Taking Initiative

I was conducting a compliance inspection one hot afternoon to a multi-family residential complex in South Florida. These inspections are to assess the current condition of the property, “as-is”, to ensure that the residents of the property live in a place that is decent, sanitary and in good repair. No on the spot repairs are allowed; as I like to call it “it is what it is” and management was aware of this. I was accompanied by the property manager and maintenance people to gain access to the site perimeter, building areas and a sample of the units. Despite knowing the protocol of these inspections, there was one young maintenance guy who was always eager to fix whatever problem I called out. No matter how insignificant the problem was, the young man jumped on the spot to fix it even though it was explained to him that his efforts did not matter, that the deficiency was cited anyway. In every time he said that didn’t matter for him, that it was one less thing he has to do later. It made sense to me what he said; taking the initiative to get the job done now than later and we continued the inspection with the young fellow fixing things behind us. We finished the inspection late afternoon and we were heading back to the office. This property outlines a conservation area where thick vegetation and a pond covered a vast area that we had to walk across to get to the office. Everybody was wrapped in conversation, asking questions about the inspection and didn’t pay attention to the grounds we were walking by. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I spotted something on the ground. I immediately halted the group and we spotted what it looked like a snake on the ground. As we got closer the snake was identified as a water moccasin, one of Florida’s most venomous snakes. The snake was feet from us, slithering away but close to buildings and people. We froze there for a minute and before anyone could say something out came the relentless young man with a shovel and disregarding his own safety whack the snake killing it after several hits. To everyone’s amazement, this young man took the initiative before anyone and killed a snake that could have gone closer to a residential building and threaten the safety of its residents, especially children. I was impressed by this young man, going beyond self and his duties. It’s a shame I never got his name but I know the property manager commended his effort for a job well done. I am sure I will see him around next time I visit this property in the near future.

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Cashing in and cashing out

It was a hot Monday afternoon, just getting home from an inspection day in Sanford. The day was humid, yet it was clear and beautiful perfect to go for a ride on my motorcycle. I had though to help with the house laundry and went to my neighborhood laundromat to use their dryers. Our dryer broke several months ago and we haven’t come around to replace it. We think it’s cheaper to wash at home and dry the clothes in their bigger, more efficient commercial dryers. Well, I got there carrying my laundry; it was slow traffic at this time of the day with plenty of dryers to choose from and very few people. I said hi to the attendant, an Asian woman who attends to the maintenance and regular operations of the place. She and her husband own the establishment and come about three times a week to keep up with the popular spot in the Pine Hills area. Open 24 hr. Convenient and inexpensive, this laundromat has been serving the neighborhood for long time and I like it being so close to my house. I didn’t mind waiting for my laundry; it allows me to slow down and mingle with other Pine Hills residents, so I sat there and waited, looking outside and occasionally to the TV set on the wall.

Across from the laundromat is a pawn shop cornering a slowly fading shopping mall. I’ve seen, even been there before  while waiting for my laundry in earlier occasions, browsing aimlessly through their shelves for any gadget or thing you can imagine. I observed people coming in and out of the shop. Some empty-handed, other carrying things, obviously to pawn or things they just bought. I saw people pulling over in their vehicles getting things out of their cars and taking them inside.  Some coming inside with items and walking out empty-handed and others vice-versa.  People cashing out, pawing for cash or selling their goods. Others seek opportunity buying things relatively cheaper than new. It is a business that will never fade, cashing in on people who need money, forfeiting their valuables for some quick cash because people need cash and need it now. I saw a nice car pulling in and out steps a well dress guy followed by a posse of four others. The car appears to be an expensive model yet I noticed that its wheels were not its original but a set of four spare tires, small and thin. It was even comical to see this car, shiny black with a formidable look except for its tiny looking wheels and flimsy tires. An insult to the car itself I’m sure; if the car could talk would have expressed its dismay and humiliation to its class let alone how unsafe it looks to drive this car.  I wonder what could have happened to the car’s wheels and why do this to a nice car like this one, now an awkwardly looking ride. Out of the shop came out the group again with a new guy which I assumed was an employee. The driver, I supposed also the owner, opened the trunk and the employee looked inside. I could not hear their conversation as I was pretty far away, but I could see the whole thing very clear. The employee looked at the owner, shook his head, the owner talked. His body gestures and face expression indicated to me that he needed to sell whatever was in the trunk, but not because he wants to, because he has to. His face expression was of worry, his body matched with a hint of desperation. The two friends helped pull a small trunk of what I recognized as a carrying case for audio-visual or electronic equipment.  The owner opened the trunk and the employee’s unconcerned face took a change of interest.  After what it seemed like a long time observing the inside of the trunk, he looked at the owner, said something, the owner paused lower his head and nodded sealing an agreement for the transaction they just made. I saw it as an opportunity for the pawn employee, adding to their inventory a piece of equipment which I have no doubt it was valuable, at least for the owner. The man had to take the offer because he needed the money to pay bills I assume, to make ends meet, perhaps? Either way the deal was done. Maybe he pawned the equipment just for a short time, maybe until things gets better and he can repay and get his equipment back or maybe he had to sell  it for good and take the losses, giving up a valuable piece of equipment for way much less than he paid for I’m sure. The house won that day, I concluded and another one bites the dust, on merit because it had to be done, I guess but not the way he expected. A little while later I saw the men get inside the car and drove off. I watched as the car with its tiny wheels rolls out and now I know what could have a happened to those wheels. They are probably inside of the pawn shop as well, already cashed out.

Into another World- assisted living

I had the opportunity to inspect an Assisted Living Facility or ALF for housing compliance, checking the site, exterior, its systems, common areas and a sample of the units. These properties are normally small and easy to inspect, but I have to be in the right attitude before I enter into this world and I mean no offense by it. As I walk in from the parking lot, I “see” the unseen sign on the front door that reads “please leave your soul here before entering the building”. An imaginary rack appears in front of me to “hang” my soul while I am inside this unique place. This is a place where elderly people spend their last living days. It is a place like no other, a workplace for doctors, therapist, social workers and nurses attending and caring for people who otherwise would not be able to manage themselves, their elderly residents. This ALF in particular had an Alzheimer wing. In this wing live people who suffer from the debilitating disease. Most of the units I inspected came from this area which it is a secured area, monitored 24 hours by the staff. As I entered , I was greeted at the door by a charming old lady in her late 60’s who was dress in yellow pants and a yellow set that even the belt, purse and shoes matched. She was up, ready and about as if she was going to the mall for an all day shopping spree. I learned from the management that this lady was known to read the codes of the security doors and escape outside of the wing. A pair of ladies walking around the hallways together hand in hand that looked to me like the Odd Pair of the movies. In several times they both turn to me asking “what do we do?” and “where should we go?” I saw them walk from end to end of the wing and then look at each other shrug and say “now what”? Like in every place I visit one person does stand out. There is an old lady there is always one like this, who is the most outspoken. She wanted to go out and needed to be reminded several times to keep her voice down. She will raise her voice demanding to go outside and motivates others to do the same. In little time, She had the TV area and whomever was there siding with her, screaming and talking gibberish. The other areas of the building were occupied by more old folks in every corner. Some were just sitting there, senile, eyes drawn, sleepy, incoherent, and lost. I could hear the moaning and rants of someone asking for help, complaining about their pain or just looking for someone to talk, to tell their stories, to have something important to say or do. I was told stories of some residents of this facility, about their families who visit them and about them, their work and what it takes of living there. I listen with intensity, smiling at the good stories and silent at the sad ones, reflecting. This place, nursing homes, group homes, and senior communities are where the full circle of life comes to close. Old people, who at their peak of their times were active, productive, capable of living and leading a full life, now rest the reminder of their days here, completely dependable from their caretakers many not knowing where they are, sitting there, staring at the window, watching time goes by. As I exit the building I picked up my soul from the invisible rack and as I felted back inside me, I looked back reflecting on the people who live there as well as for those who work in it.

How to quickly inspect your home before you sell, purchase or doing maintenance

It serves you to check your house often to maintain the building’s integrity and check for problems that can cost $$$. A maintenance issue may become a minor issue and that can turn into a major problem if it doesn’t gets fix. You can break down this list to suit you. Here is the scope: To protect the building envelope; penetrations to the structure, cracks, holes that may allow moisture or critters to get inside. Checking the Integrity and service ability of building materials and its components for functionality and serviceable life. Checking for any health and safety hazard: tripping exposed wiring, connections, missing safety items, fire and health hazards, etc… That may compromise safety and security of building and its inhabitants.
Observe record and repair minor, major and maintenance items that can have an impact on the bottom-line, comfort and habitability of the building.

Take a look at your building from a distance. You should be able to see the roof structure from all sides. Look for anything missing, broken or doesn’t look right. Observe the condition of the roof covering. How does it look (moldy, deteriorated, missing pieces, previous replacements, and mix/match)? I will break it down into three areas:

Site and common areas:

Look for attached/detached structures or areas where people may gather like gazebos, storages, garages, basements, closets, balconies, porch, playground, decks, and pool areas. Also you’re surrounding areas. Check interior and exterior fences for holes, damage missing sections and anything that can compromise security and safety, retaining walls for integrity, falling, leaning, grounds for erosion (specially near building and components) or overgrown vegetation that would prevent ventilation around the building or pose a hazard, roads, sidewalk for potholes, cracks and tripping hazards, look for site drainage, ponding, wash outs. Ask when the last time it rained was. Usually take up to 48 hrs. For some sites/areas to completely drain.

Exterior

Walk around the building take a look at the exterior structure for cracks, gaps, holes, missing pieces of the exterior walls and foundation wall (lower portion of wall). Any crack, gap, missing piece(s) can be a potential moisture intrusion point which it can have hidden and costly damages on the interior wall structure (the one that bears the roof weight and structure over your head). As you walk, look up and down the wall from the very top where it meets the roof to the bottom of wall and adjacent grounds. Observe for broken, cracked windowpanes, siding condition, particularly on wood structures. Observe other components that come in and out of your building such as sewer/ sanitary pipes for broken pipes to missing clean out caps (which smell pretty bad). Look for Air conditioning components, lighting, electrical boxes and water hose bibs for anything missing, broken, leaking or have a potential health and safety hazard. This item need attention and may have a bottom line on the total value of the building.

Systems:

Look at A/C, sewer, plumbing and electrical components. Check the electrical boxes for rust, openings on the panel enclosure, missing cover or breaker switch that would cause an immediate fire or shock hazard. Think about what if when you look at a component. Ask for these questions:

Does it look right, what may be missing?
Does it looks old, rusty, makes lot of noise?
With electrical equipment…What could happen if someone touch it or accidentally poke it?
What you think may happen if it doesn’t get fix in a timely matter?
If it doesn’t look right, write it down.

If the building is over 30 years old, hire a qualified inspector to look over. There may be items that need updating to comply with today’s industry standards.

Interior:

Open your main entry door, check for damage weather-strip around the door. Close the door see if light can be seen through closed door. This is a sign of damage/missing weather-stripping that may allow air/water to entry building raising heating/cooling cost and allowing pest to enter. Operate door as you would normally operate it. Check operation of door handle, deadbolts and locking mechanism. Ring the doorbell (if any). Walk to your immediate right depending on the interior configuration. Open and close doors, check for proper operation, and damage to surface or hardware. Check flooring condition and wall integrity, cracks, and bulging, peeling paint. Look for stretched out carpet, stains, missing flooring, tears and tripping hazards. Operate the windows. Does it stay up on its own, broken, cracked pane? Damaged, peeling around window or sill? Always keep in mind means of egress or exiting in case of emergency. Leave one window completely accessible and do not block it with heavy furniture. Check ceilings and wall surface for stains, cracks bulging and other condition that doesn’t look right. When in doubt call a professional, get a second opinion.
Test the smoke alarms, do they need a battery? Does the area need an additional smoke alarm? (Recommended in every room) enter the bathroom, does it smell moldy, is a ventilator damaged, missing? Does it need one? Are there any signs of plumbing leaks? Stains, rust, on wall, floor? Toilet flush? Is secured to the floor? Does it rock when you rocking a bit? Any cracks on the bowl, seat? Shower/tub enclosure. Rust spots? Operate the shower/tub diverter. Fill the tub and check for leaks. Do you get hot/cold water? Check cabinetry and vanity for damage, leaks. Check electrical outlets. Does it have a GFCI outlet? If not consider upgrades for safety. Missing/broken outlet covers, exposed wiring, lighting fixture work? Check the living room, hallway and other areas look for ceiling, wall, floor damages or in need of attention. . Go to the kitchen, operate the stove. Check for missing damaged elements, not operating, as they should. Check the refrigerator for proper closure and seal. Damaged seal/gasket. If you can see the black magnet or it has a tear on the seal insulation, it needs to be replaced or fixed. Do you see moisture on the doors, does it looks rusty. Does the compressor operate on and off? Check cabinetry for proper operation. Test outlets and GFCI’s. Replace as needed. A GFCI is recommended within 6 feet of any wet area for safety to prevent shock hazards that can be deadly. Test the outlets if you have a tester. Most testers have different lights to diagnose several issues. Check under sink for any leaks and plumbing issues and any potential electrical hazard. Check for dish washer (if any) plumbing connection to garbage disposal or plumbing pipe. Make sure “P “ trap is seen. Operate the garbage disposal and dishwasher. If stuck, use an Allen tool to un- stuck it. Check dishwasher for seal and proper operation. Look for insect/rodent infestation. Look for any fire extinguisher in the area. If not, install one for safety. Locate a suitable are for installation. Close but not directly next to stove, where it can be easily reached. Find the location for electrical panel and water. Heater. It can be in the laundry area, utility closet. Kitchen or service area. Check for surface integrity of the water heater. Make sure TPR valve (the bronze valve connected to the water heater) is in place and drain pie connected and extended at least 18 in to floor or routed outside. Check for electrical connections and no exposed wiring. If is a gas operated WH check for combustion/air exchange, rusty components and misaligned vent pipes. Gas water heater should be raised approximately 18 in from floor and impact protected. A carbon monoxide monitoring device installation is recommended for safety. Ensure that there are no combustible materials inside the gas water heater compartment for safety. Check the electrical panel for missing breakers, missing cover, exposed connections, rusty enclosure and other hazards. If possible remove the interior cover and observe breakers connections. If not sure, use a qualified electrician or inspector to do this inspection. Check for burned breakers, circuits, double wiring connections and signs of deterioration, rust, foul smell and upgrades needs. Again if not sure, hire a qualified person to do this part. Check the laundry area for signs of leaks. Ensure dryer vent is connected to the dryer and venting to the exterior. For inside stairs, check for railings and steps. Make sure railings are secure, not missing and steps are fixed and not loose in need of repair. If a balcony or porch area, check the decking and railing. Is it loose? Needs reinforcing?

If you have a crawlspace or basement. Check or plumbing connections, leaks, crack on walls and floor, floor support alignment and conditions. Excessive litter, foul smells, insect/rodent intrusion. Inside the attic. Look for air leaks, check air ducts for leaks, critter intrusion, stains and damage to the roof frames, roof member damages, leaks.

If on the roof, be careful where you walk, be safe. Have someone to watch you from the ground level or with you while on the roof. Do not climb/use an unsafe ladder. Use common sense. Check for missing, broken, loose shingles, deterioration, exposed areas. Moss/debris covered areas that will shorten the serviceable life of your roof structure. Observe Trees to close to structure and/or too close to electrical equipment. Make necessary repairs and keep area clear from any vegetation. Check roof vents and top (ridge) vent to make sure it is properly attached and secured. Hire a qualified contractor to perform this inspection if not sure. Always get three estimates from three different contractors if doing any repairs. If have a chimney, check for proper flashing to wall/roof, signs of leaks and attachment. If unsure, leave it to the pros. If have no gutter system to properly drain roof, install one, it will save you down the road for proper roof drainage and prevent wash out or erosion.

If equipped with a pool, check equipment for proper operation. If not sure hire a pool contractor. Watch for leaks on the equipment, unusual (not right) noises and exposed wiring/connections. Ensure there are a GFCI outlet or breaker within the equipment and that it is working. Observe for rust on the equipment and other potential hazards. Observe the pool floor for installations of safety drain cover, if not visible; hire a pool contractor to verify. Check for jet operation and entire equipment. Observe any cracks on deck on enclosure, tripping or safety hazards. If enclosed, check for lanai integrity and self closed door operation.