A Generation of Problem Houses

Old House in Disrepair in Vancouver, Canada.

The rise in Vancouver (and area) real estate prices has been all over the news cycles this year as homes become unaffordable for city residents while investors are buying houses that then sit empty. The city of Vancouver is trying to tackle housing issues on numerous fronts with empty house taxes, regulating air bnb inventory, and trying to reduce foreign ownership. However, if and when these initiatives open up inventory for buyers, many of these homes will have major and possibly hidden expenses for home buyers.

Empty Home Risks

If you have ever seen a fallen tree in a forest, you have seen how the forest starts to try and return the tree back to earth. It is the cycle of life for wood. Our wood framed homes are under constant attack from nature and when a home sits empty and possibly neglected, it does not take long for deterioration to set in. Here are some problems with empty homes:

  • Condensation - If you have ever opened a fridge that has been unplugged for more than a few days, you can see the effect of locking in stale air in an enclosed space. Molds and smells set in quickly because stale air is a breeding ground for the organics that cause deterioration. Occupant activities (opening doors and windows, running cooking fans, etc) provide air circulation and changes essential to maintaining a healthy home.
  • Mechanical Systems - Mechanical things need to be used regularly or they start to deteriorate and in some cases rust in place. Sink garburators seize, hot water tanks sit and rust, furnace heat exchangers rust and risk carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Unobserved Damages - If nobody is in the home, who notices when a rood leak starts? Or when a window is broken and wind driven rain is getting in the home? Or a tree falls on the house? And when it is time to sell the house, you can be certain these will be repaired enough not to be seen in an open house walkthrough.
  • Lack of Maintenance -  Nature is trying to turn our wood homes into dirt. Vegetation needs trimming, wood trim needs paint, caulking needs updating at windows and doors. All these things can lead to hidden damages which can be expensive to repair.

Rental (Air BnB) Homes

With thousands of home inspections under our belt at Solid State, we know that rental homes are the worst maintained properties. Investors are looking to make a buck now and don’t see the property as a ‘home’ to be loved and cared for, they see it as a profit opportunity. And when maintenance and major repairs are possible, they often just sell it to an unwitting buyer to fix it back up again. Nothing is as frustrating as a home inspector as watching a great cared for family home sell to an investor who will let it deteriorate to make a profit only to sell it on the cheap later to a family that needs to fix it up again.

Buyers of former Air BnB or other rental homes need to be aware that the home may have old systems and equipment, and often minimal repairs.

Foreign Ownership

I’ve danced around this subject before and I always need to disclaim that it is not meant to be racist (anytime anyone says that, they are about to be racist). North American wood homes are not common structures to most people around the world. I was raised by my father who taught me about caring for a house, and he learned from his father. If you move here from a country that primarily lives in concrete or masonry structures, you may not know how to care for a wood frame home. 

Of course there are the foreign owners who put their university kids up in a multi-million dollar home that never step foot in Canada as well.  In these cases, the home typically gets no maintenance or care at all.

Lack of Inspections

The troubling concern to all this is that in this market, only about 10% of homes are being inspected (down from 75-80% 2-years ago). Ten’s of thousands of people are buying homes with no idea what they are walking into and the horror stories are starting to make their way to the media. My concern is that when the current buyers sell we may have homes that have not seen an inspection in a few cycles and the next generation of home buyers will be inheriting major defects and equipment malfunctions.

Obviously as a home inspector I’m biased to say ‘always get a home inspection’. If you are buying a home in Vancouver, a home inspection is your BEST protection against unexpected costs, life safety issues, and expenses when you move in.

 By James Bell - Author | Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc