A Home-buyer's Guide To Understanding Safety Hazards (1 of 2)
Clearly, the home inspector’s number one concern is safety. It’s not just a liability thing, without exception, every inspector I’ve ever known would be crushed if anyone got injured or worse because he/she overlooked a safety hazard. Inspection reports typically include a summary section where safety hazards are listed separately. Which ones should you take seriously? All of them. Luckily, most of these are simple fixes. Electrical outlets, anti-siphon valves, loose handrails, and stiff bedroom windows can be added or repaired without much trouble or expense.
Backyard pools and hot tubs are an area of particular concern. If the home you’re buying has a pool and the inspector calls out related safety hazards, these should take priority in your negotiations and be addressed BEFORE closing escrow. The homeowner should know that they are responsible for the safety of, not only their family and invited guests, but anyone who might enter the yard. Nothing is more enticing to local teens than a pool at a vacant home and if one of them gets injured or worse and you don’t have the proper safety measures in place, the liability rests on you. The most common safety hazard I call out is the gate. Gates to backyards with pools must be minimum height, open outward and be fitted with a self-closing and auto-latching devices. A handy-man can retrofit your gate in an afternoon for a reasonable cost. There are several other safety measures you can and should install, but codes vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so check your local codes.
Trip hazards get called out a lot and for good reason. If the walkway up to your front door is uneven or damaged enough to attract the attention of your home inspector it should be taken seriously. You and your family will probably get used to avoiding a heave in the pavement soon enough, but what about guests? Home deliveries of online orders are common today, my neighbors seem to get at least two per day. The delivery drivers are often in a rush and their vision is obstructed by the boxes they’re delivering. A small inconsistency in the pavement can send them tumbling all the way to the emergency room. Not only is this a bummer for the injured driver who may be out of work for a while, but you may be held responsible.
Electrical safety is another area that inspectors call out with great frequency. GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) electrical outlets are now required in all rooms where water is present and are also required for all garage and exterior outlets. These amazing devices have saved more lives than anyone can count. GFCI outlets automatically shut down the circuit if there is an imbalance in the flow of electricity. Imbalances can be caused by moisture, a short in an appliance, a foreign object being inserted into the outlet, faulty insulation, almost anything. These devices protect your home and those who live there from electrical shock or fire; all for the very reasonable price of about $25 each. In most cases only 1 in 4 outlets needs replacing. Installing them yourself is not something a home inspector would recommend even though there are hundreds of YouTube.com videos on the subject, you can easily hire a licensed electrician to install them for a fair price.
Many of us have been conditioned to take safety warnings lightly. Any time we unpack a new product, included in the instructions are 2-5 pages of safety information. Like you, I rarely give them more than a glance. The safety hazard portion of your home inspection report is not the same. If myself or some other inspector calls it out, it should be taken seriously. Encourage your agent to negotiate these with prejudice. It's easier to leverage a safety issue than anything else because of the threat of liability to the sellers. Your agent should be able to hold their feet to the fire and get most safety hazards fixed or get a credit so you can fix them yourself.
To be continued....