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Ask the inspector: Home inspections not just for buyers

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QUESTION: My family lives in an older home in a well established older neighbourhood in Winnipeg. I have a dilemma that I hope you can help me with.

My husband and I are debating the merits of renovating our older home as opposed to adding an addition for more space, demolishing the house and building a new one on the lot, or moving to a larger home altogether. We have admittedly let several things in the home slide over the years, as we have been very busy with normal family and work commitments. As our children have matured we have outgrown the home, need more space, but love the area and have no desire to leave.

We have contacted a contractor we like who has recommended the demolition-and-rebuild option, partly due to the slope in the home. There is a very noticeable slope in the floors, and we are not sure if there is anything that can be done to fix this, or whether it is due to a damaged foundation. We are also in need of several major upgrades like eavestroughs, windows, kitchen cabinets and flooring.

We are not sure whether it is worth spending the money necessary to fix all of these items, or to knock down the old house and build new. We love our street and our large lot with mature trees and are not fond of newer subdivisions.

Could a home inspection help us answer these questions? Thanks, Carol Yamron

ANSWER: A thorough home inspection may not provide you with the wisdom to make the best choice for your family, but will certainly help identify the number and severity of items in your home that need repairs or upgrading. A Registered Home Inspector (RHI) will also be able to advise on the practicality of provide an opinion as to the possibility of repairing your sloped-floor problem.

It's quite refreshing to receive an inquiry like yours, which is asking for advice from a home inspector before jumping into a major renovation or reconstruction project. Too many homeowners are seduced by the idea of a shiny new kitchen or home without understanding the work and anxiety involved. If you think there is stress in the decision you're facing, think about what's involved in living in a home without a functional kitchen for several weeks or moving out for a year or more while your house is knocked down and rebuilt.

Anyone who has lived through such a situation can attest to the disruption caused to home life by such major changes. While not a part of a typical home inspection, these intangible issues should play a big part in your decision.

Every year I get more inquiries about doing inspections for current homeowners, rather than buyers. Many of these clients are looking for advice, like you, about items that need attention to maintain their homes in good condition. Many have received conflicting quotes and advice from contractors, friends, neighbours and family members about the need for various renovations.

The benefit of hiring a home inspector is that the information gained is completely unbiased and based only on the condition of the home. Home inspectors are trained to differentiate between an item in need of immediate, major repair from less-urgent ones that may be attended to over time. Inspectors that have construction or trade experience may also be able to help you decide whether repairs are practical and cost-effective. This would help you decide about the possibility of repairs to minimize the slope in your floor.

Another benefit of a complete inspection is to help you prioritize the repairs and upgrades, should you decide to stay put. While it sounds like an ideal situation to repair everything at once, doing so may be so disruptive that you'd ave to put many of your possessions in temporary storage for the work to be completed. It may even be necessary to move out of the house for a period of time while the work is being completed.

If you take a more balanced approach and do the repairs one or two at a time, moving out should not be required. Based on the results of the inspection and report, you can address the most pressing repairs first. This would also be the best method if budget issues are a concern.

As far as correcting the slope in your older floor system, some improvement is likely by trimming basement partition walls and adjusting teleposts, but that may be as far as you can reasonably go. Once an older home built on footings on our clay soil settles, there's not much that can be done to level it without major structural repairs. It's difficult to lift and level a floor system that has the ends of the floor joists embedded in the concrete foundation. Complete underpinning of the foundation would also likely be required to prevent further movement.

While a visit from a Registered Home Inspector to your home will not provide a conclusive answer to your dilemma about renovating versus rebuilding, it will certainly provide invaluable guidance. A detailed report on the condition of your home will allow you to prioritize repairs and upgrades and get cost estimates. This should also help you total the cost of these repairs, add them to the current value of your home and weigh that against the costs of demolition and starting fresh.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the President of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors - Manitoba (www.cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be e-mailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at (204) 291-5358 or check out his website at www.trainedeye.ca.

trainedeye@iname.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 F11

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