Red Flags and things to look for when buying an Oakland, Piedmont or Berkeley home.

October 27th, 2009

Homes in the Oakland Hills, Berkeley Hills, Piedmont and the surrounding areas were typically built quite a long time ago.  After all, the classic character of these properties is what a lot of prospective Buyers are looking for.  Negotiating a contract and spending time and money on inspections can feel like a real waste if after it is all said-and-done you crash your escrow.  Now I need to preface this article with the following:  I am not a home inspector.  I do not play that role in your home purchase transaction.  I always recommend that once in contract we hire a good, licensed home inspector to assess all aspects of a properties condition.  With that said, there are some relatively easy to spot components of a home that could influence your decision to make an offer if you just know where to look.  A good home inspection will cost you from $500 to $800 dollars depending on the size of the property.

The Furnace


Take a look at the furnace.  A lot of times the installer will write an installation date on it.  Furnaces are good for somewhere between 15-25 years.  Only a qualified furnace person can tell you if a furnace is worn out.  The parts that wear out are on the inside and can create serious health hazards for a home owner if not discovered.  The front panel of most furnaces will have a number 80, 90, 92.  These typically indicated their efficiency standard.  The more efficient the unit, the lower your operating costs.  A sure sign that a furnace is a high efficiency model is if the exhaust discharge pipe is a solid PVC material.  Always look at the ducting.  I’ve seen new furnaces installed but for cost reasons they tapped into the old asbestos covered ducting.  Abating asbestos ducting can add $3,000 to a furnace project.  Budget: 80% efficiency furnace systems range $5,000-$8,000 depending on the ducting access.  90% efficiency units add about 20% to the job.

The Electrical Panel

Demands placed on a properties electrical system seem to grow every decade.  The electrical panel is a good place to look to see if the home has adequate Amperage for its size.  100 AMP was the standard.  Today I’m seeing 150 and 200 AMP services on the larger Oakland and Berkeley Hills homes.  You can look at the SERVICE DISCONNECT breaker that is usually the top breaker.  It will tell you the electrical capacity of the service.  If you need to upgrade the service drop and electrical panel a good budgetary number is $2,000-$3,000 dollars.  WARNING: just because there is an updated breaker panel it does not guarantee that a new service drop has been installed.  Contact a qualified electrician to tell you more.



It’s always good to divert roof water away from the foundation at least a couple of feet.  Water has a deteriorating affect on concrete and the soil that supports it.  Ideally down spout water should go directly into subterranean drainage pipes.  One thing that is often overlooked is where the drainage pipes discharge at.  They should run all the way out to the curb where they will eventually flow into the city storm drain system.  Splash blocks from Home Depot can set you back $15 dollars each.  I’ve seen full drainage systems in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills can run as high as $20,000 or more.

Emergency Gas Shutoff

Take a look at the gas meter.  Does it have an emergency earthquake shutoff valve installed?  Many insurers these days wont issue home owners policies unless one is installed.  Budget: $600 to $1,000 installed.  A lot of today’s home buyers want to install on-demand water heaters in their new homes.  Take a look at the gas pipe where it enters the house.  An on-demand water heater requires a minimum of a 1” gas supply.  If a home doesn’t have a 1” supply that can more than double the cost of the project.

Water Heater

Look if the water heater is strapped for earthquake safety.  It should be strapped at the top and bottom and held securely against the back wall.  Ensure that there is a pressure relief valve.  Without one the water could explode if it malfunctions.  The pressure relief pipe should drain to a proper location.  The gas supply line should be flexible and without kinks.  Hot water circulator pumps can be nice upgrades too.  Flexible inlet and out let pipes should be present.  If the house has galvanized pipes, the property anti corrosion fittings should be installed.  Also, check the sticker to confirm how old the water heater is.  A maintained water heater should last from 15 to 30 years.


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