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Updated: Mar 2, 2022

With the cost of owning a house skyrocketing it never ceases to amaze me at the dumps being offered for sale that are so over priced that gullible buyers are outbidding each other in order to buy these absolute money pits!

The following actual inspection case study is a prime example of the real estate market gone amuck!

This past week I traveled down to Cape Cod, specifically to the town of Wellfleet, here in Massachusetts, in order to inspect an old sea captains house dated circa 1847. Which at this time the property was vacant and unoccupied.

The price tag for this decrepit mausoleum was $1,235,000.00

The following are my inspection findings.

On The Exterior:

The first picture shows the rear of the property with the house sitting high up at the top of the hill. Looking at the rear yard of this property, as seen in this picture and as seen in the following second picture you should be able to detect a serious problem.

In the close-up as seen in this picture the problem of the rear yard is that it has what we in the business call slippage.

In simple layman terms slippage simply means that the rear yard (in this case a hill) has active movement. The soils are shifting and moving down and away from the house.

You may ask - so what? What's the big deal of some soil shifting and moving?

The answer to that is that this downward lateral displacement of the ground can over time negatively affect the structural integrity of the building, namely the foundation. The end results being foundation cracks and substantial settlement in the property.

As seen in the second picture some past perfunctory attempts at curtailing this movement has been poorly attempted. I am referring to the rotted out wood logs that have dislodged from their original positions and now are the domicile of wood destroying insects, such as carpenter ants, termites and their housemates - fungal growths. If you like mushrooms on your pizza - you just found the perfect harvest area.

These old timers were ready for retirement the very first day that they were laid to rest directly in the soil. Why is that? Because first and foremost they are not pressure treated wood but simply scrap logs. These intended stalwarts were immediately doomed to a short life of rot and deterioration.

But for a more compelling reason - they were never correctly installed. Some neophyte in the past just installed them directly in this downward plane without the benefit of driven metal holding rods. The novice retaining wall builder instead used untreated wood stakes to hold them in place. Obviously the master plan didn't work out as had been intended.

Another interesting facet of this hill (as seen in the following picture) is that there are a set of haphazard wood steps installed in order to facilitate going up and down this pronounced slope.

Why anyone would want to is beyond my comprehension.

These landscape timber steps are in better shape than the retaining walls, but not by much. They too show the effects of slippage and the results of the same faulty amateur installation. Mainly they were never anchored into the soil.

Most of them are tipped and out of alignment and these imitation of exterior steps pose as a major potential trip and fall hazard and resulting serious injury or worse - loss of life!

The bottom line here is that both the retaining walls and the wood steps will need to be completely replaced at a considerable cost.

Continuing on - there is an enclosed porch at the rear of the house as seen in the following picture. And like the rear yard there is a problem. Can you see it?

Just take a close look at the support post. Rather than a vertical post supporting the end of the porch - it has a diagonal post anchored in a concrete footing base at the foundation wall. Lacking a vertical support post increases the potential for vertical loads to bear down on poorly supported end corner.

On the interior of this porch, as shown in the next picture, there is clear visible evidence of some past settlement. Here I'm pointing to a horizontal support beam that shows that it has dropped down and is now crushing the vertical support post under it. In my professional opinion this is a direct result of the lack of vertical support under this porch

Looking out of the glass door in this porch you can see a flagstone patio. The next picture was taken directly from on the patio. Can you see any problems in this location?

The wood shingle siding is directly in contact with the flagstone patio and as can be clearly seen the base of the wood shingles are rotting out. When I reached in and under the damaged shingles I was unable to detect any remaining solid wood support framing behind them.

Next turn your eyes to the window over the patio. Yes that is rot in the window wood trim. Further judicious probing found additional rot in both the siding and trim in this patio location.

The rot just didn't occur in this location but also in other areas of the exterior as documented by the following pictures.

The following 2 pictures shows siding and trim rot at the garage entrance

This picture shows extensive rot in both the siding and trim at the detached garage

Not all of the rot was low as seen in the previous pictures. There was also plenty of rot to go around to upper exterior locations as well. In the following picture this is just one of the many upper areas rot on this building. Not only is the decorative rake trim rotted out, but also there is major rot and damage in the roof overhang.

Without prolonging this tirade of exterior rot and deterioration I'll end by showing you what most of the exterior decorative overhang looks like.

These once sturdy exterior components have been whittled down to a rotting wood carcass. Need I say more!

Putting aside the amount of rot and damage to the exterior siding and trim let's look at other issues. This is a picture of the left side entrance. At least 2 concerns come to mind. Both deal with life safety. Take a guess.

First and foremost the exhaust fumes from the condensing heating system are too close to the windows which open up into the living areas. If the windows are open for any reason hazardous combustion fumes can enter the building! My question is - were permits issued and signed off by the local municipal building department? My opinion - probably not.

Have you figured out the 2nd issue?

Take a good look at the stairway. Do you have the answer?

If not - my question to you is - what's wrong with that handrail?

And my answer is that it is not graspable.

If you cannot easily grasp a handrail when you lose your balance and are falling then the handrail for all intensive purposes is useless!

The following picture put the final nail in the proverbial coffin.

Here we have the access hatch for the crawlspace which encompasses 3/4ths of the underside of the house. Unfortunately the hatch was sealed shut and the only way that I could remove it was basically to damage it.

When I explained my dilemma to the real estate agent she told me that I should do whatever was needed to gain access to the crawlspace, even if it meant breaking down the wooden hatch.

The problem for a home inspector is that a home inspector cannot damage any part of a building without the direct consent from the owners of the property.

Otherwise that inspector could get sued from the owners and end up paying costs for the damages.

I then asked the agent to contact the owners for their permission. She said that would be impossible since the owners were out of town and out of reach.

My quandary was settled when the buyers said that they were in favor of terminating the inspection at this juncture of the inspection due to all of the exterior damage and issues that I had showed them.

Even though I never did get to enter the crawlspace under this house I suspect that I would have found additional rot and framing damage, possible insect activity and insect damage, along with likely mold growths.

Several weeks later at another home in this same town I performed a home inspection for these clients with much better results.

As the old sage once said, "All's well that end well!"


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