I am thinking of buying an Eichler in Santa Clara County...
What problems areas should I be most concerned with when I inspect the house?
What should I look for as "Red Flags"? What problems would most likely most financially injure a new buyer?
This is more old house than eichler, but one problem we ran into when we bought an eichler recently was the elecrical has both fuses and some knob and tube wiring. We had trouble finding an insurer who would accept this, and you can't close until you're insured. The fuse box is one thing, it's a couple grand but easily replaced, but replacing the wiring is a beast in an eichler as it doesn't run in crawl spaces. We ended up finding an insurer, Allstate, who didn't require we replace any of this.
Our radiant heating was already replaced with forced air when we bought, but I'm guessing others might say that you want to be sure the radiant heating is in good condition. I don't think a regular house inspector will be able to help you, so I think you'd need a radiant heating specialist.
Finally, I don't know if this is true in Santa Clara, but up here in the highlands you always see Roto Rooter because lots of us have roots in the sewer pipes. In fact in my house the inspector ran the water for a long time and everything seemed fine, but 4 days after moving in everything started to overflow because the roots had gotten pretty bad while the house had been empty. Again, I don't know that a regular house inspector would find this, so you might ask if this is a problem. Apparently you can go a long while with roots in the pipes if you clean them out once a year, so it's not a complete disaster, but it's not great either.
Good luck! Eichler's are the best!
The first question I always asked was: "Is the radiant heat working?" If it is, that's usually a good sign of a well-maintained home (and the statement should be backed up by inspection report). If it's not, that's not necessarily bad, because from what I understand the radiant heat can go out for a variety of reasons, but then the question is what has replaced it?
That question also tells the realtor you know at least a little bit about the specific challenges of Eichlers, and may get them to volunteer more eichler-specific information.
From personal experience, the roof is another major item to get info on. How well the roof has been taken care of probably represents how well the rest of the house has been. When was the roof last coated, recoated, whatever? Is it the same tar & gravel roof, or have they gone with something pricier (extra insulation, spray foam, modified bitumen), and if so, how has that been maintained? Are there signs of leakage anywhere ( waterspots?) that indicate roof problems that were left to fester for a time? From the outside, are there really noticeable sags to any part of the roofline which is flat?
And then like gabfest says, there's issues common to all old houses.
good luck & good hunting! Oh, and if havent yet, check out this website: http://www.eichlerhomes.com/current.htm -you can cross reference the cryptic references with mlslistings.com to find out what Eichlers are available at any given time.
I wish I had my radiant heating system inspected by two companies. It is such an important piece of the home and can be extremely costly if repairs are needed. Also, do not rely on you real estate agent. Protect yourself by getting the proper inspections and more than one to feel comfortable in making what will likely be one of the largest purchases of your life. Additionally, with older homes termites and dry rot are common. Make sure to get the inspections and most importantly set expectations that dry rot/termite exterior panel replacement should be done in full. They only replaced cut out sections in my situation and it looks cheap.
Yes, one would think that a seasoned real estate agent would shoot for these sorts of things, but experience has proven otherwise.
Good luck and do your homework!
The two most notorious Eicher-specific problems are roofs & heating. Both can be very expensive to fix. Flat or low-sloped roofs are prone to leaking, especially if you have something like tar and gravel up there. The radient heating systems, as they age, can develop leaks, in which case you may need to dig up the floors to repair. Radiant pipes can be steel or copper, with copper being the best of the two and less prone to leaks.
First and foremost, if I were unfamiliar with Eichlers and looking to buy one, I would ABSOLUTELY:
1) Hire an Eicher-experienced RE agent to represent me
2) Make sure to have the home inspected by a qualified (and preferably Eichler-experienced) building inspector.
Keep in mind that in this hot RE market, your ability to haggle may be little to none. However, I would still never for a minute consider buying an older home, Eichler or otherwise, without being as full informed as possible prior to signing the contract. At least that way I would know what might be coming down the road in the way of repairs.
Here's some thoughts, as we've recently been throught the process:
We had the radiant heat system inspected by the company whose name appears on the boiler.
We also had an electrical inspection. We found that the electrical could use upgrading and that some circuits were doubled up. Having this information along with estimates to upgrade and run gas to the house (thereby eliminating the current "doubled up" circuits) allowed us to renegotiate price.
In addition to a roof inspector, should you get your offer accepted, get out there and run the hose on the roof for a long while. In other words: test the roof with actual water.
Of course, always have a pest inspection.
We chose to have these inspections rather than a general "home inspection". Our experience is that "home inspections" are very general in nature and tell you to consult a qualified tradesperson (roof, heat, pest, etc.) to inspect further, what the inspector sees visually. We felt we were better off bringing those professionals out there to begin with. And the cost of doing so was less than or equal to the more general "home inspection".
At Dura-Foam, we see several inspection reports a week. The quality of these reports and inspections varies considerably. I think an inspection from a 'home inspection' service is very important, and money well spent. These are the most professional people in the inspection field. I think the 'Home Inspection' reports will be of a consistent high quality. Their report contains disclaimers to limit their liability. How much liability can they afford for the $250-$400 they charge? The heating system and roof inspections are essential, but like a pest report, will be no better than the individuals' bility who is preparing the report.
When we purchased our Eichler last year, we got a good recommendation for an Eichler-knowledgeable inspector. But in addition, we paid for a separate radiant heating inspection, a roof inspection, termite inspection, and a sewage inspection. Each was about $300 but well worth it for obvious reasons.
I will say, however, that we did decide to NOT do any mold tests. This could be a very debatable topic, but through our own personal research, what we concluded was that mold's effects on humans were inconclusive. If we paid the handsome price to find out if the house had mold, we would have to disclose that to any future potential buyers. So we opted to just "not know."
Mold is now excluded on our homeowners' insurance policy. Mold is the latest 'big deal'. A few months ago my Contractor Newsletter pointed out that in !999 there were about 350 insurance claims for mold in California, but that since then there have been more than 35,000 claims.....only counting the claims where the insured had retained a lawyer.