Author Topic: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?  (Read 337 times)

marble_faun

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Hello everyone!

My husband and I are first-time home-buyers.  Our offer on a fixer-upper house just got accepted!

The house is a few hours away from us, which creates complications (especially during the pandemic) with regard to traveling to the property and engaging with people doing work there.

Frankly, I feel like a sitting duck, vulnerable to being scammed or having shoddy work done due to our inexperience and physical distance.  So I'm hoping to get some advice.

We agreed to work with a property inspector recommended by our real estate agent.  I know there may be a conflict of interest there, but my only other option was basically finding a random person off the internet.  The guy we have seemed reputable, so we're rolling with it.

(We already assume we will have to do a lot of work on the house. It's not in good shape. We just want the inspector to tell us what the critical issues are.)

A contractor (also recommended by our realtor) will give us some quotes for repairs.  I'm planning to just mentally double whatever amount he tells us, since I know both he and the realtor have an interest in helping the sale move forward, and we can't take the quotes at face value.

Assuming we decide to move forward with the purchase, we will then need to actually hire contractors to do the work, including things like removing what looks to be old flaking lead paint from the house.  (This is one of the things I am MOST nervous about, since we have a baby and need the job done right.)  Likely we will not be able to supervise this work in person, but we are hoping to have it done before we move in.

Does anyone have suggestions for how to handle this situation?  What kinds of questions should we be asking the inspector and contractor before going through with the sale? How can we vet contractors after we do buy the house?

Any sort of general advice would be welcome. 

Thank you!

waltworks

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2020, 06:57:32 AM »
You can't effectively vet the contractors from afar. If your area is anything like mine, just finding ANY contractor to do the work is going to be very tough.

Honestly, I'd be leery of the lead issue and you should recognize that there are no good/cheap solutions - removing the old paint on an older house (especially if it's lath/plaster rather than drywall) is going to cost a fortune and potentially end up exposing everyone to more lead in the process if it's not done right (ie, if they get dust everywhere that gets back into the house/air later). You may have no choice (assuming it is indeed lead paint) but to seal it up (ie, paint over it with special paint/encapsulant) instead. That will also mean doing any significant repairs/remodeling will be a HUGE pain as you'll have to mitigate the lead paint problems at all stages of any construction.

If you didn't have a kid involved, you could probably just slap a fresh coat of decent paint on everything and call it good. But with a baby, no.

Do you have seller's disclosures yet?

-W


marble_faun

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2020, 07:14:23 AM »
@waltworks :

Thanks for your thoughts.  Yeah, this is one of the things that is really making me nervous about the property.

The chipping paint is on the exterior.  Thankfully the interior walls are almost all unpainted wood.  I am still worried about lead dust blowing all over the property or into the house, though. 

The sellers haven't disclosed anything about lead paint, since I don't think they have to unless they have done their own test.  But we are assuming it's there, since the house is old.

At least with this house, we can see the chipping paint and fix it, whereas there is no guarantee that another house might not have similar issues that are just more hidden.  But the process of having to deal with it is a bit scary.

Sibley

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2020, 08:39:04 AM »
I don't want to make you more worried, but paint wasn't the only thing that had lead in it. You find it in original wood finishes sometimes too, roofing, etc. It pops up all over the place. Lead is a highly versatile substance and it shows. It's in the dirt around old houses often even.

That said, honestly, lead is one of those things where people tend to freak out. Asbestos is the other (if you have one, you probably have the other, just because the time frames overlapped). Yes, there are risks. But it's not necessarily difficult to mitigate the risks. Don't panic, do research, and do stay away from the fear-mongering. If someone is claiming that the baby is going to be permanently brain damaged no matter the exposure level, walk away because they're just trying to scare you. 

As for finding contractors, figure out how to be there. It's hard enough doing it sitting in my living room. Can't imagine from several hours away.

Fishindude

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2020, 08:50:26 AM »
Best thing you can do when working from afar is to partner up with a good contractor.   Hire him based on reputation or references and don't be so price sensitive, trust hime to treat you fair and have a discussion or two to that effect.   Run everything through them.   I'd call the closest locally owned lumberyard, ask for the contractor sales rep, then quizz them regarding who they would recommend you hire.

Worst possible thing you could do is start taking multiple bids on various aspects of the work and shop for low numbers.

marble_faun

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2020, 01:38:18 PM »
I don't want to make you more worried, but paint wasn't the only thing that had lead in it. You find it in original wood finishes sometimes too, roofing, etc. It pops up all over the place. Lead is a highly versatile substance and it shows. It's in the dirt around old houses often even.

That said, honestly, lead is one of those things where people tend to freak out. Asbestos is the other (if you have one, you probably have the other, just because the time frames overlapped). Yes, there are risks. But it's not necessarily difficult to mitigate the risks. Don't panic, do research, and do stay away from the fear-mongering. If someone is claiming that the baby is going to be permanently brain damaged no matter the exposure level, walk away because they're just trying to scare you. 

As for finding contractors, figure out how to be there. It's hard enough doing it sitting in my living room. Can't imagine from several hours away.


noooooooooo

I didn't know that about lead in wood.  I love old houses, but this IS the kind of thing that literally keeps me up at night.

Sibley

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2020, 02:32:26 PM »
I don't want to make you more worried, but paint wasn't the only thing that had lead in it. You find it in original wood finishes sometimes too, roofing, etc. It pops up all over the place. Lead is a highly versatile substance and it shows. It's in the dirt around old houses often even.

That said, honestly, lead is one of those things where people tend to freak out. Asbestos is the other (if you have one, you probably have the other, just because the time frames overlapped). Yes, there are risks. But it's not necessarily difficult to mitigate the risks. Don't panic, do research, and do stay away from the fear-mongering. If someone is claiming that the baby is going to be permanently brain damaged no matter the exposure level, walk away because they're just trying to scare you. 

As for finding contractors, figure out how to be there. It's hard enough doing it sitting in my living room. Can't imagine from several hours away.


noooooooooo

I didn't know that about lead in wood.  I love old houses, but this IS the kind of thing that literally keeps me up at night.

Then honestly, don't buy that house. Or any old house. You're going to have to stick to 1980s or newer, I think lead was phased out in the 70s?

Look - nothing in life is risk free. How do we know that 100 years from now, scientists won't have determined that chemicals common today aren't way worse than lead? We do not. Honestly, people had children and lived in homes that were chalk full of lead, used cosmetics made with lead, handled lead (bullets) regularly, and there are still people around. Survivor bias? Sure. But there's still people around.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/in-older-houses-a-trove-of-lead-risks/2019/09/25/4ce7e5ce-b238-11e9-8949-5f36ff92706e_story.html

affordablehousing

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2020, 02:18:52 PM »
Perhaps this isn't what you want to hear but if you are going to be doing a lot of work on the house, with a baby, then maybe what you should be looking at is TWO houses, one to rent and the other to work on. The double expense of rent and mortgage focuses your efforts, but it keeps your child safe, and honestly, if it isn't a house with clearly defined projects, even the most conscientious contractors will amek your life hell living with dust, plastic tarps, etc. I've tried doing isolated projects in one room of the house at a time and it just gets everything a mess. To the lead paint issue, no biggie, just put tarps down before you pressure wash to catch the chips and throw everything away and put new tarps out before you paint. It helps if there's good distance between you and the neighbors otherwise you might want to do more containment around your site. The real way to do it I believe is with hepa vacs and misting so the lead paint doesn't turn to dust.

draco44

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Re: House-Buying from Afar: Advice for Inspection & Hiring Contractors?
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2020, 07:20:48 PM »
If you are in the United States, the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule requires under federal law that all renovation, repair, and painting firms (including sole proprietorships) working in housing, or facilities where children are routinely present, built before 1978, be certified to deal with lead paint.

Take a look at the Environmental Protection Agency's website and familiarize yourself with what your contractor would be responsible for: https://www.epa.gov/lead/renovation-repair-and-painting-program-contractors#home%20firms

With this knowledge, you should be in a better position to ask smart questions of a potential contractor and get a sense of who takes lead management seriously. Obviously, you might run into a firm that just talks a good game, but if someone isn't even aware of their legal responsibilities under federal law, that's a bad sign and you can cross that company off your list.

If you have additional questions, the National Lead Information Center (NLIC), which is a partnership between EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), also runs a free lead hotline you can call or email for information. Here is their website: https://www.epa.gov/lead/forms/lead-hotline-national-lead-information-center And here is the hotline's phone number: 1 (800) 424-LEAD [5323]