Home Inspection

A web log for homeowners, prospective homeowners and home sellers in the subject of Home Inspections, presented by I. G. "Zack" Lilienfeld, PE, Licensed New Jersey Home Inspector and Consulting Engineer


Condo Buyers - Why You Need an Inspection

As a home inspector who works mainly along coastal Southern New Jersey where condominiums are abundant, I often have occasion to speak with buyers who are anguishing over whether they need an inspection or not. Just like buyers who are purchasing a newly built home, condominium purchasers often feel that its not necessary to get a home inspection. The main reason for condos is that new buyers often believe that anything wrong with the unit is the responsibility of someone else - namely the condo association. Well, do I have some stroies for them!

At the Jersey shore, condos run the gamut from high rises with hundreds of unit owners to 2-unit condos; big associations with monthly dues and accrual funds, to duplex owners with no monthly dues who split their expenses when they need a new roof or when their siding blows off. Regardless of the size of a condo association, there are reasons upon reasons why buyers need a home inspection:
  1. Windows, windows, windows. Every condo has windows. And older condos have windows that are leaky, have failed thermal seals between the glass panes, don't operate or have broken locks, or are the source of leaks into the unit. Who repairs defective windows? You do, that's who. And because most condo associations require that you install replacement windows of a specific design and manufacturer, the cost to replace defective windows can be surprisingly high. A condo inspection will uncover window defects that could cost you out-of-pocket hundreds of dollars, or more.
  2. Electrical Panel Problems. I found a high rise condo unit that had poor electrical connections in the electrical panel that resulted in 130 degree plus wire temperatures. The wire insulation was scorched and breaking off from years of heat damage. Hidden inside a panel, the defect had been working for years. Needless to say, the maintenence department was called and the problem repaired the next day. Better the seller than the unsuspecting buyer!
  3. I did an inspection of a condo complex with fiberglass decks. These are excellent systems with acrylic-coated plywood that last many years - provided they are properly built. The unit I inspected had subfloor damage characteristic of water intrusion. When I asked around, I found out that many unit owners were experiencing deck damage and the "association" was going to take care of it. Unbudgeted expenses, like replacing 35 decks at a cost of $7,000 each, is usually taken care of with a special assessment - of $7,000 per unit owner! The unknowing buyer would inherit a costly problem. An inspection can flush out these kind of things. As it happened, the seller conceded the expected cost of the deck replacement. Inspection irrelevent? Not in that case!
  4. I recently performed an inspection of an 8-unit condo complex. I found no less than thirty legitimate defects ranging from a 3-section sliding patio door with a bad section of thermal glass and broken handles to a defective garbage disposal to frozen casement windows to broken electric outlets. The buyer was appreciative and planned to bring many of these issues up with the seller.
  5. Some condos have water heaters located in the unit. In one instance, I found an electric water heater with a drip pan beneath - good leak preventive measure. Upon closer inspection, I found that the pan floor was wet. Water that was draining out of the heater, through the drain tube to the exterior, sight unseen. The 18 year old water heater had failed. Normally, this would be a $700 cost of replacement. In this case, the heating and air conditioning unit needed to be removed to get at the water heater. Total repair cost? $1,900. My client was, needless to say, happy that this cost was picked up by the seller before settlement. If he had not opted for an inspection, he would have been out almost $2,000.
Of course, I have inspected condos that were relatively "clean" of defects. However, at least 75% of the inspections I do uncover one or more problems that exceed the cost of my inspection, so based on my own experience, going without a condo inspection leaves most buyers exposed to unanticipated expenses.