Monday, November 1, 2010

Home Security

Most articles about home security advise you to lock your doors and windows, and get an alarm.  How does this work out for you?

For many of you it is worthless advice. 

Most doors can be kicked open with one good kick by a kid weighing in at 155 pounds.  How do I know this? 

When I was a young kid, we went into an apartment building that was about to be torn down.  We locked a bunch of doors and tried to kick them open.  At the time I was about 14 and weighed about 135 pounds.  It took me one or two kicks after a bit of practice.  My neighbor weighed about twenty pounds more than me and he could consistently do in one kick.   

A typical window has poorly designed latches that can be pried open with a regular screwdriver in seconds with very little force.  Using a stick as a pivot and the principal of leverage, only a few pounds of downward force on the handle will lift the window, pulling the latch screws out of the wood or plastic frames.

Get an alarm.  This is fine in some towns and cities.  Here in Atlanta, Georgia it can be a joke.  At a restaurant in trendy Buckhead, an expensive area in town, the alarm was tripped at 3:00 am and the cops showed up at 8:30 the next morning, after a shift change of the police force.  Imagine if you were being robbed and beaten at that time.  After five hours you would be in rough shape.   Perhaps if the call was a residence the cops might have arrived in say, half an hour.  That still would not do.

My advice is: Keep the bums out.  An alarm is only as good as police response time.  Smash and grab artists know the response time.  They test it by breaking windows on a home nearby (or even yours) and setting off the alarm. Then they time when the police arrive.  If the response time is low they will soon be visiting your house again when you are not home.  They will be in and out in minutes and have a pretty good haul.  They know where to look and may have “cased” your home when you were not home, looking in windows and making a “to grab” list.   

Here are some ways to make your home secure. 

Add a deadbolt with a key on the inside.  Yeah, there is concern that in a fire you won’t find the key.  The answer to that is to have the key in a nearby spot where it is not easily seen and everyone in the house is taught where it is.  Have it in a ring so it is easy to find if dropped.  Fires are in fact less common than burglaries, so quit obsessing about rare events while inviting more common events.

Next toss away the strike plate that came with the deadbolt and the door latch.  Go buy a security strike.  These are large, heavier and have longer screws set to the back of the strike plate, not centered for looks over the latch/deadbolt opening in the plate.  Some of these are 18 inches long and have an opening for the deadbolt and latch.  At 18 inches the plate really strengthens the whole door frame.  The longer screws set back in the plate allow the screws to grab the 2x4 framing the doorway, not just the flimsy pine door frame. 

There is a company that makes a strike plate that goes from the floor to the top of the door frame (   To kick it in requires splitting the studs that frame the doorway.  Not happening…

If the door has large windows, add bars or cover the glass with Plexiglass.  Bars can be made to look very decorative.  Plexiglass can also function as a heat loss reducer, turning the glass into triple pane glass.  This only needs to be done if the door is on the side or rear or your neighborhood tends to be vacant from 9-5 during the week.

If the frame is really weak or has a side panel of glass, either the aforementioned top to bottom strike is needed or add top and bottom latches that go into the floor and top frame. (But the screws must go into the header above the door, not just the frame)

 Double doors have these on the secondary door.  Add them on the inside of the primary door and the secondary door on all double doors.  For double doors there is a plate that screws to the floor that will block both doors.  The plate holds a slider that can bar one of both doors depending on where it is set.

About double doors: The latch on some of the secondary doors can be opened from the outside with a screwdriver.  If they have a slide in the jamb, a screwdriver can be slipped in and open the slide, rendering it USELESS.  The kind with a flip latch cannot be opened since the other door, when closed, stops the flip lever from being flipped.    
If you have the slide type of latch then the only thing to do is add additional latches on the inside of the door or the plate system, which come in different finishes so it does not look that bad.  I have also seen nice heavy brass plated latches that do not look bad.

A locked door is only as strong as the door itself, so if your door has a hollow core or jalousie windows, it has to go. 

Double pane (insulated glass) windows are the way to go for energy and security.  Breaking thru and climbing thru two sets of broken glass shards is a deterrent and slows down entry. 

The basic latch (so called lock) on most windows is fluff.  For real security pin the windows if they are wood framed or add stops if they are vinyl framed.  The way to pin a window is drill a hole thru the lower sash into (but not thru) the upper sash.  Insert a large nail in the hole and the lower sash is pinned down and the upper is pinned up.  Using a bolt cutter or saw be sure to cut the nail short so it is hard to grip with bare hands and pull out of the opening.  Then even if the window is broken, the sash with its broken glass edges must be climbed thru.

If the window is vinyl, some can be pinned but most cannot. These can be blocked shut with a dowel cut to fit snugly between the top of the bottom sash and the top of the window frame.  Another way is to screw a stop block to the side of the window track. 

By having the deadbolt with a key on the inside, thieves can only grab what they put out thru the broken window, so this acts a deterrent against a 2nd theft, although not perhaps a first attempt.  By the way, 2nd thefts are very common, because the thieves know your insurance has replaced everything with brand new items.

If you live a marginal (gentrifying) neighborhood, do not think by being friendly and open you will avoid being targeted.  The opposite is true; more people will KNOW what you have.  Using neighborhood kids to cut grass, babysit, etc, invites theft.  Most theft is committed by people 15 to 25. 

If you think your lack of prejudice is a badge of honor and will protect you from theft, harm or rape; you are delusional. 

Bottom line, security is a way of thinking and living, not something you just address once and forget about. 

A big dog is still one of the best deterrents.  Better than a gun, which has its place, but only if you know how to use it, and more importantly, are willing to use it.  If you are not, it will get taken away from you, and will be used against you. 

If you are willing to shoot someone, kill them inside your house.  Then there is only one version of the tale to tell police and to be used against you by lawyers who will (inevitably) sue you later.  Never follow anyone outside and shoot them or you will spend about 8-10 fending off jailhouse thugs.     

This advice is not politically correct, which is your assurance it is good advice…

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Can your trust your agent's referral of a Home Inspector

It is often a concern with buyer’s that the Home Inspector referred by their Realtor is going to “rubberstamp” the home they are inspecting. As an Inspector for many years I have run into this concern, since many inspections are referred to us by Realtors.

I have never done this, although I have been asked to make a change in a report before. I send my reports via email simultaneously to buyer and realtor, so I have an automatic out on this request. I would not do it anyway, since my fee is paid by the buyer, I am loyal to that person. Besides, I could get sued for thousands, so there is no incentive on my part. My reputation is worth more than any one Realtor’s business.

But is that the case for you? It depends more on your Realtor than anyone else. Here in Georgia, real estate agents are required by their brokers to give out 3 names of inspectors. Some will give out 3 and say hire this guy, he is the best. That is what most agents who refer business to me do. Some even say flat out, hire Kevin or find your own guy, I don’t recommend anyone else.

The agent could be saying that because I am crooked; At least from your point of view.

So you have to ask yourself; Do I really like and trust my agent?

Does he/she seem ethical, honest and open? Did their other recommendations seem honest and knowledgeable, say the mortgage broker, or a remodeler, if they referred you one. If the answer is yes, you can probably trust their recommendation for an inspector.

Agents can and do “shop” inspectors. If they find a stumble bum who is cheap and misses stuff and glosses over stuff, they will latch on to this person, IF THEY ARE UNETHICAL. Unethical agents and half blind inspectors abound. Do not be fooled by certifications, some of these (for inspectors in particular) are not worth the paper they are written on. Note: There are agents and Realtors, the latter being a copywrited term.  I use them interchangably, which tells you what I think of paying fees to organizations to use their logo.

When I started in the home inspection business, there was ONE national home inspector certification (ASHI) and now there are several. On a more local level there are state associations that may be okay or may not. Here in Georgia there was only one (GAHI) and now there is another.

Since I never looked into these “newbie” organizations, I cannot say one way or the other how good they really are. I assume you are an astute enough user of the English language to detect the pejorative use of newbie.

So look at your agent to really decide if your trust their recommendation. I know many of my clients were glad they did trust their agent and hired me.

Good agents want a good inspection. If the house does not meet the grade, they want to know now, and will find you another. That way, they keep getting referrals from you. If you think you got a bad house, it reflects on the agent as much as the inspector. Good agents know this!

I never had opinions of real estate agents until I became an inspector. I did not lump them with used car salesmen the way some do with all sales people. I can tell you that since I have had one on one interaction with thousands of them (I have performed 3000 inspections and almost every deal has two agents involved), I now have very strong opinions of them as a group.

Some are genuinely nice people, but dumb. Some are the shrewd ***holes. Some are lazy. Many are dumb and lazy. Then there are the ones that just don’t care about anyone else, but themselves and their commission.

I know a few of you might say: I will take the shrewd person. That person is probably a hard bargainer, which is perceived as being an ass. That person might do OK.
But the selling realtor and the property seller will not like them, which often ensures that YOU will not get concessions from them that you might have otherwise. I have seen deals fall apart because of agent’s having antagonized the seller or seller’s agent.

But there are the ones that are nice, honest and smart and have your best interest at heart. You hear about them from referrals, they rarely buy billboard ads or spend too much time/money on mass marketing. Get one of these realtors. They will steer you to a good inspector, a good lender, good contractors, etc.

So choose your agent well. Get recommendations from people that have used an agent, or know them well. Meet them for coffee, ask questions that you know the answer too, and see how they reply. I always like a person who admits what they do NOT know, and says: I’ll find out, over one who bluffs.

Even a new agent is better than a bad agent. New agents often have good mentors back at the office that they work with.

Take my advice or don't, it's your money !

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My First Post

What do I say? This blog is supposed to be about real estate in general and home/building inspections in specific. Like the show “Car Talk” on NPR radio (Saturday @10am here in Atlanta, I love those two wops on the show. I can say wops because I am one so don’t go all pc on me) which goes off topic all the time, I expect I will do that also.

I will make this first post short. It will be on topic. Having performed over 3000 inspections over a 14 year period, I think I am qualified to talk about real estate and inspections.

I can also talk about the real estate bust, what it has done and what it means as well as any other pundit out there, many of whom have never been in real estate but went to school for journalism, which should be changed to “sensationalism”, which all today’s media seems to do.

So I will talk about the bust. For some people, it just was something that happened to others. For many of you it means you have a home worth less than you owe on it, and for some of you that difference is more than a year’s gross salary or even two years!

For those of us who get their daily bread from real estate sales, this was a disaster. Many of my personal friends and business acquaintances have gone bankrupt, lost homes, lost their savings and all of the net worth. On top of that their income is way down.

I too lost my rear in the downturn. Unlike some, I am not doing things the way I always did. I used to market to realtors for business referrals. Now I am also marketing directly to buyers. In the future, selling agents will be more like transaction expediters. Listing agents (who post the real estate to the Internet) will have more clout. A realtor told me this a few years ago, and I thought he was wrong, but now I see what he meant.

Most buyers know all they need to know about the homes they are looking at, the schools and the neighborhood, from the internet. So now I am going online with this blog, a new webpage and soon a Facebook business page.

For you the potential buyer, what can you gain from this real estate meltdown?

You can get a home cheaper today (in real dollars) than you could have for 6 or 7 years. If you are a first time buyer, this means you can get a home priced like they were when you were in high school.

What should you watch out for?

Stay away from so called “upcoming” neighborhoods. Gentrification of these neighborhoods is driven by investors, who take a risk and go in first and renovate and sell to you, the end buyer. Investors cannot easily get loans anymore for these ventures, and if they can, they are more nervous about being stuck holding it too long. So they are sticking to safer, less risky ventures/neighborhoods.

So the hood, is likely to be the hood for some time. So unless you want to buy in a neighborhood that is a bit unsafe, and may not “Gentrify” for many years be careful.

These neighborhoods tend to have more vacant foreclosures (read that as potential crack houses) so resale prices may stay low for the foreseeable future. Some will say; A dump at half off is not such a dump. True, but from an investor view point; half off on house I can’t sell later is half off of on a losing proposition.

Look for low priced homes in good neighborhood. You can never do wrong on the lowest price home in the best neighborhood.

All foreclosures are as is; so get a good inspector!