The Rationales of Home Improvement

Unless you actually do live under a rock you can’t help but notice that the United States economy is in the worst shape most people now living can remember. Even trying to tell you that better days are coming would be laughable. We’ve had so many things lately that add to the difficulty Americans have making it day to day, it doesn’t seem plausible to want to even think about doing home remodeling.

The real estate market doesn’t look good for most home buyers or sellers. Recently we’ve seen the stock market rebound but with unemployment at 10%, general earnings down, inflation at an all-time high homeowners are reluctant to spend on home improvement projects. The uncertainty of what tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year will bring has too much fear and anxiety attached to it. Homeowners are reluctant to spend with such uncertainty in the market. Yet there are a few projects that have benefits beyond return of investment.

But one must change the rationale of thinking to see the validity in the concept I am about to propose. If you’re like me you usually rationalize home-improvement projects by using a list of rationalization criteria. That list might contain many criteria in any order depending on your personality but will usually contain most or all of the following.

  1. Cost versus need
  2. cost versus want
  3. cost versus return on investment
  4. investment versus savings

It’s not a long list, but generally when we do home-improvement projects these are the basic questions or rationales we use in justifying the projects we undertake. If we see a project that is in need we do our best to meet that need properly with the least amount of money.

If there’s a home-improvement that we want we tend to look at all the things in our life before we progress. We look at our finances more closely we decide can we squeeze one more payment in. We also tend to do a bit of financial forecasting, by looking at what we actually make what we owe, what the future holds for our income and maybe if were really into forecasting we might look at what the next year or two looks like in our personal economic outlook before we make any decision to proceed.

Cost versus return on investment is a little bit more sophisticated than the other two I’ve just mentioned. When we do home improvements under this particular guideline we look at how much we spend and how much what we have spent will be returnable investment in our home at sale time. Now I’m not saying everyone looks at every home-improvement in this manner but we sure need to look at it when it comes to doing major remodeling or major upgrades to our homes.

The last rationale in my list that we might tend to use, investment versus savings might well be better stipulated as the all-encompassing rationale. If we see home-improvement project that we can do that will actually save us money in the long run it’s a bit easier to justify. But even so easy justification because of savings still takes into consideration all of the other rationales. It’s a simple fact we will look at all the others in relation to how much money we actual save doing the project and here I can give you at least one good example of how this would come into play.

If you have a home that is more than 15 years old and you have never replaced the windows and doors since purchasing the home then it’s a pretty sure bet that you can save money on your energy bills whether the heating or cooling if you upgrade to new Windows and doors. Over time regardless of how efficient the windows and doors originally were their effectiveness degrades. Degradation of window and door efficiency over time increases the amount of energy needed to heat or cool a home. The amount of savings that you might receive by replacing your windows and doors with new replacement windows and doors depends on where you live and how many windows and doors you have.

The more extreme the climate you live in, the more savings you will realize by installing brand-new Windows and doors. The more temperate or moderate climate that you live in, the less your home might benefit from the installation of new replacement windows and doors. That however is not to say that replacing windows and doors will not benefit you the point of it being cost effective to do so.

It would be at this point all the other rationales that I’ve listed would come into play. And the thought process might go something like this. How much do we really need the improvement? Is this improvement something we want to do? If we improve our home by adding brand-new Windows and doors will it increase the overall sale value of our home? If we add new replacement windows and doors to our home how much money will we save on our energy bill, and how long will it take to recoup the money we spend upgrading to new Windows and doors?

The only way that one could conceivably think that these rationales would not come into play would be if you were planning on staying in the home you are currently in forever. But even then the fourth rationale will someday take over because every tangible thing regardless of what it is will degrade over time if not taken care of. Homes are strange and the fact that if they’re taken care of properly they appreciate over time. But the same is true in reverse a home that is not taken care of will depreciate over time. You make the choice.

Home Inspection Misconceptions

What To Expect: Home buyers sometimes buy their home in on impulse. Home inspectors can help home buyers avoid buyers remorse by reporting on home defects and problems before the home buyer finds them after closing. Professional home inspectors assist home buying clients with the tools they need to make an educated choice regarding the quality and condition of their potential new home. Home buyers must take care to hire the most experienced home inspector they can afford and make sure the person they hire has their best interest solely in mind. Inspectors who rely on realtors for referrals sometimes have moral dilemmas.

Buyers Benefits: A professional home inspection is the best way for potential home buyers to effectively evaluate the risks of a property purchase. A major concern of home buyers is being suddenly confronted with major and costly problems after they take possession of a property. A professional pre-purchase home inspection can reduce anxiety by screening for problems and itemizing them in a comprehensive report. This report may include approximations of repair costs and recommendations of useful upgrades to the property systems. The general result of a professional home inspection is that property buyers make significantly more informed purchases.

Screening for Problems: All homes have strong and weak points, they are not always what they seem. Gain the perspective and sound information you need to make better decisions with a home inspection performed by an experienced professional home inspector. A good home inspector works through a very long checklist of potential concerns to identify the major and minor deficiencies in the home. A good report will clearly describe the problems and illustrate them along with the what-to and how-to of repairs.

Provide Owners Benefits: Home owners who are planning to make improvements to their homes in order to increase its market value would be well advised to have it inspected first. A home inspectors can help prioritize home improvements and offer advice on the best ways to approach repairs. More importantly, an inspectors can help the seller identify potential or undiscovered problems before those problems become material for contract contingencies. By taking a pro-active approach one can avoid the frustrations many owners encounter when they are asked to renegotiate their contracts because of unanticipated problem areas.

Credentials: Like any other professional, home inspectors (even those with licenses) have varied degrees of expertise. All home inspectors should be carefully screened. Inspectors learn from experience. It takes a few thousand inspections and a more than a few complaints for a home inspectors to LEARN what it takes to satisfy clients.

Recently passed legislation allows New Jersey home inspectors to be licensed with as little as three weeks of class room training and just one week in actual homes. Licensing is a minimum qualification. Make sure you ask for resume! Belive it or not the standards in many states are LOWER!

Many people without specific home inspection credentials offer home inspection services. Likewise, credentials are not always what they seem. Engineering and architectural credentials alone do not prepare anyone to competently inspect homes and communicate the findings. A helping attitude, good communication skills, and mature judgment must supplement technical competence. Make sure you work with a company employing a contract which specifies both what is inspected and what limitations apply.

Additional services like the ones listed below are usually NOT included in the standard home inspection are available for an additional fee.

Code compliance: to determine what changes and upgrades are necessary for the home to comply with modern (or when built) building, fire, plumbing, zoning, mechanical and electrical code and to determine if the required permits and inspection were obtained when changes were made to the home.

Engineering analysis: structural, heating, cooling, soils, electrical, geological, site, investigate for latent structural defects or problems, evaluate the condition of playground equipment, determine if private waste disposal systems are functional, determine if cantilevers are safe, evaluate traffic density and noise, evaluate insulation efficiency, perform flood plain review and issue flood hazard certification, evaluate easements and encroachments, determine the quantity and cost of wood replacement made necessary by rot, age, water infiltration and insect damage.

Hazardous materials: to determine the presence or absence of: asbestos, lead paint, lead in water, formaldehyde, radon gas, lead paint, fungus, mold, mildew, water and air quality, toxic or allergenic substances, flammable materials, underground oil or fuel tanks and other environmental hazards.

Pest evaluation: to determine the presence of animal, rodent, termite, pest or insect infestation and to provide an opinion as to the cost of repairing damage caused from these infestations.

Pool and spa: to evaluate the necessary changes and upgrades to pools, pool equipment, gates and fences.

Plumbing: to determine the condition and necessary upgrades and repairs to the waste piping, main sewer pipe, supply piping, venting, shower pans and tub walls, lawn and fire sprinklers, water wells (water quality and quantity) condition of underground and under slab piping.

Electrical: to determine the condition and necessary upgrades and repairs to the electrical system, telephone system wiring, intercom system, security systems, heat detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, provide circuit mapping, determine the electrical system capacity, adequacy of ground bonding, perform voltage testing, to evaluate electro magnetic fields, check voltage drops and circuit impedance.

Chimney sweep: check condition of flue, safety of wood burning stoves and perform level II chimney flue inspections as recommended by National Fire Protection Association.

Appraisal: determine the value of building and suitability for intended use, check zoning ordinances and provide an opinion on the advisability of purchase.

Mechanical contractor: determine the adequacy of the heating and cooling system size and provide efficiency measurement, provide an underground storage tank evaluation, perform heat exchanger leakage test, check the condition of evaporator coils, determine air flow velocity and balance system.

Appliance service person: test and calibrate oven and range temperature, test for microwave leakage, check to determine if appliances secured to floor as required.

Roofing contractor: more detailed evaluation of the roofing, flashing, chimney, provide tall ladder roof inspection and a detailed evaluation of the life expectancy of the roofing, feasibility of repair vs. replacement.

Home buyers are advised to make sure they check all of the following items carefully. If any of these problems after the purchase of the home the problems come with the home and they are now the YOURS (without costly litigation).


Were all your questions answered by the home inspector?

Were all your questions for the home owner answered in writing?

Have the previously agreed to repairs been professionally completed?

Have warranties and guarantees been provided for agreed upon repairs?

Were the home inspectors recommendations to have all recommended additional inspections and invasive inspections performed? If not open ended risks may be more than most buyers budgets can bare?


Check the operation of the windows and screens?

Has water been stopped from accumulating near the building?

Check doors, decks, siding, windows & fences for damage / deterioration?

Are there any signs of water infiltration from the roof, siding or windows?

Are there any signs of gutter or downspout problems?
Are the downspouts discharging water away from the foundation?

Has the soil around the home been pitched away from the foundation?


Have all the areas listed in the home inspection report as inaccessible or not traversed been accessed & professionally inspected to determine if defects exist?

Do the garage doors and their openers function?

Was the reversing devices for the garage door openers tested?

Did you find out why any stains or cracks on any of the walls or ceilings that have become larger or have appeared since the time of the home inspection?

Have all cracked windows or mirrors been repaired?

Have all the clouded double pane windows been replaced?

Are all the permanently installed fixtures or appliances been in place and in good condition?

Are there any signs of birds, rodents or animals?
Has any damage to damage to the walls, floor or ceilings been repaired?


Do the plumbing fixture faucets leak or drip?

Are the plumbing fixtures chipped or damaged?

Was water for a time through all plumbing fixtures and check for leakage?

Was water for a time through all plumbing fixtures and check for stoppage?


Are all the light fixtures are all in place?

Do the light fixtures, switches and receptacles all function?

Does the door bell work?


Do the thermostat, heating and cooling systems function?

Is there adequate air flow through the heating and cooling registers?

Did all the radiators or convectors get warm in a reasonable amount of time?


Do all the appliances function properly?

Are the counter tops or cabinets damaged?

Do the cabinets and drawers operate?

Complete this check list during the walk through and go over it with your attorney prior to closing on the property Most inspection companies accept no liability for changes and problems that occur after the home inspection takes place. Please take the time to carefully and completely perform your pre-settlement walk though. Contact the home inspection company if there are any questions.

Michael Del Greco is President of Accurate Inspections, Inc. A New Jersey home inspection firm, has performed thousands of home inspections in New Jersey since 1993, taught the New Jersey Home Inspector Licensing classes and New Jersey Home Inspector CEU classes as well as participated in developing questions for the National Home Inspector Exam. The home inspector’s resume may be viewed at