Home Inspections (For South Florida Homes)
While many elements of a home inspection are the same for homes in Florida, there are some significant differences from inspections on homes in colder climates. Buyers need to be aware of these differences when viewing homes for possible purchase.
The first major difference is that, while most homes in colder climates are built on foundations with either basements or crawl spaces beneath the living areas, most Florida homes are built on a concrete slab. While minor cracking in concrete is considered normal, significant cracks sometimes show up in garage floors or in areas of the slab covered with ceramic tile. Cracking under carpeted flooring is not observable to the inspector. Significant cracking suggests that the soil was not properly compacted before the concrete was poured and further cracking may occur. The worst cases of slab cracking may indicate the presence of a sinkhole beneath the house. (Sinkholes only affect a tiny percentage of the homes in Florida.)
A second major difference is that many Florida homes have concrete block walls or even poured concrete walls. This type of wall construction has proven less prone to damage in the event of a major hurricane. Like slabs, concrete walls are also inspected for cracking. Minor cracks are considered normal and can be filled and painted over with proper materials. Wood frame walls are still common in many parts of Florida, but are no longer constructed in some of our coastal areas. Wood frame walls have a higher insulation factor (because there is more room for insulation in the wall cavity), but are more prone to wood rot, termite damage and storm damage. Homes with concrete walls are generally less expensive to maintain and insure in Florida.
Third, while all homes have roof inspections, in Florida, the age of a roof is of paramount importance. This is because “30 Year” roofs do not last 30 years in Florida. The sunshine that brings people to Florida is not kind to roofs. The intense heat & UV rays take a toll on the best composite shingles, so that a 30 year roof might only be good for 20 years. Insurance agents commonly ask, “What is the age of the roof?” and many carriers will not insure roofs over 20 years old. If a roof with conventional composite shingles is 17 years old, buyers should anticipate the cost of a new roof within three years. This is also true of barrel tile and flat concrete tile roofs because it is not the tile deteriorates, but, rather, the rolled roofing beneath the tile that begins to break down after a couple of decades. Metal roofs are also popular and seem to last much longer that other types of roofing, because the rolled roofing underneath is totally covered from the sun. With tile roofing, the rolled roofing is exposed in valleys and other gaps in the tile.
Fourth, while most of our clients who move here from other states have never had storm shutters, they are a big deal in Florida. In fact, insurance companies give substantial discounts for properties that have approved storm shutters for every glass opening in the house. Some types are permanently attached to the house and are more expensive than removable panels that are typically stored in garages. Either type is suitable for insurance purposes if they meet current building codes.
Fifth, in the southern parts of Florida, heating systems aren’t used a lot, so they are typically just heat strips inside the air conditioning system to give a little heat for the few cold nights we get each year. This is not the most efficient source of heat, but it’s all we need. Northern areas of Florida can have fairly cold winters, so they have more heat pumps and furnaces, and more homes are built with crawl spaces just like northern homes. In south Florida, it’s all about the air conditioning system and having sufficient attic insulation. In addition to the inspector’s testing, an energy efficiency test to reveal any duct leakage in the attic is a good idea on older homes to be sure you aren’t trying to cool south Florida!
Sixth, while mold & mildew are common almost everywhere, the humid sub-tropical climate of south Florida is perfect for growing mold. Mold thrives in dark, moist conditions, so beware of homes that have been closed up for long periods of time with no air conditioning or dehumidifier running. Mold tests are expensive and typically cost from $300 to $1,000 depending on the size of a dwelling, but they are important, especially if a property has been closed up with no AC. Because of the large number of foreclosures and short sales in our market, many homes have been closed up and unoccupied for months or even years. Not all of them have mold problems, of course, but buyers and building inspectors need to discuss mold testing in many cases. Testing can take ten days or longer, so if an inspector points out any indications of mold, testing is the prudent choice, even if the time for inspections needs to be extended.
Seventh, in addition to building, termite, and mold inspections, buyers may need a “wind mitigation” report or “four point inspection” depending on the age of the home in order to get the most favorable insurance quotes. Buyers should rely on insurance agents in deciding whether these reports are necessary. Only a general contractor can issue wind mitigation or four point inspection reports, but they are simple reports and generally cost under $150. Building inspections typically run from about $350 and up depending on items covered and size of the dwelling.