Gregg Fous Perspectives in Real Estate

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Chinese Drywall - Behind the Scenes

Chinese Drywall - Behind the scenes

 

I was at a family gathering many years ago and my sister Julie's mother-in-law, Ruth, was trying to use a new instamatic camera and was being "advised" on how to use it by Julie's father-in-law Ed. Ed was an interesting guy, he retired as a professional photographer. Ed spent his entire career taking pictures for Sear's catalogues but could never seem to take a decent home photo with actual people in it.  I'm certain he knew his way around sophisticated studio cameras and pictures of crock pots, but the instamatic camera might as well have been a microwave oven as Ruth tried to "point and click".

 

As the argument escalated between Ruth and Ed on how to utilize the simple features of this new camera, my father chimed in; "Let me help, I don't know what I am doing either."

 

"I don't know what I am doing either" might as well be the mantra lately for all the "experts" that are chiming in on the defective Chinese drywall issue. The problem with these well meaning "experts" is that they are applying knowledge gained from unrelated experiences to how to fix a problem that has yet to be totally quantified. We all love an easy solution.   There isn't one.

 

The first solution was to fix the first symptom - failing air-conditioner coils. The coils were just replaced. This proved to be a costly solution to the symptom and did nothing for the problem. The coils went bad again. Other attempts were made ranging from repainting the houses inside to gassing the house as if for mold, de-humidifying the house, and finally replacing all the drywall.

 

The interesting thing is that in some of these homes each of these "fixes" worked. In many they did not. The final solution that many contractors were trying to avoid was gutting the home of all the drywall and starting from bare studs.   I have indeed solicited bids from contractors for some houses I was thinking of buying. (Bids range from $10/sf to $20  to replace all drywall and re-install cabinets and fixtures- depending on the house and intricacies of the finishes)

 

Then the unthinkable happened. A house was gutted AND the copper replaced. The drywall free house was tested for the off-gassing and corrosive air that was turning copper black- and the "problem" still existed without any dry wall present!

 

Some experts say the problem can be fixed.

Other Experts say the problem can't be fixed.

They can't both be right.

 

I am reminded of a classic scene from the Broadway musical; Fiddler on the Roof:

 

Avram: (gestures at Perchik and Mordcha) He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right.

Tevye: You know... you are also right.

 

This contradiction is easier to understand and perhaps agree on if we could better understand what the "problem" is and what the "fix" is.

 

Some of the problems have been claimed are:

  • Sulfur like smell
  • Copper turning black
  • Copper Air-conditioning coils clogging and failing
  • Chromed fixtures pitting and/or turning green
  • Mirrors delaminating

 

Do these symptoms have contributing causes like

  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • Air tightness of the home
  • Presence of copper
  • Type of paint

 

 

The ultimate fix would be when all the above symptoms no longer happens in the home. Ever again.

 

There are degrees of the problem.  Some homes don't have the smell, but the copper is turning black.  Some copper turns dark, not black. Some air-conditioning units have not failed, but the odor is present. Some homes have Chinese drywall (as evidenced by the label) but exhibit none of the symptoms.  Some have no Chinese Drywall (Again - the label ) but have all the symptoms. Some homes have no visible copper in the home - all plastic pipe - so if we do not smell it and we see no black copper - do we have a problem?

 

Some easy fixes may work on homes with a minor problem but not on other homes.

 

I sell foreclosed homes for Chase and Washington Mutual.  One of the homes they asked me to sell we later identified as having the symptoms of having defective Chinese drywall. (Odor and blackened ground wire in the electric switch boxes). They asked me to get a bid to "fix the problem". I got a bid to tear out all the drywall and replace it.  Will this be a fix?  I don't know. No one does.

 

What if the solution fixes it for a year and then comes back because the toxin was in the concrete floor and grew back?   What then? Is this problem akin to taking out a cancerous tumor after the caner has spread systemically throughout the body?

 

Some houses just have SOME defective drywall and not in all rooms. Does the toxin then infiltrate the good drywall?

 

Those of you with experience in statistical sampling know that we cannot determine of all the drywall if infected with out destroying the entire home.. We have to take samples.. How many do we need to take?  Some say a hole cut every 48 inches will suffice. Some say if the symptoms are present we have to assume all the drywall is bad.

 

Let's assume that with thorough testing we have determined that  removing drywall from houses with metal studs, replacing all insulation and sealing the concrete permanently fixes the problem. If this homeowner was ever to sell the home again he would have to disclose that it once had defective drywall? Is this house worth the same as one that never had the problem?

 

Let's further assume that the testing and some hefty insurance premiums to an underwriter convinced an insurance carrier to guarantee that this home was toxin free. Is that the ultimate "fix"? ( I would say YES to this question)

 

I would compare the problem of disclosure and guarantee to a water intrusion problem that a homeowner has and then fixed.  If, for example, the intrusion was caused by the grading around the foundation and the fix required digging around the entire house and putting in a drainage system and then the problem disappeared for five years and the home owner then sold the house - would he be required to disclose this fact to a potential buyer? What if the drainage tiles failed in the sixth year, one year after he sold the home?

 

Gary Aubuchon of Aubuchon homes has been a reputable builder in Lee County for years. He build excellent homes and has an excellent reputation.  There was an article in the Fort Myers News Press today (Article Here) about one of the homes he built having the problem - apparently in a major way. The home owner is quite justified in demanding a fix from Aubuchon, but the builder is hesitant to do anything that would fall short of a total cure - and so far one has not been embraced enough for insurance companies to get behind.

 

The home owner is right, the builder is right.

They both can't be right.

That's right too!

 

By the way - we are watching this "fix" very closely  (Click Here) Gross Point developers and BBL both have excellent reputations and have teamed up to tackle this issue.

Comment balloon 1 commentGregg Fous • July 26 2009 09:04AM
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