Tag Archives: inspection issues

Why I Recommend a Search for an Abandoned Underground Oil Tank

When you buy a home from me, we will discuss searching for an abandoned underground oil tank as part of your inspection process (in addition to a general home inspection, radon test, sewer scope, and other inspections that are available to you).

So what exactly is an abandoned oil tank? During the middle part of last century, a common type of fuel that was used in furnaces was oil. In order to have oil heat, you needed to have a way to contain the oil tank, which is what a tank was used for. Most commonly, these tanks were buried in the yard, but sometimes they were installed above ground, typically in the basement or side yard of the home.

When the homeowners decided no longer to use oil to heat their home (say, if they wanted to convert to gas) these tanks were simply abandoned in the yard. The oil was never pumped out of them. The typical life of these oil tanks was around 30 years before it would crack and start leaking into the ground, potentially damaging the groundwater and possibly leaking carcinogenic gas into the house itself.

Back in the late 90’s, searching for abandoned oil tank started to become an industry standard for inspections when buyers purchased a home. It is VERY common to find an abandoned oil tank, particularly with older homes.

When you are looking at a piece real estate, it is possible to see evidence of an abandoned oil tank on the property. Sometimes you will see a “fill pipe” or a “vent pipe” on the outside of the property, or about a four inch scar along the basement floor where oil lines ran to an old furnace. However, sometimes no evidence exists. You can do some homework searching the DEQ’s UST (Underground Storage Tank) database to see if any work has previously been done, or if your property is located in the City of Portland, you can search your property records at the city’s website Portland Maps (check the historic permits tab). However, often permits were not obtained and no records exist at all.

I had a property listed last year where we found no evidence of an oil tank upon visual inspection, but when the buyer did their professional inspections, an abandoned tank was indeed found. This abandoned tank contained several hundred gallons of oil at one time, and had been leaking for decades. It was a bad spill, and the cost to clean it up ran around $6,000, and my clients eventually decided to not sell the home and move into their dream home, partly because the repairs cost too much money, the oil tank being the biggest bill on the repair list.

Oil tank spills do not always cost that much (commonly in the $2,500 range). Rarely, they can cost considerably more if they’ve been leaking for even longer. There are times that the contaminated soil around the tank does not have to be physically removed, if the oil tank contractor can prove to the DEQ that the contamination does not threaten the groundwater and there aren’t carcinogens threatening the health of the occupants, among other criteria.

Occasionally you will find a home that still uses oil heat. The same concerns apply to working underground oil tanks as the ones that have been abandoned.

Searching for an abandoned oil tank costs in the vicinity of $75. Taking soil samples to find out if the tank has leaked is going to cost you around $200. These fees, while costly, could save you thousands of dollars in the future than if you had bought the house unknowingly with an abandoned tank.

Home Inspectors Vary Considerably – Do Your Homework Before You Commit

In my previous post I discussed why hiring a “friend” to do your home inspection is not a good idea. Now I want to talk to you about the differences between home inspectors.

First of all, the concern on most people’s mind is cost. For a roughly 2,000 square foot house, you can find home inspection prices to vary between $300-$550. That’s a considerable difference, but the differences between the reports that you receive are even more striking. This cost does not include specialty inspections, such as radon tests, sewer scopes, and a sweep for an abandoned underground storage tank, among other inspections.

The first thing I’ve noticed in the “cheap” inspection reports is the size of the report. They are usually 10ish pages long. The more expensive reports are upwards of 30 or more pages and contain massive amounts of information about the piece of real estate you are wanting to buy.

Beyond that, the cheaper inspection reports usually reflects on a less extensive report. I’ve seen inspection reports where the inspector failed to even look in the crawlspace, which is probably one of the most important areas that a home inspector should go. It is very rare that when we go and look at the house that we will get any sense of the condition of the crawlspace. The reasons that you want someone to physically go down there and check it out are numerous: if there is water/pest intrusion or evidence of cracks or other types of settling down in the crawlspace, this is information you MUST have.

I’ve seen inspection reports where the inspector does not physically go up on the roof but uses binoculars to check out the roof. You want someone who’s willing to go up there and check out the entire roof system.

If you are going to be involved in an FHA, USDA, or VA financing type of transaction, it is possible that your lender will require a pest and dry rot report with their appraisal. Some inspections include it and some do not. My experience is that the more expensive inspectors include it but the less expensive ones do not.

One way you can tell if a report is quality is by asking for an example. Here is an example of an inspection report done by Toby Deming of AMI.

As always, the inclusion of a firm on this list does not constitute an endorsement or guarantee, of any kind, by Oregon Realty Co.

Why hiring an unlicensed person to perform a home inspection might be risky

I’ve had a few clients in the past who have wanted to save money on their home inspection fees by having their friend, usually a general contractor, perform a house inspection for them for a free or reduced cost. This is usually not a good idea, and here are the reasons why:

First of all, please note that it is Oregon law that anyone who inspects two or more systems in one property must be licensed as a home inspector. Therefore, Oregon law does not recognize “general contractors” as home inspectors. To be licensed as an actual Home Inspector, the person must have gone through specific training and be licensed as such.

Home inspectors have a checklist of items that they must cover in their home inspection report. They should spend at a minimum of several hours going over the entire property: physically going up on the roof to check the condition, going down into the crawlspace and checking out the entire area to check for water/pest intrusion and looking for cracks in the foundation, pulling off the electrical panel to check for overheating, etc., etc.

If you do find something on your “inspection” that you would like the seller to remedy, the seller is likely to request a copy of the inspection report. The current standard sale agreement* states that the seller is entitled to a copy of the inspection report should they ask for one. If you do not have an actual inspection report to refer to, this will not hold much weight with the seller, and they aren’t likely to be inclined to do anything about the problem.

In addition, the current sale agreement* states that you may withdraw your offer based on a professional inspection report, but note the word “professional” in the sentence: since Oregon law does not recognize anyone who is not a licensed home inspector a “professional” it is possible that you may not have a contractual right to withdraw your offer. When I proposed this question to my Principal Broker (my supervisor) they got in touch with PMAR‘s (our local Realtor association) top legal counsel, and he had agreed – the home inspector must be licensed with the CCB in order for the buyer to withdraw their offer based on the home inspection report. This is still a question of law, and if you find yourself in this situation you’ll need to contact an attorney for advice on how to proceed.

In addition, I am concerned that if something is overlooked on your inspection, I worry that there will be no recourse against the person that you hired as an inspector. Licensed home inspectors are held accountable if mistakes are made, but if the person is not licensed as such, I am not sure you would have any recourse.

However, please note that home inspectors come in all different shapes and sizes and therefore their costs can vary considerably, but you get what you pay for. Stay tuned for an additional post regarding the differences in home inspectors.

*I am referring to the current OREF form in Oregon, which is subject to change.

What is a sewer scope and why are they recommended?

If you’ve bought a home from me recently, chances are you’ve heard me recommend having a sewer scope performed during your inspection period, in addition to having a general house inspection done and a radon test performed (along with other inspections that are available to you). Here’s a quick primer on what exactly a sewer scope is:

The property you are purchasing is likely connected to public sewer system, or if it is in the country, a septic system. A large underground pipe collects all the sewage waste and brings it to the “main” sewage pipe if you are located in the city, or septic (or other) system if they are located in the country. It is very common that these pipes are cracked and/or crushed, sometimes with tree or brush roots growing within the line. As these roots grow or the crushed line becomes worse, the pipe eventually becomes blocked. The result? Sewage backing up into your home. I had a client several years ago tell me that he found out the hard way that he had a broken sewer line, with sewage backing up into his house on Thanksgiving day.

The only way to know if the piece of real estate you are trying to buy has a broken sewer line is to have a company come out and perform a sewer scope. This is when a small camera is dropped down the line, and a video is recorded of the whole length of the line showing you the condition of it. The cost to do this is minimal – $100-$150 depending on how far you live from the contractor and the extend of the work that needs to be done. Occasionally, the contractor cannot find a sewer cleanout (which is where they start the video from) and you’ll need to pay extra to have a toilet pulled up and the wax seal replaced.

If the sewer line is in fact broken, the cost to replace the sewer line can range anywhere from $1,500 on up. The worst case scenario I’ve seen is a sewer line that was buried 15 feet in the ground (normally they are around 6 feet) and the bids came in around $25,000. You do not want to find yourself in this scenario!

Note that broken sewer lines are commonly found in older homes, but that does not mean that newer houses are exempt from the problem. A home inspector told me last year that they saw 17 new construction homes that failed their sewer line test!

The following video is an example of the video you will receive on your sewer line. I’ve received permission from the contractor, Justin Cullers at Inspectek to embed this video here. Feel free to give Justin a call with any questions you have about sewer scopes, but note that his business is ONLY inspecting sewer lines, and does not repair them if damaged. See my resources page if you need a referral for a repair contractor.

As always, please contact me with any questions you might have.

The inclusion of a firm on this list does not constitute an endorsement or guarantee, of any kind, by Oregon Realty Co.

Radon in your home – what you need to know

Chances are, if you’ve bought a house from me recently, you’ve heard me discussing having the house tested to make sure that the home does not have high radon limits. This article is intended to give you a brief introduction to the issue. You should seek to verify this information with appropriate radon contractors and/or your doctor.

What is radon? According to wikipedia, radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occuring naturally as an indirect decay product of uranium or thorium. Since it is radioactive, it is a carcinogen – radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Your chances of dying from lung cancer increase significantly if you have ever smoked or been exposed to second hand smoke.

The important thing to note about this is that you cannot smell or see it. There is no way to know it is there without having a test performed.

Many people mistakenly assume that radon comes from sewer pipes, or only occur in homes with basements. From my understanding of speaking with various contractors and inspectors, radon occurs naturally underneath your home, regardless if you have a basement or crawlspace. It is particularly high in areas that have a lot of rock in the soil. The age of the home has no bearing on whether or not there is radon exposure. I’m sure you’re all wondering how common or how risky radon truly is. You should read the statistics on the EPA’s website. However, what I can say from personal experience is that I have heard of people dying in this area from lung cancer who had high radon levels in their home, and in the last year, when clients of mine have tested their houses, approximately 20% of the homes tested had moderately high radon levels.

When you are involved in a real estate transaction, you have the option of performing a radon test. These tests usually take 48 hours, and usually cost under $200 depending on your location.

If the radon test is high, don’t despair. You CAN fix the home. Radon fixes are relatively inexpensive compared to other fixes. I’ve seen bids that range in the $1,500 – $3,000k range, of course, this depends on the size of the home and the configuration of the crawlspace.

If you opted out of performing a radon test during your transaction, or if you are curious to know the radon levels in your home, I would urge you to test the home yourself. The EPA states that you can pick up a radon test kit from hardware stores. These tests take longer to perform but are worth it to find out if you are at risk. Cancer sucks.

For more information, please visit the EPA’s website or ask your doctor. And if you need a recommendation to a radon remediation contractor please feel free to contact me.