away, and our jaws all hit the floor that the roof was so bad. My wife, Anna, she’s going, “What the heck is wrong with that thing? That’s gotta be leaking.” So I guess it depends on how obvious it is. Tough to say, Bill.

BO: Okay, city garage looks like it could be pushed over with my arm, which is not very strong, negotiate or not?

TM: Are you saying use the home inspection report as a tool to negotiate? ‘Cause that’s different.

BO: I don’t know, I’m just asking. Does the home inspector have to go through and inspect the garage where the garage door doesn’t open, and the client turn around and be like, “Yeah, we need to do something with this garage or the price of this property because the garage is just in a state of disrepair.”

RS: You know, Bill, I’ve been in so many situations where… And I’m thinking about the last one I looked at, where they had load-bearing stucco. The sole plates and the studs were rotted out to nothing. It was seriously the stucco that was holding up the garage. And I’m pointing this out to the clients this thing is so dilapidated, and they had no idea though. So you can’t always say that this stuff is obvious. So sometimes, yeah, I’d say that would be reasonable. A lot of people don’t know about it.

BO: Alright, one last question, and then I’ll stop. 1990s, early ’90s, lap siding, it’s like 12 inches wide, and it’s got that lovely kind of grain in what we would call Masonite, and it’s all fat and swollen, and it’s at the end of its life. Is that…

RS: That’s another one people don’t know about.

BO: Okay, so that’s a negotiable item, could be a negotiable item is what you’re saying?

RS: Could be. Yeah, when you got siding that’s severely rotted and it’s ready to fall off the house, yeah, definitely.

BO: Okay. I love it. [laughter]

TM: We could just keep going on this for days, but I love that list, Reuben, that you put together with the negotiation items that…

[overlapping conversation]

BO: You’re gonna have to post that following this podcast because everybody’s gonna be wondering what’s on the list.

RS: Alright. Well, we just ruined a future episode. We’re just gonna post it.

BO: No, we could still do it.

RS: I’m just gonna share it. No, no, it will bore people. Let’s just share it.

BO: No, I wanna see the strategies that top agents use in negotiation because I think that’s a really important thing for everybody involved.

TM: Yeah, we could do a podcast with a real estate agent who has been around the block a few times and ask them what they think about this list.

RS: Okay, alright, that’d be good. I know what they’re gonna say. The one thing we get pushed back on is I say, “Don’t add GFCI devices as a negotiation item.” I stand behind that. I tell people, it’s like, “Look, it’s important to put these in, they’re life-safety devices, that’s what they’re for, but they cost like $10 each. Why are you gonna make the purchase of the house contingent upon this $10 item being installed in your wall? Let it go. You’re gonna be a homeowner.”

BO: It’s $10 at the store. It’s not $10 installed.

RS: Well, what is it? What is it installed, $150?

BO: No contractor comes to your house for less than $200.

RS: Alright, I’m gonna look at our price list right now. Bill and Tessa, you two talk amongst yourselves and I’ll see what our favorite electrician charges for these. I think it’s somewhere in that neighborhood.

TM: Gosh, that reminds me, I did an inspection, this is a while ago, and I had the buyer’s agent, our client call me up a few days after I sent out the report and she wanted me to tell her where there should have been GFCIs and there weren’t in this house. And basically, if you’re familiar with our reports, typically, if it’s a few that are missing, we’ll list out the locations, but I think this house had a finished basement where they didn’t have any GFCIs where they should have, and bathrooms and kitchens. So I went through that with her and explained to her, “Here are all the places that a house should have it, doesn’t mean that it has to, but we recommend it for safety reasons.” She was just really concerned that we hadn’t listed out every specific location in the unfinished basement that needed it. So it can really…

RS: So you just said, “Unfinished basement.”?

TM: Yeah.

RS: She wanted each receptacle…

TM: Location.

RS: Each outlet.

TM: Yeah, yeah.

BO: All of them.

RS: I’m speechless.

TM: All of them. Yeah.

RS: Yeah, there, you’re covered. All of them.

BO: Alright, so can I have some fun with Reuben?

TM: Please.

BO: Let’s be technical for a second.

RS: Look at the time, look at the time.

TM: You live for this stuff, Reuben.

BO: What is a GFCI and why does it work? And give us the innards of the GFCI receptacle.

RS: Sure. It stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and the whole idea is that with an electrical circuit, you’ve got a hot and a neutral wire and you’ve got current going back and forth between those two wires a whole bunch of times, every second. That’s where we get hertz and volts, as those refer to how many times the electricity is going back and forth, it’s alternating. That’s why we call it alternating current. The GFCI device makes sure that everything going one way is the same thing as what’s coming the other direction. It’s making sure that there’s no electricity leaking, making sure that the electricity gets back the way that it should.

RS: And if there’s just a little bit of current leaking out, getting back to its source other than through one of those wires, we’ve got a fault, we’ve got a problem. It’s called the ground fault, and it will cut off the circuit, it’ll cut off the flow of electricity if you have an imbalance there. I think, off the top of my head, the number is like 0.05 Amps or something like that, or milliamps. It’s a ridiculously low number, but it’s still enough to give you a pretty nasty shock, and a lot of people will say GFIs prevent shocks, it’s not true. GFIs prevent you from getting electrocuted. They’re life safety devices, you have to get shocked to get that thing to trip and that’s basically what they are. The broad category would be a life safety device, not a code compliant type of device for your home. We don’t care about exactly what the code says, we care about people being safe, that’s what it comes down to.

TM: I think Reuben, you are in your happy place right now. When Bill asked you to explain technical things… [chuckle] I love it.

BO: Grandpa, can you tell me about the old days?

[laughter]

RS: I do enjoy talking about that stuff.

BO: Are there any other technical places you wanna take us to today?

RS: Alright, we’ll talk about one more, twist my arm. But it’s something that people ask about a lot is arc-fault devices, AFCIs. And those are relatively newer devices, and we touched on this in the podcast we did with John Williamson from the state. They’ve been around for almost 20 years now, and their job is to prevent fires from happening. Unlike a GFI, they prevent people from getting electrocuted, AFCIs prevent fires. And they do that by looking for a certain electrical signature that might indicate arching, and they cut off that circuit. ‘Cause you can have situations where wires will start on fire without actually tripping a circuit breaker, or the wires can start a fire without tripping a circuit breaker. And AFCIs are designed to prevent that. And the most modern devices cordon off few areas of the home are gonna be combination devices where you get both of those in one package. It’ll be a circuit breaker that gives you both AFCI and GFCI protection.

TM: So if anyone is listening to this and they’re confused by what Reuben is saying, just to illustrate a picture, imagine you’re in a bathroom and you’re holding a hair dryer and somehow you were to touch water, I don’t know, while you’re holding the hair dryer, that GFCI would protect you from getting electric current through your body and would flip off. I didn’t explain that very well.

BO: I thought it was good.

RS: Yeah, it would prevent you from getting too much current through your body.

TM: Too much current, right. So you get a little bit of current but then the mechanism would trip so that you wouldn’t get any more current through your body, it would stop that current from continuing through your body and completing the circuit.

RS: That’s the idea.

TM: Okay, so that’s GFCI. And AFCI, arc-fault, would be something that would save you… Let’s say you’re hanging a picture on your living room wall and you’re pounding a nail through the wall and that nail nicks a wire, and now that electrical current is arching, and that could lead to potential sparks or a fire. Is that true?

RS: Yep. That’s right.

TM: So you’re preventing a fire from starting in your wall with an arc-fault breaker.

RS: That’s right. Yeah. Good story on that. That’s a good example, Tessa. When my dad did the remodel at his home, I don’t remember how many years ago, and he had fastened the new metal guard for the stairway. He had fastened this to the wall, I don’t know if he used some big screws or what, but one of those screws pierced one of the wires inside the wall. It ended up electrifying the entire guard rail.

TM: Oh, my gosh! [chuckle.

RS: And I don’t know how it took so long, but he was done with the remodel and all that, and it was there for like a week or something, when my sister came by and put her hand and she got a nasty jolt from the guard rail.

TM: That’s crazy.

RS: That took him a little while to figure it out. And of course that would be a location that doesn’t require GFCI protection. It’s just a stairwell.

TM: Right.

RS: But she lived to tell about it because it was just a stairwell. What changes the severity of a shock is what else you’re touching at the same time. If this was in a bathroom and she was touching a metal faucet and that metal faucet was connected to metal pipes which are connected to the earth, it could have been an electrocution event. She could have been killed, but thankfully, she was just standing on stairs and there wasn’t a good path back to the earth, and that’s why she only got a shock.

TM: Wow!

BO: What was that conversation like after that shock? What did Neil have to say? What did your sister have to say? What did mom have to say? I would’ve loved to have been there.

RS: Yeah, I wasn’t there, but I would have been insisting my sister lost her mind, and that there was nothing wrong at all.

BO: Gotcha. Well, we could talk about stories from the old days forever, and they’re some of the funnest ones, but we should probably wrap up this episode, thanks everybody. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich and you’ve been with us alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman as always, the three-legged stool. See you next time. Thank you.

TM: The three-legged stool.

Home inspectors shouldn’t be making a thing about code, period. We are not code officials, we are not code enforcers, we are just people there to give you information, facts about a house, so you can make a good decision.

[music]

BO: Welcome, everybody. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always. Say hello, everybody.

Reuben Saltzman: Hello, everybody.

BO: Very funny. Okay, thanks for joining, everybody. [laughter] These people are not comedians, and neither am I. I only play when on a podcast. So the last couple episodes, we’ve had some code officials on and we’ve been very technical in our discussions, and I thought today, we might bring it back from the brink of technicality a little bit and just let’s blend everyday life in buying a house and getting a home inspection and code talk, and let’s bring it down, back down to earth a little bit. We were just talking about what the electrical code requires today in a kitchen. Say, for example, you need a GFCI-protected outlet right behind your refrigerator, and that’s all fine and dandy but like 95% of houses in the current marketplace don’t have that because they weren’t built this year. So when does code really, really matter in this?

BO: And so I just wanted to have a general conversation on the episode today, get your opinion, Tessa, get your opinion, Reuben. Home inspectors shouldn’t be making a thing about code, period. We are not code officials, we are not code enforcers, we are just people there to give you information, facts about a house, so you can make a good decision. Where do you fall, Reuben specifically, give me your Reuben’s version of how I feel about code as it relates to buying a house.

RS: Sure. I feel very strongly that any home inspector ought to be very familiar with building codes. That’s the basis of what we do. If you follow home inspection standards of practice, whether it be kind of two big ones out there. There’s ASHI and there’s InterNACHI. You follow either one of their standards of practice, I’ll pick on ASHI because we’re all ASHI members at Structure Tech. They say that we’re supposed to report on stuff that is significantly deficient. What is significantly deficient? How do you define that? We’re supposed to report on stuff that is considered unsafe by current practices, I may not have the exact language right. But how do you define that? The only way you can define that is by turning to the building code. That is your only point of reference.

RS: So when practices change, when things become unsafe, well, that’s where they get mentioned in our home inspection reports. And let’s just take smoke alarms for an example. If a house was built in 1950, it was not built with smoke alarms. Now, if we go in there and we suggest adding a smoke alarm, are we doing a code compliance inspection? I’m gonna let you guys answer that. I’m asking you guys. Tell me, what am I doing?

BO: Of course you’re not doing a code-compliant inspection. You’re just making a recommendation.

RS: Alright, very good. Let’s change the question. Let’s say I recommend a CO alarm, carbon monoxide alarm. Now am I doing a code compliance inspection?

BO: No, you’re making a recommendation.

RS: Alright. How about if I recommend GFCI devices?

BO: You’re making a safety recommendation.

RS: I’m not doing code compliance. Okay, alright, very good. What about if the spacing on the balusters at the stairway is big enough for a kid to slip their body through but not their head? Maybe they’re spaced 5-1/2 inches apart, and I suggest adding a level of safety to make it so a child can’t do that, and bring it up to today’s standards of safety? Answer me again. Am I doing a code compliance inspection?

Tessa Murry: No, we do not do code compliance inspections, but we base our recommendations off of what the current code safety standards are.

RS: Yeah, that’s where I’m getting all of these things from, is the building code and the electrical code. That’s where this is all coming from. Let’s just keep going. I feel like this is a fun exercise.

[laughter]

BO: I’m gonna reverse this on you in a minute, when you’re all done with this, so…

RS: Okay. Alright. So my thought is, this is what we base our recommendations on, and if you don’t know what the building code is, then you don’t know what the current standard of safety is, and you’re just making stuff up. You’re making up your own rules and you’re gonna have 100 different home inspectors making 100 different recommendations based on what they feel is safe, and nobody has any idea on what to do. So I feel very strongly that home inspectors ought to be making the recommendations based on code. Now, hear me carefully though. I’m not saying they should make code compliance recommendations. I’m saying that the recommendations they make ought to be based on code.

RS: Let me ask you another one. How about if you have a guard rail and you’ve got the balusters going horizontally? Let’s say you got an outdoor deck and the balusters go horizontally, so you can climb it like a ladder. What about that? What would you say about that? Now, I know there’s a lot of home inspectors who will tell their clients, “This is an improperly built guard. You can climb it like a ladder, it’s not safe for kids, they could fall over, and it’s not allowed.” Well, that’s wrong. There was a very short period in the code where they banned that, but then everybody got super into installing those cable guards. Everybody wanted the cables on their deck railing, so then they changed the code and now it is allowed, but a lot of home inspectors don’t know this, and they just say, “You can’t do that. It’s not safe.” So what is the right answer there? I don’t know. I’m not claiming to have the answer, I personally don’t write it up. I just figure, “Hey, watch your kids.” My thought is, as a home inspector, if I’m gonna find every potential child safety thing, I’m gonna be sure to let parents know about the hazards of stairways. Like, “Hey, you’ve got this super dangerous thing in your home that causes thousands of people to go to the ER every year, and you’re gonna raise a kid in this house? What are you doing?”

[laughter]

RS: And tell them about baby gates, but no, of course we don’t do that. At some point, parents gotta figure this stuff out on their own, and I feel the same way about that guard rail that could be climbed like a ladder, but that’s just me. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m saying that might fall into a gray area. Sorry, Tessa, I’m dominating this conversation.

TM: No. This is a topic that comes up, I think, a lot in almost every conversation we have with a client, a potential buyer or a real estate agent. It’s always trying to figure out what do you recommend, what do you not recommend. In our company, we’ve based our recommendations off of these standards so it’s easier for us, I think, to handle these questions, but it varies from inspector to inspector and from company to company on… Yeah, what do you recommend? And when do you recommend it?

BO: Do any of your recommendations include discussions about negotiations for these sorts of things, because…

RS: You did not just ask that.

BO: So it’s hard for me to separate one from the other, because when you put it in the report, you begin to tell… You give people the roadmap of making this house safer, which, listen, I’m not saying it’s not a bad thing, but it’s very hard for people to understand, where do I start and where do I stop, and there’s a certain amount of advice and guidance they want, and the person giving that guidance and advice is the real estate agent. And so now we have a really good house, it’s a good house for you, but there’s all of these things that could be updated. Doesn’t mean they have to be, but they probably could be. So was that the seller’s responsibility or is that your responsibility?

TM: That’s such a good question, Bill. You know what? We have a class, we have a two-hour continuing education class about this very, very topic called Hassle-Free Home Inspections. And we talk about this because it comes up so often from real estate agents in particular, receiving a report, seeing these recommendations, and then not knowing really how to navigate that with their client, with their buyer. And are these things we should be asking the seller to fix? Are they not? Are they a big deal? Are they not? And really, we can’t answer that, a lot of that depends on the client and what matters to them, but we do have a guideline that actually, I think Reuben, you should go through this, of what we categorize as big deals and what we think makes sense to potentially pursue in negotiations, and what things really don’t make sense to pursue.

RS: That would be an awesome podcast topic, like a podcast all on its own, pedal negotiations after the home inspection.

TM: Yes.

RS: And you know what we should do? We should get a realtor or two onto that discussion. We should invite somebody onto our podcast to dive into that ’cause I don’t wanna cut this short. That is such a long topic. And what Tessa is talking about it, it’s a fairly long document, it’s like a 10-page document that we put together several years ago, titled Negotiations After the Home Inspection, and… Wait a minute. You know what? Before I get into that, let me answer your question, Bill, with a vehement no. Absolutely not. Getting back to the original question. When people ask us, “How do I negotiate this?” We look ’em in the eye and we say, “No.” And we walk away.

[laughter]

BO: Thank you. Thank you because this podcast is going to air after last night’s debate between the vice presidential candidates, and just like they didn’t answer a single question that was asked, you were about to dodge and weave and very gracefully got back on topic. Thank you.

RS: Yeah, I’m sorry. I realized we didn’t make our answer clear. It’s an absolute no. We don’t touch negotiations with a 10-foot pole. That is not what we do. We’re home inspectors, we’re there to give people information about the house, we’re there to provide an education, we’re gonna find stuff that’s wrong, we’re gonna find stuff that’s right, stuff that has deferred maintenance, stuff that’s unsafe by today’s standards, and we’re gonna make recommendations, but none of this has anything to do with negotiations. We tell our clients, “That is between you and your agent. I have no idea what you’re paying for this house, I have no idea what you’ve negotiated, I don’t know the terms, I’m not qualified to answer that question.” And that’s what everybody at our company is gonna say in some variation.

BO: Thank you.

TM: That is refreshing to hear. We can’t tell a real estate agent what to negotiate and what not to negotiate. But that document, Reuben, the Negotiations After the Home Inspection, that can help real estate agents that aren’t sure about topics they might find in a home inspection report of maybe some help in figuring out what they wanna negotiate, right?

RS: Yes. I feel like until a real estate agent has sold a few dozen homes, they’re just getting their feet wet, and there’s so many things that they have never come across before. Once you got an agent who’s been doing it for 10 years, this is old hat, they don’t need our advice. But for a lot of those new agents, they really… They turn to us for advice, and they’re saying, “Hey, do you think we should negotiate this?” When they come to us for advice, we do what we can to help them, and we’ve gotten that so often that we put together this document that I alluded to, the Negotiations After the Inspection, and it’s a list of things that… It’s not saying it should or shouldn’t be negotiated, but it’s discussing a lot of these things, and it’s talking about things that would be reasonable to negotiate, I guess that’s the best word I could use.

BO: I love that word. Reasonable.

RS: That’s as close as I can come to say should or shouldn’t. Maybe reasonable and unreasonable, I guess that’s the best way to put it.

TM: And It’s all a gray area.

RS: It’s all totally a gray area, and this is based on the input from probably about 10 different agents, very well-seasoned agents here in the Twin Cities, and some long conversations that I had with them, and my experience of what I see all of them negotiating after the inspection, and all the things that they don’t negotiate. So we put together a big list of things that it’s almost just petty. And I put some of the stuff that I’ve had to fix at houses that I’ve sold in the past. I remember I sold an old house in Minneapolis and the buyer wanted me to put window well covers on the basement window, so it was like one of the only things they asked for. The $10 plastic window well covers.

TM: To be relieved that that’s all they asked for.

RS: I was, I was. And I did it with a smile.

BO: I was gonna say, did you sprint to the big box store to get those $10 items that…

[overlapping conversation]

RS: I had it done the same day, of course. But it’s just stupid, you’re buying a house and you’re gonna negotiate over this $40 worth of materials and zero labor? What are you doing? Who’s your agent?

BO: Help me out on that. Was it a government backed loan or something maybe that required something of that sort?

RS: Nothing of the sort.

BO: Okay.

RS: It was just extremely skittish buyers, and they didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t window well covers. Oh, and guess what? Guess who did my home inspection? None other than who is now our very own Wayne Rademacher.

TM: Really?

RS: Yes.

TM: Wayne, shout out to Wayne.

RS: Yes, I had not even met Wayne at the time.

TM: Wow.

RS: I didn’t even know who it was. And then, later on…

TM: It’d be interesting to see his report for your old house. Did you get it?

RS: Tessa, I’m dying to see that report. This was back in 2011, and to this day, he won’t share it with me. He’s like, “That’s client confidentiality,” and he won’t let me see the report.

TM: Wow.

RS: So I just quit asking for it. I’m like, “He’s serious about this.”

TM: Maybe he’s embarrassed, Reuben ’cause he put the window well covers on the summary page. I’m just kidding. No, I’m just kidding. Wayne is a great inspector.

RS: He really is.

TM: And he has so much knowledge about water intrusion. He does the intrusive moisture testing for our company too, he’s just a wealth of knowledge.

BO: Not to mention he smiles more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my own entire life.

TM: That’s true.

RS: Yeah, what’s he hiding? What are you hiding, Wayne? No, he’s just a nice guy.

TM: Yeah.

BO: So let me throw some bullets at you here real quick. Should you negotiate a roof that clearly the day that you arrived for the initial tour it looks like it needs to be replaced after the home inspection and the home inspector tells you that the roof is at the end of its service life?

RS: That’s a gray area. I don’t know, I’m not sure. Let’s come back to this ’cause we’re stepping all over a whole other podcast that we gotta do.

BO: We step in stuff all the time, Reuben. This is what we’re good at.

RS: Alright, fine. I don’t know, I don’t know. One of the things that we list on there is stuff that’s obvious when you come to the house. If you walk through a home and you see that there’s a driveway that’s all broken up, and it’s in a major state of disrepair, and there’s cracks, and then you ask your home inspector to be super harsh on that because you want a new driveway, that’s ridiculous. You saw it the first time you were there. Don’t tell me you needed the home inspector to tell you about this. You’re using that home inspection report as a negotiation tool. But on the flip side, I do list roofs that are in obvious states of disrepair that have the potential to leak. I do say that’s a reasonable negotiation item. And so, I guess the question is, did people even have the wherewithal to take the time to walk around the outside of the house and look at all four sides from the ground and see what condition it was in?

TM: That’s our job.

RS: It is. That’s a tough one, Bill. On the other hand, the other day, my family and I were driving by a house and we saw this from a block away, and our jaws all hit the floor that the roof was so bad. My wife, Anna, she’s going, “What the heck is wrong with that thing? That’s gotta be leaking.” So I guess it depends on how obvious it is. Tough to say, Bill.

BO: Okay, city garage looks like it could be pushed over with my arm, which is not very strong, negotiate or not?

TM: Are you saying use the home inspection report as a tool to negotiate? ‘Cause that’s different.

BO: I don’t know, I’m just asking. Does the home inspector have to go through and inspect the garage where the garage door doesn’t open, and the client turn around and be like, “Yeah, we need to do something with this garage or the price of this property because the garage is just in a state of disrepair.”

RS: You know, Bill, I’ve been in so many situations where… And I’m thinking about the last one I looked at, where they had load-bearing stucco. The sole plates and the studs were rotted out to nothing. It was seriously the stucco that was holding up the garage. And I’m pointing this out to the clients this thing is so dilapidated, and they had no idea though. So you can’t always say that this stuff is obvious. So sometimes, yeah, I’d say that would be reasonable. A lot of people don’t know about it.

BO: Alright, one last question, and then I’ll stop. 1990s, early ’90s, lap siding, it’s like 12 inches wide, and it’s got that lovely kind of grain in what we would call Masonite, and it’s all fat and swollen, and it’s at the end of its life. Is that…

RS: That’s another one people don’t know about.

BO: Okay, so that’s a negotiable item, could be a negotiable item is what you’re saying?

RS: Could be. Yeah, when you got siding that’s severely rotted and it’s ready to fall off the house, yeah, definitely.

BO: Okay. I love it. [laughter]

TM: We could just keep going on this for days, but I love that list, Reuben, that you put together with the negotiation items that…

[overlapping conversation]

BO: You’re gonna have to post that following this podcast because everybody’s gonna be wondering what’s on the list.

RS: Alright. Well, we just ruined a future episode. We’re just gonna post it.

BO: No, we could still do it.

RS: I’m just gonna share it. No, no, it will bore people. Let’s just share it.

BO: No, I wanna see the strategies that top agents use in negotiation because I think that’s a really important thing for everybody involved.

TM: Yeah, we could do a podcast with a real estate agent who has been around the block a few times and ask them what they think about this list.

RS: Okay, alright, that’d be good. I know what they’re gonna say. The one thing we get pushed back on is I say, “Don’t add GFCI devices as a negotiation item.” I stand behind that. I tell people, it’s like, “Look, it’s important to put these in, they’re life-safety devices, that’s what they’re for, but they cost like $10 each. Why are you gonna make the purchase of the house contingent upon this $10 item being installed in your wall? Let it go. You’re gonna be a homeowner.”

BO: It’s $10 at the store. It’s not $10 installed.

RS: Well, what is it? What is it installed, $150?

BO: No contractor comes to your house for less than $200.

RS: Alright, I’m gonna look at our price list right now. Bill and Tessa, you two talk amongst yourselves and I’ll see what our favorite electrician charges for these. I think it’s somewhere in that neighborhood.

TM: Gosh, that reminds me, I did an inspection, this is a while ago, and I had the buyer’s agent, our client call me up a few days after I sent out the report and she wanted me to tell her where there should have been GFCIs and there weren’t in this house. And basically, if you’re familiar with our reports, typically, if it’s a few that are missing, we’ll list out the locations, but I think this house had a finished basement where they didn’t have any GFCIs where they should have, and bathrooms and kitchens. So I went through that with her and explained to her, “Here are all the places that a house should have it, doesn’t mean that it has to, but we recommend it for safety reasons.” She was just really concerned that we hadn’t listed out every specific location in the unfinished basement that needed it. So it can really…

RS: So you just said, “Unfinished basement.”?

TM: Yeah.

RS: She wanted each receptacle…

TM: Location.

RS: Each outlet.

TM: Yeah, yeah.

BO: All of them.

RS: I’m speechless.

TM: All of them. Yeah.

RS: Yeah, there, you’re covered. All of them.

BO: Alright, so can I have some fun with Reuben?

TM: Please.

BO: Let’s be technical for a second.

RS: Look at the time, look at the time.

TM: You live for this stuff, Reuben.

BO: What is a GFCI and why does it work? And give us the innards of the GFCI receptacle.

RS: Sure. It stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and the whole idea is that with an electrical circuit, you’ve got a hot and a neutral wire and you’ve got current going back and forth between those two wires a whole bunch of times, every second. That’s where we get hertz and volts, as those refer to how many times the electricity is going back and forth, it’s alternating. That’s why we call it alternating current. The GFCI device makes sure that everything going one way is the same thing as what’s coming the other direction. It’s making sure that there’s no electricity leaking, making sure that the electricity gets back the way that it should.

RS: And if there’s just a little bit of current leaking out, getting back to its source other than through one of those wires, we’ve got a fault, we’ve got a problem. It’s called the ground fault, and it will cut off the circuit, it’ll cut off the flow of electricity if you have an imbalance there. I think, off the top of my head, the number is like 0.05 Amps or something like that, or milliamps. It’s a ridiculously low number, but it’s still enough to give you a pretty nasty shock, and a lot of people will say GFIs prevent shocks, it’s not true. GFIs prevent you from getting electrocuted. They’re life safety devices, you have to get shocked to get that thing to trip and that’s basically what they are. The broad category would be a life safety device, not a code compliant type of device for your home. We don’t care about exactly what the code says, we care about people being safe, that’s what it comes down to.

TM: I think Reuben, you are in your happy place right now. When Bill asked you to explain technical things… [chuckle] I love it.

BO: Grandpa, can you tell me about the old days?

[laughter]

RS: I do enjoy talking about that stuff.

BO: Are there any other technical places you wanna take us to today?

RS: Alright, we’ll talk about one more, twist my arm. But it’s something that people ask about a lot is arc-fault devices, AFCIs. And those are relatively newer devices, and we touched on this in the podcast we did with John Williamson from the state. They’ve been around for almost 20 years now, and their job is to prevent fires from happening. Unlike a GFI, they prevent people from getting electrocuted, AFCIs prevent fires. And they do that by looking for a certain electrical signature that might indicate arching, and they cut off that circuit. ‘Cause you can have situations where wires will start on fire without actually tripping a circuit breaker, or the wires can start a fire without tripping a circuit breaker. And AFCIs are designed to prevent that. And the most modern devices cordon off few areas of the home are gonna be combination devices where you get both of those in one package. It’ll be a circuit breaker that gives you both AFCI and GFCI protection.

TM: So if anyone is listening to this and they’re confused by what Reuben is saying, just to illustrate a picture, imagine you’re in a bathroom and you’re holding a hair dryer and somehow you were to touch water, I don’t know, while you’re holding the hair dryer, that GFCI would protect you from getting electric current through your body and would flip off. I didn’t explain that very well.

BO: I thought it was good.

RS: Yeah, it would prevent you from getting too much current through your body.

TM: Too much current, right. So you get a little bit of current but then the mechanism would trip so that you wouldn’t get any more current through your body, it would stop that current from continuing through your body and completing the circuit.

RS: That’s the idea.

TM: Okay, so that’s GFCI. And AFCI, arc-fault, would be something that would save you… Let’s say you’re hanging a picture on your living room wall and you’re pounding a nail through the wall and that nail nicks a wire, and now that electrical current is arching, and that could lead to potential sparks or a fire. Is that true?

RS: Yep. That’s right.

TM: So you’re preventing a fire from starting in your wall with an arc-fault breaker.

RS: That’s right. Yeah. Good story on that. That’s a good example, Tessa. When my dad did the remodel at his home, I don’t remember how many years ago, and he had fastened the new metal guard for the stairway. He had fastened this to the wall, I don’t know if he used some big screws or what, but one of those screws pierced one of the wires inside the wall. It ended up electrifying the entire guard rail.

TM: Oh, my gosh! [chuckle.

RS: And I don’t know how it took so long, but he was done with the remodel and all that, and it was there for like a week or something, when my sister came by and put her hand and she got a nasty jolt from the guard rail.

TM: That’s crazy.

RS: That took him a little while to figure it out. And of course that would be a location that doesn’t require GFCI protection. It’s just a stairwell.

TM: Right.

RS: But she lived to tell about it because it was just a stairwell. What changes the severity of a shock is what else you’re touching at the same time. If this was in a bathroom and she was touching a metal faucet and that metal faucet was connected to metal pipes which are connected to the earth, it could have been an electrocution event. She could have been killed, but thankfully, she was just standing on stairs and there wasn’t a good path back to the earth, and that’s why she only got a shock.

TM: Wow!

BO: What was that conversation like after that shock? What did Neil have to say? What did your sister have to say? What did mom have to say? I would’ve loved to have been there.

RS: Yeah, I wasn’t there, but I would have been insisting my sister lost her mind, and that there was nothing wrong at all.

BO: Gotcha. Well, we could talk about stories from the old days forever, and they’re some of the funnest ones, but we should probably wrap up this episode, thanks everybody. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich and you’ve been with us alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman as always, the three-legged stool. See you next time. Thank you.

TM: The three-legged stool.