I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people who have called me about their new home, just purchased, that has shoddy tile work, or a shower that is leaking. I’ve been putting myself in their shoes and contemplating what it would be like for me to make the biggest purchase of my life and a year later discovering that I have to drop another $10k to have the shower (that is no better than a cesspool) removed and replaced. What a nightmare!
Who’s responsibility is it to check these things? Some would say the home inspector. Some would say the real estate agent. Some would say the builder has an obligation to build a water tight bathing area.
1. A home inspector does no better than a visual inspection. I’ve experienced them making a fuss about a bead of caulking, but ignoring serious structural issues. Don’t depend on a home inspector alone. Much of what they do is arbitrary and based upon which way the wind is blowing.
2. A real estate agent is trying to sell you a house. They’ll advise the home owner to make esthetic changes. Things like a back splash, counter tops, carpet. They’re not getting into structural stuff and if they do decide to, they’ll do it on the cheap. Real estate agents are notorious price shoppers and you know what happens generally to price shoppers in relation to construction. Quality is ignored, things are built to please the eye and not to last.
3. Builders are much like real estate agents in the fact that they are largely profit driven. Whatever is cheapest and the most economically expedient, they will do. From hiring undocumented workers, to cutting every corner imaginable in the construction of the house…builders are guilty. They will call me for short notice work, promising that everything is “ready to go!” I will arrive finding that things are far from ready. Their pay scale is so far below what it takes to run a legitimate business, that it is a miracle the material even gets put on the wall. Their attitude is “good enough.” Craftsmanship and quality take a back seat to speed and volume. Not all, Not all, not all, but generally, builders don’t vet their subs and it is rare that they have long term relationships with them or hold them accountable. This is particularly true in the tile business. When you hire a tile man, in order to get the long-term benefits of tile, you need to trust that the tile is put in to a high standard. You need to trust the person who is doing the work and that person must have a high degree of consciousness and be very scrupulous. Getting those types of people on a builder job is next to impossible, because in Georgia at least, the pay just isn’t there. It’s a race to the bottom. This is why showers are invariable swamps upon purchase of a new home.
So, who is ultimately responsible for the condition of the house before purchase? Who is responsible for knowing the problem areas that could cost big bucks before the purchase? Not the home inspector, not the real estate agent, not the builder, IT’S YOU!
If I were purchasing a new home, even if the tile work looked “new” I would look for a few things. These items will be a signal to you that the tile work is mediocre and may need to be replaced.
1. Creaking and groaning when walking on floors are a sign of movement. Tile does not last when it moves. Walk around the place. Jump up and down! If you see itmove, if you feel movement, that tile work will not last.
2. Cracked grout joints and fractured tile are an indicator of an improper tile installation. When tile has full thin set coverage and no movement in the substrate, it does not crack. Tile is a permanent finish and if it is installed to a high standard it’ll last forever. A cracked floor or wall is not “fixable” you won’t be able to match the tile and it won’t be worth it because the installation is done to such a low standard you’d be putting lipstick on a pig.
3. Turn on the shower…heck, plug the drain hole and do a flood test of the shower pan. Look for wet spots in the room underneath the shower pan. It is of the utmost importance that your shower pan holds water. When you fill up the pan, measure the level when you initially fill it…wait one day come back and measure the water again. If it’s not the same the shower pan is leaking water. If you drain the pan and wait for everything to dry out, and the grout inside the pan looks like it stays wet and will not dry, the shower pan is holding water. That is also a really bad sign.
4. If the homeowner recently had the bathroom redone, (this is a big one) ask them by who. Ask for receipts, find out if the company they used is credible and legitimate or an unlicensed, uninsured, unidentifiable, lowest price, fly by nighter. I get so many calls from people who are wanting to redo their bathroom, but they “don’t want to pay too much because they are moving.” Do you think these people are going to be willing to pay for quality and thorough builders? Or do you think they paid for “just good enough” because they won’t be living in the house in 2 months and it doesn’t really matter. Just because tile looks good or it’s new doesn’t mean it’s done well and it’s going to last. If the tile work is new, find out how it is water proofed. Call the construction company and ask for details about the remodel. Ask for pictures of the remodeling process! Maybe get a signed document from the homeowner in regard to the quality of the remodel. Wood and water don’t mix, and this is extremely important.
5. Look for new caulking or any irregularities in the grouting. Grout and caulking should last a very long time. If caulking is molding (black) that is an indicator of structural issues BEHIND the tile. Showers rot from the inside, out. Be aware of the quick fix! Be aware of the repair that is made just good enough to sell the house.
Now if you’re buying a house and the tile work is old and needs to be remodeled and you are aware of it, that is one thing. Be prepared for a $20k-$50k dollar master bathroom remodel. If you’re prepared for it, that’s fine. Don’t think that a bathroom is good to go out of the box though. There is a lot of shoddy work out there and be aware that the number one priority of the homeowner is to sell the house and maximize profit. You are a potential victim and it is your responsibility as a consumer to understand that the shower, the tile work, is generally a problem area in homes and can be a very costly repair.
My intention is not to trash home sellers. My intention is to convince you that your money has value and you should not have to pay for things twice. You’re buying a new house. The hope is to make the initial investment and to not be forced into an unexpected repair bill.
Another hope of mine is to convince people who are building homes, who are selling homes to not be unethical in their behavior before the sale. Hire people that will do a good job. Pay craftsman who provide a high-quality project. Be aware that consumers are wizening up and accepting their responsibility for their own fate. Know that people are educating themselves. Understand that bathrooms sell houses! Pay the extra money to have it done right! Tile is supposed to last forever, not just long enough for you to cash the check.