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  • Writer's pictureKevin Maxwell

Purchasing an older property? Here's what to know about getting it inspected. By Times Union

Last fall, Robin Jenkins’ Realtor sent her a video of a prospective property on a Thursday. She and her partner, Lisa, boarded a flight from Los Angeles the following Monday to take a look.


Kevin Maxwell, founder and owner of Maxwell Home Inspection Services, LLC, identifies hidden issues, such as structural concerns, plumbing leaks, electrical problems and the presence of hazardous materials like mold, asbestos and lead-based paint in his inspections.


Built in 1780, the Old Chatham Colonial showcased a blend of architectural detail and design that has stood the test of time, like gently sloped floors, low ceilings, exposed brick, wide-plank floors, heirloom windows and stained glass. Situated on seven verdant, picturesque acres of land in Columbia County, the home also featured perennial gardens, a pole barn and an in-ground pool.


“It ticked all the boxes for us,” says Jenkins. “It’s just so peaceful.”


Jenkins wasn’t necessarily looking for an older home and this particular property was a bit further north than the one she originally planned on, but it was close to a tennis club — one of Jenkins' requisites — so once the offer was accepted she and Lisa flew back to L.A., listed their home and started packing.


Owning an older home offers a unique connection to the past, an opportunity to preserve a piece of history and an authenticity modern homes can’t replicate, but the process of purchasing a historic home poses a unique set of challenges. Working with a team that includes a real estate agent who understands the process and a home inspector that can provide valuable insights into the property’s condition and potential issues is imperative.

Buyers should understand the nuances of owning an older home, says Annabel Taylor, associate broker with Four Seasons Sotheby’s International.


“I always equate an old home to a living, breathing thing,” she says. “It has needs and you really need to stay on top of it.”


Many of Taylor’s clients are transferring into the Hudson Valley and pine for a quintessential antique farmhouse. The market is competitive and the budget is often broad (upward of $800,000) so the process requires a lot of finesse, she says.


“A big part of my job as a luxury broker is not just selling homes but managing my clients and client communication,” she says.


The inspection process is also quite different, says Taylor.


“The homes and grounds tend to be extensive, so an inspector is not just uncovering problems, to which there are typically less than in a home at a lower price point, but they’re explaining the ins and outs of the systems and educating the client on how to maintain the home,” she adds.


That’s where Kevin Maxwell comes in.


The home Jenkins purchased was previously under contract but the buyers pulled out once the home inspection revealed evidence of moisture and potentially mold. It was a slight concern for Jenkins, but she was confident a qualified inspector could help assess just how significant the issue was and guide any necessary remediation.

As a home inspector, it’s Maxwell’s job to identify hidden issues, such as structural concerns, plumbing leaks, electrical problems and the presence of hazardous materials like mold, asbestos and lead-based paint.

“As an inspector, you have to be a little more open-minded when you’re inspecting an older home,” says Maxwell, a former building inspector and founder and owner of Maxwell Home Inspection Services, LLC.


When buyers hear there’s mold, they tend to panic, says Maxwell.


“If someone is buying a house that is expensive or older they want to make sure they are not going to have flooding issues or mold issues and a lot of these houses do have that,” he says.


Mold will grow in areas of dampness, and older homes tend to harbor moisture. There are varieties that can cause significant health concerns and wood rot, but that wasn’t the case in Jenkins’ home. The growth was minimal and the moisture was easily addressed.


Today’s building standards are also different than they were nearly two centuries ago. Home builders today have to adhere to stricter codes and safety standards. Heating systems that were once powered by coal or even corn oil have been retrofitted over time. Electrical systems may need upgrading. Older homes tend to trap moisture. Foundation issues aren’t uncommon. Maxwell has even inspected homes held up by tree trunks.


Some buyers, especially those migrating to highly desirable locales like Columbia County, are moving from areas like California and Florida where homes tend to be newer. They get very nervous when they wander through a home that pre-dates the Civil War. They are worried it could collapse any minute, laughs Maxwell.


“It’s my job to reassure them that this house has been here for a long time,” he says. “And, it’s going to be here probably longer that we are going to be alive.”


Most buyers he encounters shop with an appreciation for older homes and generally understand that they often require maintenance, repairs or upgrades. They can look past drafty windows and wavy floors. Still, they are looking for balance and to blend the old with the new.


“They are kind of stepping in time when they are buying an older home,” he says. “You still want to keep the historic integrity of the house.”


Maxwell doesn’t go at it alone. He brings a team to most inspections, especially if he’s investigating an older home, a luxury home or as in the case of the Old Chatham Colonial, both, because the homes are often larger and more complex. His team inspects the home, inside and outside, as well as septic systems. He even uses a drone to scrutinize roofs.


“We are bringing the expertise out and are actually able to do everything in-house,” says Maxwell.

Once Maxwell identifies any issues or concerns he passes along the information to buyers so that they are armed with the findings and in a stronger position to negotiate with the seller. If significant problems are unearthed, buyers have the opportunity to request repairs, price adjustments or concessions before finalizing the deals.


“Relationships are very important to me,” he says. “It’s a trust thing. If I’m inspecting a house, I’m basically giving you the green light to buy that house.”


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