Often our response to a question posed by a reader triggers another question from another reader on a related but different topic.
A couple of weeks ago a reader wanted to know if it was necessary to have the interior of a condominium inspected before purchase. We encouraged him to do so. That column sparked this question from another reader:
Q: Should a buyer be hiring a building inspector if the building is old? I am thinking of buying a condo in an old building that’s recently been made into new condos — all new everything, including interior walls. I am not so much concerned with the interior as I am in finding out about the condition of the building — its foundation, if there was old damage from previous earthquakes, etc.
Supposedly it was earthquake retrofitted to city codes in 1997, but I don’t know what that means. At the planning department they said it means the floors and ceiling were braced to the walls. The mortgage broker is telling me not to worry because it wouldn’t pass financing "if it wasn’t OK."
A: Do not believe what the mortgage broker tells you. He’s full of hooey. For the past several years, qualification standards for home loans have been practically nonexistent. Mortgage brokers don’t care about the condition of the property. They care only that the buyers qualify and that the property is appraised for the amount of the loan.
Some of the loan products used to get underqualified buyers into a property bordered on criminal, in our view. The excesses of the past years are the reason we are in the mortgage mess of today.
We’ve bought and sold residential real estate for almost 40 years. Some of the homes we’ve purchased were in pretty sad shape. Some had brick foundations, and some had holes in the walls. All had antiquated plumbing, electrical and heating systems. We financed them all, and none of them would have come close to passing muster under the Uniform Building Code.
So no, just because it "passes financing" doesn’t mean it’s OK. Kudos to you for trusting your gut and acting with due diligence before laying out your hard-earned cash.
The building is probably OK. By your description it sounds as if you’re buying into a condo conversion. Occasionally, properties originally built as apartments are converted and sold as condominiums. The process of conversion is rigorous and strictly overseen by city and county inspectors and planners.
Also you report that the building was retrofitted in 1997. Generally that means more than simply tying the floors to the walls. Another big part of retrofitting is making sure that the foundation is sound and that the building frame is adequately tied to the foundation. All of this was probably done under the supervision of the local building inspectors.
To explore the scope of the work done in 1997, go to the city building department and ask to look at the plans and permits that were submitted when the work was done. If you are not familiar with reading prints, ask someone at the counter to explain the scope of the work done. Ask questions, but be brief. At the very least you should be able to get the name of the contractor who performed the work.
Give the company a call, explain your reason for the inquiry and they should be happy to explain to you what they did. After this, you should be in a position to decide if an inspection of the entire building is in order.
We suspect that a full-blown inspection is not called for. But if you decide it is, rather than spend the money, you may want to consider voiding this deal and finding another condo.
If you decide to go forward, we stand by our previous advice and suggest that you have the interior inspected and that you consider purchasing a home warranty to get you through the first year of ownership.
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