I recently was asked by an agent who had some pretty bad luck during previous transactions to visit a property prior to the inspection to ensure the utilities were on and the home would be ready for the inspection. As is typical these days she had been “bitten” by multiple listing agents assuring her that the utilities were on at the property and ready to go only to find out the day of the inspection this was simply not the case. I was already in the area doing another inspection, and since it also saves me the possible hassle of wasting a half day of work, I agreed. Afterwards I thought it would be nice to do a quick write up for Realtors (this can be useful for both listing agents and buyer’s agents alike) showing some simple steps to verify and confirm the home is ready for inspection.
The single most commonly missed utility here in sunny AZ is the Natural Gas service. It is fairly typical to have gas, but you would be surprised at the number of agents and even home owners that have no idea their homes have natural gas fired appliances. This is also the most complicated utility to have turned on since the gas company will not just turn on gas to an empty home (for obvious reasons) so someone must be at the property and sit, and wait, and sit, and wait for the service technician to turn on gas service (usually goes from 8-Noon or 12-5) and light and test the burners and pilots. One thing I have seen that works for some agents SOME of the time is simply installing a contractor’s lock box and giving them the code so they can access the property themselves (this fails many times, mostly it seems due to the ineffective communications between the customer service rep on the phone and the field technician).
Confirmation: To confirm the natural gas service is on at a property, simply look at the gas meter and on the supply line there will be a valve that looks like the image below. If you see a brass pin like the one pictured below on the right hand side of the valve, the gas service is off and you must contact the utility company to restore service (the service below is OFF).
Another commonly missed utility that has some complex issues is the water. Many times even if the water service is on there are many issues that can arise that will still not allow for inspection of the property. First you will want to verify the water service is on to the house at the meter and/ or main shut off valve. The meter here in AZ is typically installed in an in-ground box with a metal cover located near the front sidewalk or street area. If there is a padlock on in this box, the utility company will have to restore service to the property.
Confirmation: First, do a visual inspection of installed fixtures to make sure nothing is missing and supply lines and valves appear to be in place and no signs of damage/ leaks. (Don’t forget the laundry valves, water heater and dishwasher/ refrigerator supply lines, these are the most common culprits that I have to break out the towels for.)
Second, turn on the water at the meter/ main valve, and once the water is turned on IMMEDIATELY do another check of the interior fixtures to verify nothing is spraying the house like an indoor irrigation system.
Note: If the water heater is missing only half of the water supply system will be able to be inspected, if you know the heater is missing, a simple bypass can be used (typically just a 3/4″ double sided threaded nipple can be used with some teflon tape to connect the supply lines and achieve a good bypass).
The water meter supply valve has been locked “off” in the picture below, if you see this, contact the utility company:
Last but not least is the Electricity! I saved this for last since this is the most common thing agents seem to associate with the utilities being “ON” although there are a few subtle things that can be done that will assure a property inspection will be able to be completed and may save you some possible damage.
First, MAKE SURE THE ELECTRIC WATER HEATER IS OFF AT THE BREAKER IF WATER HAS NOT BEEN ON AND IN REGULAR USE IN THE HOME. I know, I know.. you don’t want me to YELL AT YOU, but I have seen this one happen too many times, even if the water is on to the house, sometimes the hot water valve at the water heater has been shut off, and the water heater may have been winterized (emptied). Any one of these conditions can cause almost immediate and irreversible damage to the water heater elements.
Second, I have heard the phrase “The power is on, you just have to turn it on at the breaker” many times, this is acceptable most times but there are a few things that most agents are unaware of that may be a potential issue when it comes to inspectability of a home.
A: Most HVAC manufacturer’s require a 24-48 hour start up period of power being on to the A/C units prior to operation, not having power on can (and has) caused damage to compressors.
B: If the A/C unit has not been set to at least 80- 85 degrees and the home has not had ample time to “acclimate” to the temperature when it is 110 degrees outside, the house WILL NOT cool down below 100 during an afternoon inspection (since at this point the insulation of the home is working against us, and the entire house is radiating 110 degrees), this generally does not allow for operation of the heating system due to the operational constraints of the thermostats, and Also, I can ALMOST GUARANTEE you most of our clients WILL NOT UNDERSTAND the house acclimation theory and will either be concerned about having to buy a $5000 A/C unit or at best will want the A/C system repaired (this is just what I hear clients telling agents). So if you are the type of agent that likes to avoid confusion and client worry, this can help!
I do realize that most of this information is not going to be new to most of you out there, but hopefully you may have picked up something useful, and if I can help you avoid some of the confusion and worry that comes along with the re-scheduling or cancellation of a home inspection then my efforts are all worth while.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you may have. Thanks for all your hard work out there and good luck!