January, 2007
News in Brief
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

What Real Estate Professionals Know About Homebuyers


“In every real estate transaction, the consumer stands squarely at the center.”

That’s the opening to section IV Consumer Trends: Autonomy vs. Service, of “The Consumer: Catalyst of Change,” a report published by the National Association of Realtors, 2006 AEC Strategic Issues Work Group.
Take advantage of the research done by professionals in a related industry to learn about conflicting consumer desires, desire for control, growth of the Internet, a new generation of buyers, a more diverse society and more.  

Read the full report at http://www.realtor.org/AESubs.nsf/pages/changereport?Opendocument.

That’s just one piece of information home inspectors can pick up by paging through real estate industry magazines — information about homebuyers that might help them plan their marketing strategies.

For instance, unmarried women are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. home-buying population, according to research by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. The number has increased by 50 percent in the past eight years.

Or, according to the 2005 NAR Profile of homebuyers and sellers, compiled by NAR, the fast-growing Hispanic market is as likely to find a home via a real estate agent as all homebuyers (37 percent to 36 percent.)

Know your countertops
If you need to be able to recognize the differences in countertop materials, Myron Ferguson, author of the book “Better Houses, Better Living,” offers up a quick course in the basics.

Laminates: The least-expensive choice, sometimes called “Formica,” is a thin, hard plastic sheet glued to a piece of backing material, usually particleboard, for strength and mountability. Not as hard as stone or tile, laminates are easier to scratch, cut or burn. One advantage is that dishes or glasses dropped on them are not likely to break.

Neither tile-in nor undermount sinks can be used with laminates. They are easy to clean, but can’t be repaired if burned or scorched. One-piece countertops have no seam where the top meets the backsplash and have a lip to keep spills from running on the floor. A three-piece countertop has separate pieces for the backsplash, top and edge and has no front lip.

Ceramic tile: These come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors and grades. Matte finishes will stain and pot mark more easily than glossy surfaces. Glossy surfaces show scratches more than matte surfaces. Light colors show less scratching than dark colors.

Careful design and installation are crucial to avoid a non-professional looking result. Tile can be installed in a variety of distinctive patterns and shapes. Tile itself is reasonably easy to repair; poor workmanship is not. It is a good investment to have the installation done right by a professional.

Engineered Stone: A new material with the advantages of granite, it is called “engineered stone” or simply “quartz.” Real quartz is crushed into very small grains and mixed with polyester or acrylic resin and colors, then molded into a slab or any shape that is desired. It has the hardness of real quartz, which is harder than granite. It is nonporous, does not stain and is highly heat-resistant. It is nearly impervious to everything. Other stone granules can be added to it to give the appearance of granite of various shades or textures. Its drawback is that it generally prices out at the top of countertop materials.

Real Stone: Granite is popular for kitchen countertops because of its hardness. Since the material is rock, the coloration is consistent all the way through, making it possible to work out surface scratches and even shallow chips. But granite is not maintenance-free. Granite is available between 3-1/4 inch and 1-1/2 inch in thickness in either tiles or slabs. Some granites have a gloss.

Solid-surface materials: Dupont’s Corian is one of the best known of the solid surface options. These surfaces are two to three times the cost of granite tile. They are made of cast resin that may be polyester or acrylic or a mix of both. The all-acrylic counters like Corian tend to be more durable and more expensive. They are non-porous, do not stain and are highly heat-resistant
— also nearly impervious to everything. Glossy surfaces will show minor scratches, but these and worse damage, even burns, can be polished and buffed out. The primary drawback is price.

Solid-Surfacing Veneer:
This product was created in the mid-1990s to achieve a countertop with the best of solid-surface materials at a lower price. A 1/8-inch thick layer of solid-surfacing materials is laminated on top of a less expensive piece of backing material. While it has most of the benefits, it still carries a price that is a little more expensive than ceramic tile. Veneer cannot handle the heavy weight of cast-iron undermounted sinks.

Better Houses, Better Living, by Myron Ferguson, ISBN 0-96548561-7, $24.95, published by Home User Press.
Contact: Myron Ferguson at 503-391-8106, 800-530-5105 or mefhup@open.org.