May 14, 2015

Walk on Buy

MAY 14, 2015

Full disclosure: THIS BLOG IS TOO LONG.

But! If you are about to walk through houses and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, suck it up and read it anyway...please. : )


You’re about to buy a house and you know NOTHING about the stupid thing!
Well, you do now!

The Cardinal Rules of House Hunting.

Take this list with you on your house hunt and you’ll feel like a pro!


FLUSH every one of them. If they drain slowly, that may indicate that it has not been hooked up to the STACK properly. If you’re really adventurous, fill up the sink, then flush and let the water out of the sink at the same time. If there is a stand still of water, there will be some plumbing in your future. It’s not crucial, but something to keep in mind.

WHY does this happen? It’s all about DRAINAGE & VENTING. Each fixture in the bathroom, kitchen, etc., needs drainage (STACK) and venting (ROOF) separately. All of this is hidden in the floors, walls and attic. If people have moved plumbing fixtures, but have not accommodated the new fixture locations with proper venting, you end up with the issues listed above. WHY DO THEY CUT CORNERS? Because it costs less.

WHAT THE HECK IS A STACK and WHAT DOES VENTING MEAN? Remember when you were a kid and apple juice came in those big, ribbed cans? Your mom would use a can opener to make a hole on two sides of the can: one to drain the liquid, the other on the to allow the exchange of air that helped force the liquid out quickly. That’s what a stack + venting does: it pops up out of your roof and pulls air in to help force the water down the drain and into the sewer (hello, Utility Bill).


Admittedly, this is something that your contractor, or home inspector will check for you but, the STACK in old houses will probably be cast iron. If it is, and the house is nearing its 100yr anniversary, that puppy will need to be replaced with ABS. You can suck it up and do it all in one shot ($$$) and make a mess in your home (plumbing, drywalling) or do it gradually, like us. The Cast iron in our house was removed in our basement and kitchen when we did the kitchen reno, and the top part will be replaced when we rob a bank and renovate our (pink) 2nd floor bathroom.


CHECK THE PRESSURE: Run every tap, especially on the second floor.

LOW PRESSURE might indicate city water issues. WHY? Older houses may still have galvanized pipes inside them (cold water) and the gage connected to your home is sometimes too small limiting the pressure forced into your home.You can check this in Toronto by calling 311.

SINKS & SHUT OFF VALVES: Check under all of the toilets and sinks to see if there is a shut off valve for each line (again, your contractor or Home inspector will see this clearly). If there is only one shut off for the entire house, you have to shut off ALL water instead of just the problem spot.


In the bathroom & kitchen you SHOULD have an air vent extracting the cooking smells, or condensation from your shower, out of the house.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: if there is a vent INSIDE, but you go outside and don’t see where the vented air escapes (side of house or roof), you may have a problem. We have seen instances where the vents (kitchen, and shower) have been vented INTO THE WALLS or ATTIC instead of escaping outside.

WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL OF THAT MOISTURE? It turns into MOULD, of course. Mould in your walls and attic to breathe in every - single - day. It ain’t pretty, folks. It ain’t CHEAP to fix, either.


It’s not unusual to smell DAMPNESS in the basement (a dehumidifier and open walls can do wonders) but, if you smell it everywhere else, then the AIR VENT notes (above) are important for you. These things can be fixed but, depending on the extent of the damage, you could be looking at a lot of new drywall in your near future.


BASEBOARDS and TRIMS: These are all aesthetic choices and, for the most part, a little dap around the edges and a second coat of paint can do wonders, especially if they are made of MDF instead of solid wood.

FLOORS: Again, your personal likes and dislikes apply here. The only thing we don’t recommend is hardwood in the basement. The moisture, cold, and dry heat causes a lot of expansion and contraction. As well, if you have a flood, that is a very expensive replacement unlike laminate or tile which is perfect for basements and anywhere else you experience moisture.

KITCHEN BACKSPLASH + BATHROOM TILING + SINKS: Keep an eye out for how well they have been finished. You should see a fine bead of silicone around the edges of the sink, faucets, and tiles as well as grouting between tiles. We spent 3 months in one home (and we will have to go back) because so many of the finishings done by their “friend of the family” were not applied - water damage EVERYWHERE.

WINDOWS: Inexpensive caulking can do wonders for drafts but water damaged framing might need more of your undivided attention. Look for stains, swelling, and rotting.

DOORS: The bane of our existence. (It’s a long story.) Open ALL doors, especially the back door. Ugly doors are one thing. Doors that stick or don’t open at all are another.

Foundation that is sinking, altering the roof, altering the framing of the house, doors, and windows, could be one of the many reasons why you can’t get it to budge. We were told that our back door didn’t open because she had lost the key.... right... door frame and non existent foundation, anyone?

RECEPTACLES: there should be one per wall, at least two on a long dining room/living room wall. Good luck finding that in OLD HOUSES. : )


Old houses, unless they have been updated properly, most likely, will not be insulated.

Many NEWLY RENOVATED homes LOOK great, so you happily pay a huge price thinking it’s done. After a year of atrocious gas $$$ bills, you suck it up, rip down the pretty drywall and insulate properly. We know one client in particular whose gorgeous “newly renovated home” had to be ripped up because nothing was insulated.

HOW TO FIGURE THAT OUT: If it’s hot outside (even with A/C on) the walls will still feel warm to the touch, or if the heat is on, the walls themselves will feel cold, you have an insulation problem.

In COLD WEATHER you can check for drafts around windows & doors, and hold your hands up to the front of receptacles. Also, if the floor is freezing cold, even with the furnace running, it probably means the basement ceiling was not insulated so, your furnace will be working very hard ($$$) to maintain the heat on the first floor, let alone the second.


FLOORS should not BOUNCE or SWING: You’ll see cracks in the ceiling if you do. New houses should be free of this.

CEILINGS should not be BOWED. If they look like they’re dipping a bit into the middle of the room it could mean any number of things. Something to check with the home inspector or your contractor buddy.


The ROOF: If it’s new, congrats!

If it’s not, take a close look at its condition (water damage) and the number of layers. More than one layer means that the old roof wasn’t replaced, just covered up. This isn’t awesome because it can be too heavy for the house, especially if it’s more than 2 layers. Also, roofers will charge for the time it takes to remove each layer, one at a time....cha ching!


BRICK: New or well repaired mortar is a great sign; it’s the best barrier against our Canadian climate.

ALUMINUM or VINYL SIDING: Just know, even in good condition, sidings equal colder walls due to the fact that there is always air circulating between them. Aluminum, however, will last longer than vinyl, if that’s your only option.

STUCCO: Also a good sign. It usually means that the house has been wrapped with insulation and then sprayed. If you’re from the prairies you see stucco on about 90% of the houses because - if prairie folk know one thing - it’s how to keep warm. : )

EAVES TROUGHS: Check to see where the eaves troughs and gutters are leading to - they should be going away from the house/foundation. Check ground surface around the spouts. If it’s cracking or crumbling, go into the basement to see if it has already created problems.

BETWEEN HOUSES: If you are lucky enough to find a detached house in Toronto, go buy a lottery ticket as well. Then, go look at the aisle between the houses. If the concrete is cracked or crumbling or has evidence of pooling water, it may simply be because the cement wasn’t levelled properly and will need to be addressed if you want to avoid water in the basement.


CEMENT, BRICK or ASPHALT: You’ll be able to eyeball it if it is new and improved

The real story is how well maintained it is where the driveway meets the foundation of the house. Cracks of any kind should be addressed as soon as possible. Even a quick fix with tar or cement to get you through the winter/spring may be enough for the time being.

FOUNDATION: Exterior and Interior, if you bring a screw driver with you you can check instantly the solidity of the foundation. If you can poke a hole in it with ease, you may have to replace it sooner than later (WATER DAMAGE!!) If it’s only flaking a bit in the basement due to moisture, you may only have to re-coat the walls - if they haven’t been covered up, that is... Buyer BEWARE.

BASEMENT: Since we’re talking about the FOUNDATION, we should talk about the BASEMENT.

In new homes, there shouldn’t be a problem with a finished basement. If done well, it should be dry and insulated, without any odour.

In old homes, a finished basement can be the bandaid for a sale, but not a sign that all is well. Old foundation that has not been updated with a new membrane + proper drainage around the house, but has been covered up, sweats. 

We have ripped open MANY walls for clients to find that the drywall was BLACK with mould and needed to be replaced entirely, along with costly repairs to the foundation. One reno client didn’t want to address repairs to the foundation, despite our warnings...and we were back a year later, looking at black mould...again... on the drywall. Dehumidifiers can do wonders, but it is something to consider when making your bid.


Is there enough power in the panel to support a modern household?
Are there old fuses?
Will the panel need to be replaced? ($1000.00)
Is there knob and tube? (must be replaced for home insurance to kick in. You usually have 60 days to replace it - $7000-$9000)
Is there aluminum wiring hooked up to the panel or evident in the receptacles & switches? (Needs to be replaced - fire hazard)

Has it been recently updated?
If it is old, has it been well maintained? (Ours is old but runs efficiently)
Is the area around the furnace accessible for repair?
Are there enough air return vents in the house? (Often covered by flooring in newly renovated homes - looks better, but makes your furnace work ($$$) much harder and will break down sooner.
Are all of the gas lines hooked up properly?

WATER HEATER: See if you are renting or own it out right.
If you rent, they take care of the repairs. If you own it, you pay for the repairs.
Ask how recently it was updated and if it will need to be replaced.

This is the great big pipe the pokes up out of your basement floor, usually at the front of the house.
Is it the original - and is it nearing 100yrs in age? It will need to be replaced, hopefully before it bursts - no joke. ($2500)
Is it lead?

Too much information? Probably. But if I’m helping finance your purchase, you’d better believe that I want it to be the best purchase you ever made. Period. (Too bossy?)

Happy House Hunting!

Special Thanks to MCRENOVATIONS for the advice.

note: all opinions expressed on this blog are

solely my own and do not express the opinions or

views of Mortgage Brokers City.