[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

Today was the big day: Inspections. The day when I get to find out about all the stuff that's broken, the termite damage, and random other stuff to knock me back to the reality of buying a unit that's as old as I am.

Being as it was my first time in the house with a lot of time on my hands, I took the opportunity to snap about 90 pictures. Some are to show folks who ask "what's it look like?" while others are there to remind me of the trouble spots the inspectors pointed out.

So now that you're back from viewing all the pictures and wondering what the heck everything is (since I've been too busy to add captions -- give me a day or two), you're probably wondering how everything went. Well, at least one or two of you are.

Termite Inspection

To make a long story short (I hope), Silicon Valley (or the Santa Clara Valley) has a major termite problem. This whole area used to be orchards, and there's an abundance of little wood-eating critters in the ground. The termite inspection is a big deal for any home buyer. And, in this case, it's also a big deal for the seller.


Because the contract stipulates the any termite problems have to be handled by the seller--unless they're covered by the HOA. In Sunnyvale and Mountain View, the sellers typically have inspections done when putting the property on the market. Potential bidders can then obtain a "disclosure packet" that contains all the necessary inspection reports and such.

In San Jose, however, it's common to wait until a winning big has been chosen and let the buyer pay for the inspections (yippie).

Anyway, Jeff from Able Exterminators found a fair amount of termite damage that will need to be handled. A bit in the front exterior, but most of the problems are in the back (south-facing side) and the detached garage. The wood and lattice overhang above the back patio (see this page) is actually connected to the exterior of the house (see this page), and that's made for some interesting problems it seems. If I get an electronic copy of the report, I'll post a link to it.

At $50 (there was a special running), the inspection was a steal. But I suspect they're gonna make up for it in follow-up work. I should have the full report in 48 hours. We'll see how the sellers respond.

House Inspection

The house inspectors were way high-tech. Cori and Richard from Gillespie Home Inspections arrived, sporting fancy tablet PCs running Windows XP and with some sort of wireless network that I didn't get a chance to check out. The divided up the work and went about the business of poking, prodding, and crawling all over.

As I was writing this, my realtor send me a copy of their report (in PDF no less, but for some reason, I have to read it on Windows--my Linux Acrobat claims it is encrypted). Cool. The bottom line is that they did find some problems, but nothing earth-shattering or deal-breaking. Just like Jeff, when they were done, they walked me thru their findings to make sure I knew what they had found. They seemed to be quite thorough and worth the $350 paid.

Next step(s): Reviewing inspection reports, awaiting Home Owners' Association documents, and contacting my insurance company.

Posted by jzawodn at February 02, 2004 11:15 PM

Reader Comments
# Sandeep said:

Hi Jeremy,

Read on if you are superstitious at all :-)
I noticed from the pics that your house has three roads meeting up right in front of it. Now, according to "Vaastu" (that old Indian science of structures), this happens to be bad luck. So what Indians generally do is keep a statue of Lord Ganesh (I am sure you know the Elephant God!) in front of the house.

Want to give it a try?

on February 2, 2004 11:35 PM
# Michael Slater said:

I owned a house on Arlington Blvd in Richmond from 2001 to 2002.

As far as termite inspections go, whatever they quote as the amount to mitigate the damage is usually very heavily padded, and it will not cost so much.

My home inspection cost 350$ and I received a pdf of the report. However, it is worth going along with the inspector on the tour to learn more about the house. Another advantage is he can tell you off-the-written-record what things need to be triaged immediately, which things can be put off conveniently, and which things he technically must inform you of, but which actually no one ever worries about.

on February 3, 2004 06:40 AM
# Michael Slater said:

Oh, and one other thing, my Chinese wife wouldn't be too crazy about the road that drives directly into your doorway. Her Chinese suggestion would probably be to put an eight-sided mirror (pa kua?) on the outside of your house to reflect the "bad stuff."

If I were you, I'd be glad you weren't married to a Chinese wife while looking for a house -- it adds a whole layer of irrational complexity to an already tedious process.

on February 3, 2004 06:43 AM
# jr said:

Or you could follow gaelic traditions and dance in the crossroads. (Granted, it's far more fun with feminine company and without constant traffic.)

Hey, not every culture thinks they're a bad thing...

on February 3, 2004 07:09 AM
# dws said:

I've heard from several quarters, including the guy who did my home inspection, that where you find ants, you won't find termites. They don't get along. So, oddly enough, ants can be your friends.

on February 3, 2004 08:41 AM
# BillSaysThis said:

Dude, paying for the termite inspection yourself is well worth it--you definitely want the inspector biased towards you rather than the seller. But, while looking rather empty, the place looks to have the makings of a great home regardless of the road structure (about which I do not believe Jewish tradition says anything) except for the electric stove. The one major change I made when buying this place was replacing the electric stove with gas. Be healthy and happy in your home for as long as you live there!

on February 3, 2004 09:10 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


I agree. I have no trouble paying for the inspections.

on February 3, 2004 09:21 AM
# Chad said:

Out of curiosity, did the inspectors say anything about the water heater sitting on the floor (page 5)? We just had our water heater replaced two weekends ago, and the installers said that in sunnyvale there's an ordinance that the water heater must be placed on a stand. I have no idea why (and our's already was), but I thought it odd at the time. Of course san jose is not sunnyvale, but...

on February 3, 2004 10:23 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

They didn't mention it, but I haven't read the detailed report very closely yet either...

on February 3, 2004 10:33 AM
# Jeffrey Friedl said:

If you want to know what subterranian termite evidence looks like, check out the last picture. The
eaten-away paper near the edges of the drywall (against the studs) is where their mud tubes used to be (before someone removed them). They don't like dry air or light, so they make mud tubes to provide cover wherever the go. They love the paper on top of the drywall, and like to follow edges.

Luckly, the drywall is not painted, for that makes it much harder to notice. They'll actually eat the paper from between the drywall and the paint, leaving the wall looking totally normal.... until you touch it, and find the paint crumbles away. I bought a house after the termite report noted minor damage from a previous infestation, but eventually found out that the infestation was major (covered the walls, ceilings, most everywhere in the whole house), and very, very active (I would surprise the little buggers sometimes when I crumbled away some of the paint). Ugh.

The good thing about subterranian termites is that they're quite controlable. Unlike flying termites which can return the day after you fumigate, subterranian termites can be controlled by injecting poision barriers all around the foundation and support posts. Of course, you must have it done to the entire building, so all owners must agree on it, I guess.

You also have to watch out for where the outside wall covering (wood/siding/stucco) comes close to the ground [as some of your pictures show], 'cause then the little buggers can just climb up that way. On modern houses, there must be 6" of concrete foundation between the ground and the siding.... that way, at least, if the buggers want to crawl up, they'll need to make a mud tube, exposing their otherwise clandistine assult on your half-a-million dollar snack.

Note: fumigation has no effect on subterranian termites. It kills the ones that happen to be in the house at the time, but the nest is perhaps many hundreds of feet underground, so new ones will come up the next day to continue feeding. There are some methods that attempt to poison the buggers such that they bring the poison back to the nest, but the standard way to address them is to put a poison barrier around the foundation (and have it retreated every few years). It won't stop them from eating.... it'll just stop them from eating YOUR house. Would suck to be your neighbor, though :-)

on February 4, 2004 10:28 AM
# Frank Smith said:

I too had some very good information provided to me from a home inspection company: Criterium Engineers , this company provides home inspection in almost every state, and all the offices are owned by Licensed Professional Engineers (P.E.), that would be the equivelant of going to a Doctor instead of a Physician’s Assistant.

Was your inspector an Engineer?

on October 29, 2004 04:12 AM
# Lavon Broom said:

I placed a contract on a home with contingency on the home inspection. The home inspector was with Inspect-it 1st franchise. Report was nice print-out with only minor problems observed.

Closed on Feb. 9th and on the 14th found out that the bathroom floor was rotten to the support beams and that the plumbing did not drain properly. Took two days and two workers to get the drains working correctly. Paid $3,000 to have bathroom repaired.

His insurance denied my claim so now we are going to Civil Court.

It was very easy to see the problem from the crawl space door.

Be very, very careful!

on November 21, 2004 05:45 AM
# said:

I'm feeling a little sick to my stomach reading some of these web articles on termites and inspectors. We just bought our first home and had a "paid by us" inspection and seperate termite inspection. However, we weren't there for either, our realtor was since we were in another state. We trusted this guy and I guess that was our first mistake. The selling realtor was in the same company as our realtor as well. None of the problems listed below were disclosed by the home owner, an old lady who lost her husband several months ago.

Our first night we realized there were central air problems. The home warranty sent a repairman once, but didn't return our calls the second time, even when we called the heat/air company directly. After a month of problems and no air most of the time we decided to replace the heat/air. Figuring we would recoup our losses when we sell. The day of installation the company informed us that we basically had no ductwork (we thought the $400 we spent to have the ductwork cleaned should have been better!) under our existing unit and very little if any in the boots. The inspector only inducted minor rust in the boots; consider replacing at some time. Because we plan to sell in a few years, the new company recommened running it through the attic (the house is on a slab), which required a different system than they had brought out. We attempted to call the home warranty company again to find out if they cover ductwork, but read the fine print to see they cover nothing in a slab (ductwork, plumbing, etc). They had already removed the air unit, so we couldn't call again about that problem. So, we are out $7200 for a new heat/air system and ductwork.

One week after being in the house we finally hooked up the washing machine only to find during the first spin cycle that water went shooting back up out of the drain in the wall and onto the floor, running out under the wall into the garage. I had specifically asked the realtor and inspector to check the mildew running from the wall drain to the floor and the rotted wood trim. The inspector said it was nothing and to paint and put down new trim. The home warranty company declined our claim and refused to pay for the plumber to snake the pipe. We were out $130, but this doesn't include replacing the drywall and rotted floor area. We haven't begun that yet.

Because the house was built in 1979 and is a one-owner, I have been removing wallpaper from every room and repainting. I saved the master bedroom for last. Upon removing the wallpaper from the N.E. corner, I have found many termite holes and trails. In fact, some sections of drywall will crumble if you press your thumb to the wall. I have photographed the damage. There do not appear to be any live colonies, as validates the termite inspection report. However, there is an area from the corner, ceiling to floor, approximately 6 feet in both directions with damage. I started filling the damage with spackling. The largest single area of damage exposed is about 4 inches by 2 and 1/2 feet. I cannot spackle easily that area. So, should we paint, crown molding, then consider installing paneling along those walls or built in shelves to hide the problem? Realize we are young, in our first jobs, and most of our savings just went for the heating/air/ductwork. We are very nervous about the legal aspect of taking any action, but area feeling very beaten down by the repairs/damage after only 2 months.

Should I e-mail this list in a nice format to our realtor?
Will they most likely just delete it? We figure we just got screwed. We closed on August 19. Any advice you guys have?

on October 21, 2005 01:17 PM
# Joe Poole said:

Thanks for the insight

on July 3, 2007 05:19 PM
# Jeffrey said:

Glad you had a good inspection. I love to hear of others getting good service. Inspectors password pdfs to protect them from changes since it is involved in a real estate transaction. Take care! Love the blog.

Jeffrey - Houston

on July 28, 2007 08:52 AM
# Jason Wier said:

I'd say to choose your building inspector, have a look at the sample report first. It needs to have clear structure and lots of pictures (the larger images are - the better) and they should have arrows or other signs showing clearly where the problem is.

on January 14, 2009 12:02 AM
# Open Door said:

The Home Inspection can save you and your building from natural calamities and Hazardous accidents that can harm your life.Now you can understand your new home better with the Home Inspection.

on March 15, 2009 11:42 PM
# said:

A previous poster said to only use professional engineers as home inspectors.
I can tell you with experience that if your inspector cant fix it or build it then they definitely cant inspect it.
As a master electrician I have worked closely with many engineers over the years, yes they are smart knowledgeable people. But take them away from the office and hide their blue prints and they are completely lost.
Your much better off with an inspector with real hands on trade experience and training.
This is just my opinion.

on April 22, 2009 09:43 PM
# Home Inspection said:

The Home Inspection Inspector can save you and your building from natural calamities and Hazardous accidents that can harm your life.Now you can understand your new home better with the Home Inspection.

on April 26, 2009 11:46 PM
# Dave Espre said:

hi jeremy, thank you for this post. I've been a home inspector for a couple of years in Canada. I haven't come across many inspections where termites are an issue. I did just buy an Extech i5 from this website, http://www.shopextech.com/p6663/extech_i5_infrared_camera.php - its been pretty handy and has definitely helped checking for leaks and heating problems a lot easier. thanks for your post

on January 8, 2010 02:31 PM
# Home Inspection said:

For more information see EPA's CitizensGuide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety.

on June 27, 2010 08:51 AM
# Torrance Certified Home Inspector said:

I totally agree that the home inspector helps us in finding good and reasonable home... they fulfill your dreams of leaving..

on July 27, 2010 12:17 PM
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