Bill Mullen quoted in Sarnia Business Trends

Home inspectors protect buyers from potential problem areas

Forget Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. The real masters of horror are do-it-yourselfers on home renovation sprees.
In the 15 years that Bill Mullen has inspected Sarnia-area homes, there always seems to be some new enterprising way homeowners find to circumvent the rules.

“I remember going into one three-foot crawlspace in downtown Sarnia,” Mullen, with Bluewater home Inspection in Sarnia, said. “Instead of pilings, there was an old car jack holding up the centre of the house.”
The jack ranks right up there with another homeowner-done faux pas that could have burned the entire house down. A do-it-yourselfer who decided to wire a rec room on the cheap did the job with thin speaker wire, instead of grounded copper wiring.
In other cases, time does what homeowners can’t. Old wiring is still one of the biggest problems in older parts of Sarnia. Getting rid of the knob-and-tube wiring put into a home built while Thomas Edison was still a young man can set a homeowner back anywhere from $10,000-$15,000.
Property owners often find themselves upgrading the electrical panel to accommodate 100 amp service before they can sell.

Sarnia-Lambton’s hot real estate market in 2006 increased the average property value $5,000. Despite the fact the county had a record year in 2006 with $305,708,265 worth of property changing hands, the area is still a small market compared to its neighbours.

According to the Sarnia-Lambton Real Estate Board, people spend $20,000-$24,000 personalizing their new homes once they make the leap.
For area retailers and contractors, the windfall last year was somewhere between $33-$40 million. Helping people avoid lemons is what the home inspection industry does, Mullen said.“I know we’ve saved people $40-$50,000 by recommending they not buy a house,” Mullen said.
“Young people love the great big, old brick places. They’re also the ones with a lot of structural problems. We’ll recommend they go ahead, if they have $50,000 to spend.”

While the real estate market is hot now, things will only get warmer if Shell Canada plans for a new refinery hit paydirt.
The rush to buy houses and turn them over to homeowners with a few cosmetic fixes may only get worse in the next few years.
“People find a house they like and tend to look at it through rose-coloured glasses,” Mullen said. “We’re here to protect them from cosmetic facelifts to a house.”

Home inspectors can’t find hidden structural problems, but they can spot anything a trained eye will see. The first step is to stand across the street from a property and take a look at it, he said.
There are a number of Sarnia-area homes that have developed a definite lean over the years as they settled.

To help ensure home inspectors come into the job with a certain knowledge level, Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors spent $1 million developing a national certification program. Four Sarnia-based home inspectors have already earned their national credentials. Mullen, who helped write the instructional material for the program, said the association plans to put on a push over the next couple of years to get more home inspectors on board.

The group hopes to hand 1,500 people their credentials in the next two years.

-Steve Coleman