Category : Tech

Ann Arbor Home Inspector Gets Threat From Real Estate Agent

I heard an interesting story yesterday from a home inspector that works in the Washtenaw County area.

It was about one of those enlightening moments in his career and it happened ten or twelve years ago.

He was at an inspection and he was talking to the home buyer about radon and how it was a suspected carcinogen an how it was prevalent in the area. He also recommended that the buyer have a radon test done on the home.

Later that day after the buyer had left the nice real estate agent came up to him and said something along the lines of: “If you ever mention radon to a home buyer again I’ll have to stop using you.”

That was such a clear instruction, and so anti-buyer, that it made a huge impact on him. At that point he knew he either had to get under the thumb of the real estate industry or build his own referral base totally outside of the REALTOR organization. He chose the latter and he is still in business today.

And, our office is one of the only real estate companies in the market that actively uses this guy.

If you are looking to buy a home and you want a real estate company that will always be on your side, in your corner, and looking out for you, call us.

734-662-6240

A new mounting option for dish antennas

I was visiting a friends home this weekend and he showed me what the dish service people did for his mounting. He lives in a area where roof mounting isn’t practical, and wall mounting won’t work because of the type of construction of his home. So the alternative was a ground mount. The dish contractor brought the steel frame and the cinder blocks to keep is secure.

 

Interesting!

Hey Professionals! How About Intelligent File Names For Scanned Documents?

Hey Real Estate Professionals –

How about we all start to use some intelligent, useful, time-saving file names for all the scanned documents we are passing back and forth these days?

Here is the problem:

Every day I receive documents from lenders, title companies and other agents/brokers that are labeled things like “scan.pdf”, “document.pdf”, or “QTEhome.pdf”, or “FAX34234.pdf. None of which help me know what the document is.

Here is a recommendation:

If you start the file name with the eight digit date code it will self-sort in your “downloads” file or where ever it ends up on your computer. And the date is very helpful in locating information on transactions some point in the future.

If you then add either the name of the street the property is on or the name of the consumer, it will be much easier to recognize what transaction it is related to. I normally try to add both.

Finally, if you include one or two words that would uniquely identify it by purpose that becomes very helpful also.

Here is an example:

20100225WilsonMapleFinancingRemoval.pdf

A Delightful Meeting with a Window Replacement Contractor

It is funny what you learn and when you learn it in the real estate business. As an exclusive buyer agent I’ve been been in thousands of homes with new or updated windows. In fact window discussions are very common for us because it does have a significant impact on the quality of living in a home. I know a lot about windows. But I learned a bit more today.

As it turns out my wife and I are looking at doing some remodelling and we met a window contractor at our house today. I’ve worked with a lot of contractors over the years and probably met with a dozen or so just in the last month for one thing or another.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Connie Moore of Wallside Windows. Wallside was referrred to us by one of my past home buyer clients who had them do some work ten years ago.

Now understand that these are not luxury windows. I love the Pella product with the built-in blinds. I like a lot of the premium windows that I see when I show homes. These are not premium windows. Wallside focuses on vinyl replacement windows. These are basic, energy efficient, windows which are guaranteed for 35 years. (And the company is actually old enough that the guarantee means something.)

We’ve Signed a Contract With a Michigan Solar Panel Installer

This is from a press release last month:

Select Solar And Generator, a Michigan solar panel installer, has signed a contract to design, install, and commission a solar roof for Jon Boyd, a local home buyer’s broker and nationally recognized home buying expert. The installation will have the ability to provide virtually all the electric power needed for Boyd’s 1966 country ranch home.

“This seems like a great match.” said Mike Cooley, Michigan area solar installer for Select Solar And Generator. “Boyd has an electrical engineering degree and has played with solar cells since he was a young child. That, combined with his knowledge of home financing, home construction, and the amazing value with the utility and tax credits, and it is no wonder he is excited.”

The Ann Arbor home is served by DTE Energy and a significant portion of the solar photovoltaic system installation costs will be covered by DTE’s SolarCurrents program.

News on Solar’s impact on value from the Appraisal Institute

As a local expert on solar homes I was pleased to see the Appraisal Institute announced their conclusion on the topic of solar’s impact on property valuation:

Solar Electric Systems Positively Impact Home Values

To determine the actual number for the value impact is not an easy task. And, it has very little connection with what the homeowner paid for the solar system, just like anything unique thing a home owner does to their home.

But at least appraisers now have a tool to use to get a handle on the impact of a solar system on a home’s value.

The Appraisal Institute worked with scientists at Sandia Laboratories to pin down some data that an appraiser can collect from the homeowner or the installer of a system. Inserting these numbers in to an online spreadsheet can pop out a dollar amount that the system might contribute to the home’s value.

The tool is usable for both photovoltaic (PV) solar, (Which generates electrical power) and solar thermal water heating, which is typically used for domestic hot water, but can be used for domestic space heating in extreme installations.

SolarPanelsOnRoof (1)

2014, The Year Thermal Imaging Hits The Mainstream With Inspections

This is going to be a milestone year for a technology that can add useful information during a home inspection.Thermal imaging is not new. My father worked with airplane mounted thermal imaging systems when he was in the aerospace industry back in the 1960’s. (And they cost over $100,000.) I used them for analysis of circuit design in the 1980’s when I was an electrical engineer. (And they cost over $10,000.) This year they will be available for under $400. All they need is to attach to your smartphone. FLIR, a company that has a large market share for the current thermal imaging cameras, is introducing their FLIR ONE. It attaches to a smart phone and will give users a new way to look at the world.

FLIR
Here is a like to more information: http://www.flir.com/flirone/

FLIR (1)

The concern is that reading and interpreting thermal images is not a task for amateurs. I participate on a number of home inspector type forums and there is constant debate about the use of thermal imaging in residential inspections and problems with liability and mis-interpretation. I personally had an energy audit done this last year and the auditor used a thermal imaging camera and even he wasn’t always sure what he was seeing.

This could get interesting!

Jon Boyd Broker/Manager
The Home Buyer’s Agent of Ann Arbor, Inc
1905 Pauline Blvd. Suite 1 
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
We serve the Ann Arbor – Brighton – Plymouth – Novi – Canton – Ypsilanti – Saline – Chelsea – Dexter – Novi – Northville areas in Southeastern Michigan.

LED Bulbs. Not Always Reliable. In Fact, Some Aren’t Even Safe!

A lot of people are promoting LED bulbs these days. I have been evaluating LED bulbs for a couple years now and I do think they have reached the point where they are worth considering for many applications in the home.

However, as I’ve looked closer at some of my LED bulbs I have two concerns:

1. Many of my LED lights have had much shorter life than claimed.

2. After taking some of the failed lights apart I no longer consider some of the designs safe. (I’m removing some from my home.)

Shorter Life:

Here is the background from an engineering prospective:

An individual LED may have a 50,000 hour design life, but in practice that LED is usually combined with 20 to 50 other LEDs and a circuit with a dozen other components. Even if one LED is reliable, when it is combined with a bunch of other components, the system, (the bulb in this case) is much less reliable than the individual parts. In addition if the design isn’t done well to start with the components may be used outside of their design parameters which will often dramatically lower their actual life time before failure.

I think that is the case with some of the LED failures I’ve seen on “generic” LED bulbs purchased over the internet. Some of these bulbs have lasted less than two years in moderate use, some have even failed in the first few days.

Two of the LED bulbs I purchased at Costco failed early also. I notice Costco stopped carrying that type shortly after my purchase so I’m thinking I wasn’t the only one with a negative experience.

Safety:

The term “safety” is a bit subjective, as anyone who deals with home inspections knows. In this case my reference for safety comes from electronics design work I did some 30 years ago relating to the safety standards of Underwriters Laboratories.

Fundamentally, a design needs to keep potentially lethal voltages away from human contact. Voltages greater than 48V are considered lethal. To keep that safety separation you need a casing, or small vent holes, or some distance designed into the product, or an isolation transformer or some combination of these.

The circuitry in a lot of these inexpensive LEDs does not have an isolation transformer or any of the other safety methods. And if there is no cover on the LEDs there is voltage exposed on the front of the bulb.

Here is an example from one of the failed and unsafe bulbs:
LEDBulbOpened (1)

Here is an example from one of the failed and unsafe bulbs:
The bulb circuit is just a high voltage AC capacitor, two resistors, a bridge rectifier and the LEDs in a series-parallel string. If I touch one of the exposed LEDs on the front of the bulb when it is on I would feel a poke. I consider this quite unsafe.

I notice on one of the newer replacement bulbs I purchase there is a lens to provide a level of isolation from the dangerous voltages. You can see this on the bulb on the right:
BothLEDBulbs (1)

BothLEDBulbs

If you touch the bulb on the left where the pen is pointing while it is on you will likely get a shock. The bulb on the right looks reasonably safe because the lense keeps you from being able to touch any components.

Finally, on some of the larger bulbs available now there is actually an isolation transformer as well as a protective case. These look to be much safer and even include an approval stamp from Underwriters Laboratories. The large bulb in the middle is an example of these. I am comfortable with these products and you can even see the safety certifications in fine print at the base of the bulb:
LEDBulbs (1)

For additional information on LED bulbs in practice check the post at http://actvra.in/49Dq from home inspector Reuben Saltzman.

Adding Multi-Fuel Options To Your Back-Up Generator

In the last ten years or so our office has purchase a lot of homes with some form back-up power.

In one case a home near Maple and Wagner had a priority circuit system that was replace with a whole house system.

At an inspection yesterday we saw a dangerous non-interlocked system.

We’ve seen all kinds, big, small, safe, unsafe, automatic switchover,  manual switchover, gas powered, propane powered, and natural gas powered.

But every one of them was set up for a single type of fuel.

This has always been a concern of mine because none of the back-up fuels is perfect and in an emergency any particular type of fuel might be in short supply.

Fortunately there is an option that allows most generators to be adapted to multiple fuels. A company called US Carburetion  produces kits that will allow a generator to use multiple types of fuel. They have produced products like this for a long time.

Their current line is called the “Motor Snorkel” and here is a video of the installation process on a medium sized portable generator:

 

Multi-Fuel Options For Your Back-Up Generator

In the last ten years our office has purchase a lot of homes with some form back-up power.

In one case a home near Maple and Wagner had a priority circuit system that was replace with a whole house system.

At an inspection yesterday we saw a dangerous non-interlocked system.

We’ve seen all kinds, big, small, safe, unsafe, automatic switchover,  manual switchover, gas powered, propane powered, and natural gas powered.

But every one of them was set up for a single type of fuel.

This has always been a concern of mine because none of the back-up fuels is perfect and in an emergency any particular type of fuel might be in short supply.

Fortunately there is an option that allows most generators to be adapted to multiple fuels. A company called US Carboration produces kits that will allow a generator to use multiple types of fuel. They have produced products like this for a long time.

Their current line is called the “Motor Snorkel” and here is a video of the installation process on a medium sized portable generator:

Multi-Fuel add-on for generator

If you have experience with one of these installations please share your thoughts in a comment below!

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