Before you list your luxury home

When selling your luxury home filled with custom features, it’s easy to overlook the health of the systems that make them work. The best route to a smooth closing is to address these systems before you list. After recent inspections of multi-million dollar desert homes, I’ve compiled a list of things that sellers and buyers are battling over.

  • Updated pool equipment: you’ve completely renovated your kitchens and bathrooms, but you still have 15 year old pool equipment outside. Pool inspections should call out the age of the equipment and whether replacement parts are available. I’ve seen this a few times and it’s a big point of contention because buyers don’t want to get hit with a $15,000 pool equipment upgrade.
  • Pool deck cracks: it’s common to believe that pool deck cracks are an easy cosmetic fix. However, the cracks could be created by the pressure of the water in the pool or natural settlement of the backyard. If it’s natural settlement, that’s a cosmetic fix. If it’s a more complex issue created by the pressure of the water, there may be a crack in the pool and that’s a costly fix.
  • Casita maintenance and upgrades: remember that your casita may not be used that often but it’s a real selling point with buyers. Your casita needs the same regular maintenance and finish upgrades as the main house. Buyer’s start looking more closely at potential red flags in the main house if the casita needs work.
  • Remote controlled accordion doors, shades, and blinds: they must work! At a recent inspection the gorgeous doors did not open with the remote, so I had to list them as a defect. Make sure they’ve had a tune up, and that the operating instructions are available to anyone showing the home.
  • Garage concerns: if you have an AC unit the garage, have it serviced regularly so it’s in good working order. Also, it’s nice to see an ABC Fire extinguisher mounted the wall–especially if you have a golf cart. It’s a safety detail that reflects well on the the overall maintenance of the space.

Use this checklist to determine if you need a pre-sale inspection. I’d be happy to inspect before you list to help ease the way to a smoother negotiation.

Keeping up with home maintenance

Plant & soil debris around air conditioning unit

Not many people enjoy doing home maintenance tasks, but deferring those chores can add up when it comes to selling your home. Many of my inspection findings are directly related to deferred maintenance, and those findings create lots of tension for buyers, sellers, and realtors. In a recent transaction, a $300 kitchen appliance almost blew up the deal.  Keeping up with home maintenance leads to a smoother sales transaction, and it will enhance the enjoyment of your home while you live in it.

When doing an inspection, I work from the outside in, so here are my tips for keeping up with outside maintenance.

  • Repair cracks in concrete walkways and patios
  • Monitor places where water can get in like windows, electrical panels, or stucco cracks, and remember to point sprinkler heads away from your home
  • Service pool equipment regularly, and maintain all deck coatings
  • Conduct annual roof maintenance

Once inside the home, there are two categories of maintenance: MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing) systems and general.

MEP systems maintenance:

  • Service HVAC regularly, change filters, replace refrigerant when required, clear plant and soil debris away from equipment; a tuned system runs more efficiently and saves on energy costs;
  • Know the age of your HVAC so that you understand when it’s coming to the end of its useful life and may need to be replaced
  • Monitor water heater for leaks and changes in temperature; remember to use the vacation setting when you’re away on short trips
  • Verify that electrical outlets located near water sources are GFCI protected, and replace cracked or missing electrical cover plates
Taking care of general home maintenance will make your life easier as you live in your home, and it shows pride of ownership at resale time.
  • Clean windows, screens, and slider door tracks
  • Repair running toilets and dripping faucets
  • Repair or update appliances when problems arise

If you’re curious about the state of your home prior to listing it, I recommend doing a pre-sale inspection to highlight needed repairs before you’re facing a deadline or are in the midst of negotiating a deal.



Beginning a Successful Home Renovation

I just finished reviewing the contract and scope of work for a large residential renovation project, so I’m sharing the advice that I gave my client as she began her renovation.  At the start of any project, I check licensing, insurance, and then carefully review the contract.

Licensing:  Ask your General Contractor (GC) to provide their license number so you can verify they are licensed and in good standing with the Contractors State License Board.   Make sure that the license is active, and that the proper bonds and insurance are current.  If there are complaints on file, read those and check to see if they were resolved.  If there are mechanical or electrical changes/additions in your project, ask the GC to provide the license numbers for all of the sub-contractors on your project.  If you must submit drawings for a permit that requires an Architect’s stamp, you can do the same check using their license number at the California Architects Board.

Insurance:  GC’s, architects, and designers all need to carry insurance for their protection and yours.  All of these professionals should carry General Liability (GL) insurance, so ask them to provide you with current GL certificates.  GC’s should also provide a Worker’s Compensation certificate, and designers should provide an Errors & Omissions certificate.  Each of these certificates needs to list you as “additionally insured”.  If you proceed without these certificates, you alone assume the risk and liability for the project.

Contract:  When reviewing the contract for the project, pay close attention to the project schedule.  Ideally, the schedule should have clear start and end dates for each task.  If that level of detail is missing, then it will be hard for you to hold the GC accountable to the schedule.  The contract should also state when progress payments are due. This will ensure that you are not paying for work that hasn’t been performed.  The final item, and one of the most confusing and potentially contentious, is the deposit paid upon signing the contract.  California law states that the deposit should be $1,000 or 10% of the project value, whichever is LESS.  Some GC’s will tell you they need a larger deposit to buy materials, and this indicates that they are cash-strapped and trying to stay afloat on other projects.

Managing your renovation will be stressful, especially if you’re in and out of town.  Hopefully these tips will help get you started; and if you’d like additional guidance, I’m an experienced construction manager ready to advocate for your interests.

Common inspection observations



This week I did several inspections, and each of the homes had some common observations.  Here are my top three along with tips for home owners:

  1. Missing  ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles:  these outlets are required by NEC (National Electric Code) for protection against electric shock–especially near water sources.  They are required in bathrooms, garages, outdoors, unfinished basements, crawl spaces, kitchens (including the receptacle for the dishwasher), laundry/utility/wet bars and pool/spa areas.  The most common observation is that GFCI receptacles are installed in bathrooms but forgotten in kitchens.  So, take a tour around the house to see where this common hazard may be hiding.
  2. Missing or improperly located detection devices for smoke and carbon monoxide:  building code requires one smoke detector for each bedroom, and carbon monoxide detectors installed outside each sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms on each level of the home.  This includes basements with fuel fired appliances like furnaces, water heaters and gas stoves.  Make a list of these areas in your home, and be sure that you know where each detection device is, and what kind of batteries it takes.  Put a note on your calendar, or a reminder on your phone, to check your batteries twice a year when you change your clocks.
  3. Roof debris:  I commonly see a build up of organic debris (leaves, berries, palm fronds, etc.) in roof valleys.  This is particularly common after a wind storm.  The strong winds can lift the tiles and debris gets wedged between the tile edges.  When built up roof debris gets wet, it can prematurely deteriorate the underlayment.  Premature deterioration can lead to dry rot of the framing, and create an environment conducive to mold growth.  This type of hidden damage can go undetected until it becomes a costly problem.  Check your roof quarterly, and after a big wind storm, to ensure that debris is not collecting in the roof valleys.

Home Inspection Do’s and Don’ts

While on an inspection last week, a client asked my opinion about some of the cosmetic items in the house, so I explained that I don’t include comments like that in the report.  In my 10 years as an inspector for construction defect litigation, I learned to report on material defects only because that’s what is legally relevant.  As a California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) certified inspector, I adhere to CREIA’s standards of practice to provide the “general condition of the building”.

To become CREIA certified, I passed the comprehensive National Home Inspection Exam, provided documentation of at least 250 home inspections (I’ve done 3,000), and passed an ethics and professional standards exam.  To remain in good standing, I’m held to a strict code of ethics, and I’m required to meet annual continuing education requirements.  This is a rigorous process to certify that my clients are getting a best practice inspection to help them make an informed purchase.

Here are my Home Inspection Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. I follow California standards and best practices for all of my inspections
  2. I don’t include disclaimers or recommend that clients hire experts like plumbers and electricians unless it’s related to a material defect
  3. I don’t editorialize about cosmetic and aesthetic items because they are not material defects, they are matters of personal style
  4. I use my construction background and my inspection experience to provide a fact-based report on the general condition of the home and its systems
  5. I use a best practice workflow on my tablet to make sure that I’m thorough, consistent, and in compliance with CREIA standards to create the report