How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
Can you get a useful mobile home inspection with no electric power or water?
Monday, July 2, 2018
This is a question we were asked more often during the “Great Recession” of the last decade. Mobile home owners were especially hard-hit by the collapse of home values and giant wave of foreclosures. They sometimes stripped their homes of appliances, light fixtures, and even the package heat pump unit on the way out the door.
Banks were left with a forlorn shell of a home to sell, and were often unwilling to make the necessary repairs to enable the electric service to be reconnected. No electricity meant no well water for rural homes, and no way to test the plumbing too.
These homes were marketed irresistibly cheap as fixer-uppers, but homebuyers were understandably anxious about how bad the damage really was. Is it still a bargain after you add up all the necessary repairs?
When asked to evaluate them as much as possible, we would usually agree. There are still homes like this that come up on the market even today, and we always urge the buyer to try get the power turned on—if at all possible—before getting an inspection. But a home inspection is still worthwhile without power and can provide plenty of useful information about the condition of the home, even though the electrical and plumbing sections of the report would be based on a visual inspection instead of actually testing the systems. So you can count on a few surprises when the power is restored.
Buyers sometimes ask us if we can bring a generator to power up the house and check everything, but that’s a terrible strategy for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is easy to start an electrical fire in a home with damaged and loose wiring and, secondly, it takes a big surge of electricity to start up an air conditioning compressor or well pump.
We inspected a battered foreclosure without electricity this morning in Trenton, Florida, and it’s a good example of the problem with trying to use a generator. The home has a 5-ton package unit heat pump that draws 25 amps when up and running (called the RLA), but needs a surge 148 amps (called the LRA) to start up. A small generator that you can toss in the back of a pickup truck cannot even come close to providing that amperage. Testing the lighting and appliances would also be silly, since most of them are gone.
The front view of the home is shown at the top of the page, and here’s a condensed version of what we were able to tell the customer. It is typical of what any professional home inspector would be able to do:
- ROOF - Although only 10 years old, it had premature failure of the tab adhesion, evidence of roof leakage, areas of damage, and needs to be replaced.
- WALLS AND CEILING - Part of ceiling removed, and mold-like evidence in another area of ceiling. Wall damage at multiple locations.
- FOUNDATION AND TIE-DOWNS - Satisfactory.
- WINDOWS AND DOORS -Two damaged windows, one with plywood emergency securing panel over it. Moisture damage to wall framing below one window, but does not appear to extend into floor framing below.
- PLUMBING SYSTEM - Water heater had been removed and there was damage to walls at areas of plumbing repair, but no evidence of intentional sabotage of the system. Unable to test for leakage, water flow, and drainage. Damage from water leakage at laundry faucet box that extends into floor sheathing.
- ELECTRICAL - Service drop pole and panel badly damaged by falling tree and requires replacement. Extensive missing fixtures and appliances.
- HVAC - Package heat pump appears undamaged, but main supply duct torn away from unit.
- WELL AND PUMP - Minor damage but appears functional.
The probable expense for rehabbing one of these homes lies somewhere between the cost of what is visible that needs repair or replacement and the worst-case-scenario for some (but usually not all) of the components that could not be tested. It’s always a gamble but, if the price is low enough, the odds are in the buyer’s favor.
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