Internet House Research

When looking at a house to buy there may be several things that can be learned while in the comfort of your own home.

I use the web to start the inspection process when the appointment is booked.  I can usually determine the age of the house which will tell me things like where the mechanical systems will be (water heater, furnace, electrical panel(s)), where the attic and crawlspace accesses are located.  Here is my process:

  1. First, I just do a general search on the address. This will bring up the real-estate-based pages like Zillow, Redfin,, Trulia, and any real estate companies that have had the property as a listing.  Most of these sites have the same information because they all grab the same info from the local listing service, but it doesn’t hurt to check them all out. There may be old photos from a previous listing that can give you some history of repairs/remodeling and sometimes agents will enter more information about the house on their own site than they enter on the MLS site.  This can be not-so-valuable when a listing agent does not do a good job of entering information, but if the listing agent does a thorough job of entering the info about the house there is quite a bit of info to be gathered.
    1. Year built: This is an important step because building styles and materials have followed patterns and almost everyone was building similar very houses with similar materials at any given time. Of course, there are special houses but if you are looking at the majority of what was built in a year range most houses will have similar features.  Such as: LP siding in the mid ‘80’s’80s to early ‘90’s’90s in the PNW. Crawlspace accesses were outside before the 1970s. ‘90’s’90s or newer two-story houses- crawlspace access will be under the stairs on the first floor and the attic access will be in the master bedroom closet. Electrical panels from the 1970s until now are mostly in the garage. The list goes on, but you get the idea. Here is a presentation on Age-Based Inspections.
    2. Pictures:  From my limited research of real estate in other areas I have found that, in this part of the world (west side of Oregon), real estate agents do a very good job at listing photos.  With a bunch of wide-angle and close-up shots you can learn a lot about a house. (Just keep in mind: wide angle lenses can make spaces look WAY bigger than they actually are. Sometimes the listing photos can be a bit misleading) 
    3. The area around the house: How does the driveway look? Does it slope toward the garage? What about plants and large trees? Although plants can be nice, they can also cause damage if they are touching, especially large trees touching the roof.  What does the yard look like? Will you need to be anticipating deck or fence repair? (The answer is YES, if it has a wooden deck and/or fence) How about the roof and entire lot? Aerial pictures? 

Here you can see the “meeting rails” where this triple-wide manufactured house came together.  Although it was not called a manufactured house in the listing, we can now be certain of the fact that it is a manufactured house and will be looking for other things like: how are the deck and garage attached to the building (hopefully they are not!) (update after the inspection: the garage was attached to the building and will require some serious rebuilding to repair the engineering!) and polybutylene plumbing if it was built in the ‘90’s’90s which it was. (update: it had PB plumbing!).

  1. Inside pictures:  Is there wear and tear on the walls, doors, floors, cabinets, counters?  Carpet in bathrooms? Skylights?  These pictures are not usually very helpful because no one wants to take a picture of an issue or a worn out system but sometimes some things can be spotted if you look close enough.
  2. General maintenance info:
    1. Does the house have a septic or sewer system? These components should always be camera inspected. Just get mentally prepared for this, we haven’t bought this house yet, we are still researching.
    2. City water or well?   Again, this is just a get-ready thing.  If it has a well there will be pumps, tanks, piping and wiring that will be your responsibility. If it has city water there is not too much to worry about with that system.
    3. Property tax estimate?  It might be good to know what those taxes will be!
    4. Homeowners’ association?  If there is an association, you should get some minutes from meetings or a copy of the by-laws.  Some associations can be over the top. I have heard of association reps measuring grass length with rulers to ensure compliance! These will be all things that can be important issues that should be further researched.
  3. Next, check out mapping services.  Google maps and Bing
    1. Satellite photos can give an idea of how close the house sits to the neighbors, or highway, or shared driveways. Do the neighbors have a huge garbage pile or a junkyard behind their house? (This can lead to rodent issues for everyone!) Also, how close is the house to the nearby parks, schools, and stores?  Looking at a map can quickly help you see that a cool little park is only 2 blocks away if you cut between two neighborhoods, for instance. Google satellite photos get “enhanced” as you zoom in and can get weird looking.  Google Earth is the best I have found for high-definition satellite photos.  It is a separate program that you download to your computer and there are a bunch of cool features with this program such as a “birds eye” view (which gives you an angle that can view the property instead of from the very top) and a timeline feature that you can scroll back in time and view old satellite photos back into the 1980s’ and 90s’ (although the older satellite pics are pretty grainy and low definition).
    2. Street view can be pretty cool for a view of the house that no one expects.  You can zoom around the neighborhood, 360° picture-by-picture. You can see the front of the house and sometimes different angles on the house. Also along the bottom of the screen is the date that the image was captured. Some areas that have had multiple years of the 360° Google cars will have a date scroll in the top left corner: This allows you to choose older dates to see what the house/neighborhood looked like 10 years ago or in the spring vs. fall.  Bing has its street view too, so that can give you another look at the house/neighborhood at a particular point in time. In the upper right of the Bing Street view, you can see the date the picture was taken.
    3. Bing also has a “birds eye view” setting.  While not very helpful for heavily treed lots, you can rotate the cardinal dial to view the house from the north, east, south and west.
South side "bird's eye" view
East "bird's eye" view
North "bird's eye view
  1. The G-terrain feature is not very helpful.  It is a pretty basic and hard to read topo map with some shading to indicate slopes and flats.
  2. The last place I might dig would be the local building official website.  It is not terribly reliable due to paper forms being/not being converted to soft copies and currently (12/2022) the site states that they only have records from 2005 (although I have seen permits back into the 1960’s on this site).  Also, you must jump through some hoops and get yourself registered.  But once all of that is done you can insert an address and see what has happened (or at least been permitted) in the last 15 years.

So I just picked a house I am about to inspect and pulled up 6 separate permits, dating back to 1999. 

In 1999 it had a kitchen remodel: Bob Hise was the contractor, and I can open each of the reviews for a little more information.

That is about it.  With the information superhighway at all of our fingertips, you too can start inspecting your potential property before you even leave the house!   Let me know if there are other handy resources that I didn’t mention.  As always if you have any questions, please drop me a call or email:  

Jim Allhiser



Lets settle this crack issue

One thing that comes up often during home inspections is foundation cracks.

Most people have heard about someone who had a terrible foundation crack that cost them thousands! Unfortunately, these stories can be true but let’s unpack the term foundation and take a better look at those dreaded cracks.

The term foundation refers to the structure that transfers the weight/load of the house to the soil.

The most conventional modern foundation in Salem, Oregon is a poured concrete continuous perimeter foundation. This type of foundation is made with poured concrete (obviously) and will have a crawlspace most of the time but can have a basement. We don’t see to many basements in this part of Oregon due to the lack of frost. In colder climates the depth of the footing must be below the frost depth or how deep the ground freezes, to prevent heaving. That is why you see basements in cold climate areas. This perimeter foundation can also be made with concrete/masonry block (this was popular in the 1960’s in the Salem area).

Foundations can also be slabs. The entire footprint of the house is a concrete slab with a thicker section around the perimeter to act as a footing. We don’t see very many slab foundations in the Salem, Oregon area. Continuous perimeter foundations are more common because they are less expensive (they use less concrete than a slab) and a crawlspace is a great area to run pipes and wires after the house is built.

On very old houses, 100 years+, we can still see post and beam houses. Some real estate pros will state that because the house does not have a “continuous perimeter” foundation that these houses don’t have a foundation. This is not true as the definition of foundation is the transfer of weight to the soil. Although unconventional by today’s standards these houses are still transferring the weight/load of the house to the soil. These posts and beams can be huge timbers 16″x16″x30′. They typically have issues with wood destroying insects but that is more about moisture management issues than anything else.

Now that we have a pretty good idea about foundations and what they are let’s look at the cracks that can occur in continuous perimeter foundations.

The most common types of cracks are small (less than 1/4″ and mostly vertical). This type of cracks indicates shrinkage. Concrete cures or hardens as a chemical reaction and I have heard people say that it hardens for 100 years! As it is hardening it is also shrinking. As it shrinks is needs to take up less space and it cracks. These cracks do not affect the ability of the concrete to transfer load to the soil and are very normal.

small, vertical= shrinkage= not a concern

Now we can start looking at cracks that are of concern. In general, any crack that is bigger than 1/4″ should be further investigated, but the shapes of cracks can also indicate the type of movement.

Diagonal cracks. Diagonal cracks are an indicator of movement. Typically, there is a soil/water issue that is affecting the ability of the soil to carry the weight of the house.

“V” shaped cracks are also movement indicators.

Horizontal cracks are another type of crack to watch for.

That covers the most common types of cracks that we see during inspections. As always, if you have any questions about a crack in your life feel free to shoot me a call or email!

Thermal imaging/Infrared helps to find Siding Leakage

Siding systems are continually evolving, changing and sometimes improving as new materials are developed and new understandings in building envelopes are improved.

We are always looking for the sidings that need less maintenance, are inexpensive and, are easy to install with very little instruction. Those three attributes fuel the evolution of sidings and over the years some have been great and some have not been so good. In the last 20 years there has been a siding that has worked well in other parts of the country but has failed so consistently in the northwest it has actually been banned in Oregon! This wonderful siding is very adept at allowing water into the wall cavity while appearing visually good.

Synthetic stucco, Exterior Insulating Finishing Systems (EIFS), or even by the brand name “Dry-vit.”

Like most siding systems the problems arise with poor installation. Lack of proper installation training appears to be at the heart of the problems with EIFS. If EIFS is installed precisely and maintained aggressively, it can shed water properly.

Perfect installation is very rare. So rare, that I have only seen one home that had a proper EIFS installation and the home had just undergone a $100,000+ insurance claim siding remodel that involved forensic siding specialists!

If you are going to buy a home that is covered in EIFS you should plan on having an inspection that will include invasive probing. The foam boards that make up the substrate can be a very clever thermal barrier…

EIFS is still allowed on commercial buildings and on a recent inspection in Salem, my clients did not negotiate for invasive probing and thankfully the pictures that the thermal camera captured made the total replacement of the siding a compelling option:

Infrared finds leakage in Stucco

Leakage in Siding noted with Infrared/ thermal imaging
Visual view of the EFIS stucco siding      The blue is the moisture that can be located with infrared/thermal imaging
Blue = leakage noted with Infrared/ thermal Imaging
More Infrared located leakage

How can I Buy Agent Referrals? Or Why I don’t give out Chocolates and Pens.

A few years ago the Construction Contractor’s Board did some revising to one section of their “Standards of Practice for Home Inspections.”  The section referred to gifts or rewards for the purposes of referrals.  It was always a little ambiguous and in order to clear up some confusion they posted 4 pages worth of, “what the rule really means.”

If you would like to read the post in its entirety it is here:

Here are the highlights as I see it:

2. May a home inspector advertise on a website

containing listings for homes for sale? In general, the

answer is yes. However, if the website is maintained by a

real estate agent and the home inspector buys the

advertisement to induce the real estate agent to refer

business to the home inspector, the practice is prohibited.

3. May a home inspector advertise on a real estate agent’s

website if the home inspector did not pay for the

advertisement? Yes, so long as the home inspector did not

pay the real estate agent nor give the real estate agent

anything of value.

10. May a home inspector share the cost of joint

advertising with a real estate agent? No. The real estate

agent would receive the benefit of the reduced cost of

advertising. Joint advertising likely implies a recommendation

of the home inspector by the real estate agent.

11. May a home inspector hand out to the general public

pens, notepads, magnets, coffee mugs, calendars,

candies or similar items with the home inspector’s

name? Yes. The rules do not prohibit home inspectors from

providing items of nominal or actual value to the general

public or to potential or actual customers.

12. May a home inspector deliver to a realty agent pens,

notepads, magnets, coffee mugs, calendars, candies or

similar items with the home inspector’s name? No.

Since the items are likely to be used or consumed by the

realty agent, the implicit purpose is to encourage a referral.

The conduct is prohibited. It does not matter that the items

may have only a nominal or small value. The rule does not

distinguish on the basis of the value of the items.

20. May a home inspector with a booth at a realty agent

trade show offer a (relatively modest) door prize torealty agents?

No. Since the door prize is intended for

realty agents, to obtain business referrals, the conduct is


21. May a home inspector with a booth at a realty agent

trade show offer chocolate candies to the realty

agents? No. Since the chocolate candies are intended for

realty agents, to obtain business referrals, the conduct is

prohibited. The new rule does not distinguish on the basis of

the value of the item provided.

22. May a home inspection company that operates on a

national or regional basis hold a contest or drawing,

open both to the general public and to realty agents,

and give out randomly won prizes? Yes. Presumably,

there is no distinction between entrants, be they realty agents

or other members of the general public. (There may be other

government regulations that restrict contests or drawings.

Our answer does not address those laws.)

These rules and definitions come from a good place.  There is no good that comes from buying referrals.  Inspectors that do not precisly understand that they are contracted to protect the client’s interest may have feelings that they are there to help the referring agent.  This only creates bad feelings and distrust throughout the entire realestate process.

My main referral source is the great agents that recommend me to their clients.  The only reason these wonderful agents recommend me is because I protect their clients and, indirectly, their good name and real estate license.  These agents realize that even though deals may fall apart by the time I am done it is because of the home’s condition and the inability of the buyer and seller to come together.  For better or for worse their clients should know as much as possible about their home before the deal closes.

Seller’s inspections are good for everyone!

Buyer: “I do not want that home.”

Listing agent: “….but the defect in the roof is relatively minor, and can be fixed for a few hundred dollars.”

Buyer: “If the contractors did this wrong who knows where else they cut corners!”
fungus growing on roof sheathing on this new home Missing building paper on this home's roof in Dallas Oregon.  Noted on a home inspection.
This situation happens more often than you would think. A good home inspector is paid to enter a home and tell the client about how the home works and how the house compares to a perfect house. Home inspectors that have been in the business for some time rely heavily on professionals in the real estate field who refer us. Finding relatively small material defects that cause our clients to want to scrap the deal happens more often than most of us would prefer. Our client’s risk tolerance is not up for us to decide and a relatively minor defect in one person’s eyes can be looming shadow over the entire rest of the house in another’s.

To combat the dreaded “surprise defects,” seller’s inspections have become more and more popular. In my opinion these inspections are one of the best things that can be done by a seller to prepare their home to sell.

There is no such thing as a “perfect” home. This is one the first things that I tell a client, whether they’re buying or selling a home. The purpose of a good home inspection is to be a consultation. As a comparison I use a “perfect home,” as a fictitious example of the ways and a home could be better.

Every home has issues and as a part of preparing your home to sell, it should be in the best possible condition. Repair issues that can be easily taken care of, by a seller, can and do scare away buyers. This can only be prevented by discovering defects early. This early discovery allows you to take care of the issue on your terms.

Having your home inspected first can also attract buyers. If a buyer knows that there are no big issues with a home they will be more comfortable. Another benifit to consider……
Buyer’s agents may be more likely to show your home if they know that it will not be a waste of time.

Seller inspections are good for everyone involved in the transaction

Electric Eyes Save Indiana Jones!

Written By:  Jim Allhiser

Copy written by Perfection Inspection Inc.

Who doesn’t remember the scene where Indiana Jones dives under the stone wall that is closing barely squeezing to safety!? Cinematic excitement at it’s finest and something that most children would love to recreate. Garage doors that are closing appear very similar to that scene and unfortunately not every child has cleared the door before it closed shut.

Garage doors are the largest and heaviest moving parts on our homes and can be very dangerous if ALL of the modern safety features are not installed properly. Several years ago the auto-reverse feature became standard. This feature reverses the closing door when the door meets a certain level of resistance. This safety feature is good however the pressure is still enough to hurt or even kill kids or pets.

The most recent advancement is the infrared beam safety feature. Straight out of a high security spy movies the little sensors reverse the door when the beam that shoots across the bottom of the door opening is broken.  These infrared beams are great but even intelligent high tech safety features are of little use if they are not installed where they are intended.
Most manufactures state that the beam should be no higher than 6″ off the ground.  The homes around Salem, Oregon that I inspect usually have foundation walls that extend up to around 9″ above the floor of the garage.  Consequently I usually see the little beams installed around 10″ above the floor, after all it is much easier to attach to wood sill plate than have to drill and anchor into concrete!

Of course if that is still too much trouble there is always an option to just slap them together and secure them above the opener.

But that installation is really for those who are too smart to let kids or pets get in the way of the closing door…..

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This outlet was more than it appeared!

A large part of my job is learning. Learning about materials, techniques and styles allows me to be a resource when questions arise. it is important for home inspectors to be “know it alls” about most things relating to homes. Just as important as knowing about stuff is realizing that there is always new stuff to learn about. I am never surprised when I discover something completely new and that is one of the best parts of my job.
The video below was taken on a re-inspection. I had griped about the lack of power to the second outlet in the bathroom on the initial inspection. The sellers enlightened me on the more secretive purpose for this particular outlet!

Universal Symbols of Destruction noted by this Marion and Polk County Home Inspector

Universal symbols are everywhere these days. Traffic signs especially have pictures and symbols instead of words so that any person, know matter what language they speak, can understand what is expected of them.  There are universal symbols that all good home inspectors should recognize as well.  Mushrooms growing out of your siding, large cracks in foundations and carpenter ants streaming out of a sill-plate are all things that any home inspector should recognize as a universal symbol of problems.



Another important universal symbol for home inspectors recognize in this area are two small copper lines, going into the ground in garages or crawl spaces.  These copper lines, can be indicative of underground oil tanks. These tanks, if not remediated properly can be a significant cost and an environmental hazard to a home-owner/home-buyer.



The Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon does maintain a database of remediated oil tanks.  As I wrote previously, the database is relatively new and unless the tank has been remediating recently, there would not be record of the tank.  This means that it is still important for home inspectors to keep their eyes out for the universal symbols and to let the buyers, agents and sellers that are involved in the transaction know about this potential environmental issue.

That is not garbage!

The cabinet under the kitchen sink is a highly neglected area.

This is the area where we shove highly noxious cleaners and surfactants. Many people even have garbage cans under their sinks. For me, the soap and cleaners are no exception however I do not keep any garbage under my sink. In fact, I keep a tub to collect some of the best stuff that my household produces.

The tub holds all kinds of material that is just full of macro and micronutrients. It is organic, all-natural and when I take it to its place of magic, outside, it is just teeming with molds, fungus, and all sorts of wiggling organisms doing their part to better my life.

The tub is a significant part of the process however the real magic does not happen till it goes outside.  Once the tub’s payload is delivered the previously mentioned critters go to work.  Through (hopefully) aerobic bacterial action the complex materials are consumed, and wastes are excreted.  Sounds gross but it is actually exactly what I want!

Once most of the available complex materials are consumed most of the microorganisms die.  Sad, but it is an integral part of the process, and their death releases tons of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium as well as all sorts of other trace elements that are ready and waiting for the lucky plants that get to grow their roots into the piles of decomposed microorganisms.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about the lowly compost pile.  It begins as a pile of food debris under my kitchen sink but ends up feeding my plants what they need to grow strong and healthy.

Your home fails the Home Inspection

By:  Jim Allhiser  President

The term “home inspector” brings to mind report cards where a home “passes” or “fails.”
To some other inspectors this may be their reality. Through confusion and posturing other inspectors get to pretend like they get to make decisions. This is a small and disappointing group of my profession, as most good home inspectors want to make it very clear that home inspectors don’t pass or fail anything!

As a good inspector all I am there to do is to consult.  I should take a good look at the home and compare it to a perfect home (which is fantasy, by the way). There is no way that I could predict what my client will find important so I tell them about everything!   Besides that, I am not loaning my client money and I am not going to be living with them.   I really don’t care if the gutters get cleaned or if the window trim gets caulked properly. I am simply an observer and suggester.

This utter lack of authority can be very confusing to some people involved in the transaction.   I frequently hear agents, who should know better,  talk about how homes “passed.”  Or clients ask me if I “require” this or that. I just have to smile and tell my poor buyers that the only people that can pass or fail things are the people that are buying the home.  This can be frustrating for some that wish to hide behind an inspector, but I am about empowering people.  With proper education, my empowered buyer can ask the seller to have the deterioration in the flooring repaired and feel that this is reasonable.

Buyers often ask me, “..Would you buy this home?”  This is an impossible question for me to answer and that is not a cop-out!  The fact is that I have not been looking for a home.  I have not been mentally preparing for the change in lifestyle, finances, and the move.  I do not know what the school is like.  I have no idea what the other similar homes are like.  My buyers are frequently much more savvy about the competing homes than I am.  They have been doing serious real estate research!  I have not.  Homes can be a very emotional decision.  How could I guess the emotional state my clients are in after spending 3 hours poking around a house?

Trust a good inspector to do a great job at observing most all of the things that buyers will find important relating to the CONDITION OF THE HOME. Ask as many questions as you would like but don’t be surprised if we never tell you if the home passes or fails!