To Log in or Sign Up for My Property FinderClick Here

Regina Zak Tomas

Office: (773) 520-1522
Send me an Email

Foundation Cracks

Cracks 101 - "This house isn't going anywhere." Or is it!
Serious structural problems in houses are not very common, but when they occur they are expensive to repair. Some can't be fixed at all. This report won't turn you into an expert, but it will give you some of the common indicators.
Uneven FloorsUneven floors are typical, particularly in older homes. Here is a trick to help distinguish between a typical home with character and a structural problem.If the floor sags to the middle of the home, it's probably just a charming old home. Houses are like people, they sag in the middle when they get older. On the other hand, if the floor slopes towards an outside wall, there is a good chance that the house has significant structural problems. Leaning House While no house is perfect, this is one area where you should be very careful. Take a look at the house from across the street. If the house appears to be leaning one way or the other, there may be a structural problem. It may help to line up a front corner of the house with the back corner of an adjacent house just for reference. The corners should be parallel. Stepping back from the house to take a look is always a good idea. It is easy to miss something major by standing too close to it! If there is a lean that is detectable by eye, don't take any chances, get it checked out.

Horizontal Foundation Cracks are Bad.
It is not uncommon to find cracks in the foundation, especially poured concrete foundations. This goes for new houses as well as old ones. While there is a great deal of engineering that goes into reading these cracks, there is one rule that you should never forget. Horizontal cracks are a problem? Of course not all vertical cracks are acceptable, but they are generally not as serious as a horizontal crack.
Leaning Walls
A leaning foundation wall is not ideal, but may not be a significant defect if movement does not appear to be recent.  Home Check
America inspectors use the 1/3 rule for wall stability as pictured here.  

Harmless Cracks
Poured concrete shrinks as it cures. Shrinkage cracks in a new house are common and can be small vertical cracks or small 45 degree cracks at the basement windows. These cracks are about  1 /8 inch wide or less. They don't affect the structure. The only concern is leakage. If you see small cracks in a new foundation, don't panic. In fact, in a new home, some builders will pre-crack the foundation and fill the crack with flexible material.

Plaster or Drywall Cracks
Few things are more misunderstood than plaster or drywall cracks on the inside of the house. See my article on truss uplift. 

The following crack types are not generally related to structural movement: We call these stress cracks? or surface cracks? 

  • a small crack (less than 1 /4 inch) that follows the corner of the room where two walls meet 
  • small cracks that extend up from the upper corner of a door opening

The following cracks may be related to structural movement 

  • large cracks (larger than 1 /4 inch in width) or cracks that have deflection (a lip, where one side of the crack is beyond the other side of the crack).
  • cracks that run diagonally across the wall, or in a stair step fashion. 
  • cracks on the interior finish that is in the same vicinity as cracks on the exterior of the house.

Structural movement or structural damage cracks can be repaired in a number of ways, such as; building buttresses, pilasters, steel tie-backs, steel channel columns, sister walls, etc.  A good inspector can describe these methods to you should the need arise.


60-Amp Electrical Service 

Electrical Consumption
The biggest users of electricity in a house are things with heating elements. The larger the heating element, the more electricity will be used. In an average home, the stove is the biggest user, followed by the clothes dryer. An electric water heater usually takes third place. If additional large heating elements are found in the house in a sauna or a pottery kiln for example, it is almost impossible to get away with a 60 amp service.

In addition to large heating elements, electric motors also draw a considerable amount of juice. Air conditioners are prime examples. Therefore, you may find that if a house has a 60 amp service, and has an electric stove and electric clothes dryer, you might not be able to use the two simultaneously. It's O.K. if you are using one burner, but if you are cooking a turkey dinner with all four burners and the oven on, it's a bad time to do the laundry.   Typically homes that have 60 amp service have natural gas appliances.

Many first time buyers however, do not own many appliances. If they are buying a house with a 60 amp service, it would be wise to install a gas stove and a gas clothes dryer which draw less electricity. A house with a 60 amp service and gas appliances has almost as much usable electricity as a house with a 100 amp service and an electric stove and electric clothes dryer.

Limited Distribution
Most 60 amp services are found on older systems which have a limited number of circuits. This is a potentially hazardous situation, particularly if the system has fuses rather than breakers. Some homeowners find that their overtaxed distribution system is constantly blowing 15 amp fuses, especially when they have ?double tapped? the fuse. Double tapping is when two wires feed power from the same fuse or breaker.  Double tap connections can also overheat wires and cause fires. They replace them with 20, 25 or 30 amp fuses to prevent the fuses from blowing. This is an unsafe condition overheating the wires, and potentially leading to a fire.  

The solution to the problem is not necessarily a larger service, but rather a larger distribution system. It is far safer to own a house with a 60 amp service and 24 circuits than a house with a 100 amp service and 6 circuits.

Small appliances with heating elements such as kettles, toasters, irons and hair dryers all draw a considerable amount of electricity for their size. This is why a house with limited distribution system is problematic. If you plug a toaster and kettle into the same circuit, you will draw more than 15 amps and blow the fuse. This would be true regardless of whether the amount of electricity coming into the house is 60 amp, 100 amps or 200 amps. The solution is not a bigger service but more circuits.
In an old house, you might find only six or eight circuits in the entire house. In a new house, you might find that many circuits in the kitchen alone.

Insurance companies have concentrated on charging homeowners higher premiums for houses with 60-amp service when they should be concentrating on houses with limited distribution systems.


"What About Synthetic Stucco?"

Synthetic stucco or EIFS (which stands for Exterior Insulating and Finishing Systems) has been a concern for many homebuyers, sellers and agents alike.  Its use increased sharply in the 1990s. In North America about 300, 000 homes have an EIFS exterior.  It is inexpensive and relatively easy to install and attractive.  Most importantly, EIFS has been connected to concealed rot in exterior wall cavities.
A Little History

In 1994, moisture damage to the interior of walls was being linked to EIFS. In August 1995, 32 EIFS clad homes in North Carolina were tested and 30 were found to have moisture problems. In January 1996, the National Association of Home Builders issued a "Builders Alert" about EIFS. In May 1996, Raleigh North Carolina, imposed a moratorium on the product through January 1997. In March 1996, the North Carolina Building Code Council adopted stringent guidelines for the application of EIFS mandating that a drainage system be installed in the exterior walls of EIFS homes. By September 1996, twelve class-action lawsuits had been launched in the States. In September 1996, Maryland Casualty Company notified its clients, who were contractors, that work with EIFS systems would no longer be insurable. At about the same time, a major relocation company advised its clients that it would eliminate the guarantee on EIFS homes for employees seeking their services during a transfer.

The Mortgage Division of the Chevy Chase Bank decided about the same time to no longer accept mortgages on houses built with Synthetic Stucco. In January 1997, the Georgia Association of Realtors changed its property disclosure statement to disclose whether the house was built with EIFS.

What Exactly Is It?
There are many different systems offered by various manufacturers, but in general EIFS wall systems consist of a wood frame wall (usually 2x4 or 2x6 lumber), covered with sheathing such as plywood, OSB, or gypsum board. Plastic foam insulation boards are then glued or fastened to the sheathing. A 1/16- to 1/4- inch-thick stucco base coat is troweled on to the insulation. A glass fiber reinforcing mesh is imbedded in the base coat. Finally, a finished coat is sprayed, troweled or rolled on. This finish coat provides the color and texture of the home. Many installations have no building paper or housewrap behind the stucco to act as a backup material.

What Is Happening
Rainwater appears to be getting into the wall systems through imperfections in the stucco. These include joints around windows and doors and penetrations from railings, wiring, plumbing, vents, etc. Once water gets behind the system it gets trapped, leading to mold, mildew and rot of the sheathing, studs, flooring and other framing members. EIFS houses often look good until sections of the wall are removed revealing concealed damage. The damage can even take place within the first few years of the home's life.

As most of the damage has been found in houses in coastal areas, some have suggested that condensation is a problem; however, since the most severe damage seems to show up around wall penetrations, condensation does not appear to be the culprit. The worst damage is often found below and beside windows.

There is little that can be done on existing systems short of re-siding or paying fanatical attention to keeping the water out. Caulking and flashing maintenance should be a high priority for people with synthetic stucco houses.

In the very newest installations, contractors are using building paper or housewrap behind the insulation to protect the sheathing. In addition, the newest installations are designed with a drainage system behind the insulation to allow any water, which does get in, to drain out. This is not unlike the drainage system found in a brick veneer home. These improvements should work but only if they are well constructed.

So far we know that areas of high rain fall, and particularly areas with rain accompanied by wind, result in houses with the most damage. Homes, which have no roof, overhang or very small overhang or many penetrations through the wall systems (i.e. lots of windows and doors) are also at risk.

Unfortunately, a visual inspection cannot tell the whole story, and until invasive testing becomes standardized and sufficient data becomes available for our area, concealed damage in synthetic stucco houses will remain a question mark.  If you were planning to purchase or sell a home with EIFS that was installed before 1998, we would recommend a full EIFS inspection be performed and included with your closing documents. 


Wet Basements

The words are all-too-familiar and many times blow the deal between buyers and sellers. But a wet basement or crawlspace does not necessarily mean a significant problem exists.  It has been reported that more than ninety-five percent of all houses have had, or will have, basement leakage at some point.   If your inspector sites a wet basement or crawlspace, keep a cool head and listen carefully if he or she recommends further investigation.  

Identifying the Problem:
The presence of efflorescence, a white powdery mineral deposit on the interior foundation walls, indicates moisture penetration. The severity of the problem, or whether the problem is active, is not indicated by the amount of efflorescence. In other words, just because a basement has efflorescence or stains does not mean it has a current water seepage problem.  Other clues are rusty nails in baseboards, rotted wood near floor level, rusted metal feet on appliances, mold and mildew, lifted floor tiles, storage on skids, peeling paint and the presence of dehumidifiers. One home I was in had three old broken dehumidifiers piled in the corner, kind-of-a-clue the seepage had been there for a while.

Corrective Action:
Poor surface drainage is one of the main causes of basement leaks or seepage. The ground should slope away from the house a rate of one inch per foot for at least the first six feet. The gutters and downspout systems must also drain water six feet away from the foundation. If the downspouts are disconnected, too short, broken or clogged, they should be redirected to discharge water above soil grade at least six feet away from the house.  Also, gutters should be kept clear of debris, otherwise they may leak water around the foundation and into the home.

Downspouts should be placed around the home every 30-40 feet from each other, otherwise a hard rain could overload the downspouts and saturate the soil around the foundation.

Basement stairwells and window wells may allow water to collect. Drains should be provided in the bottom of these. Where there are no drains, plastic dome covers over the window wells allow light into the basement while minimizing water and snow accumulation. 

More Extreme Measures:
In the vast majority of cases, basement seepage is not significant from a structural point of view and can be controlled relatively inexpensively, as discussed above. Many older stone foundations have been seeping water for over a hundred years and are still in good condition.  However, the presence of foundation cracks, damaged perimeter drainage tiles, a high water table (saturation around the home) or underground streams may call for more extreme corrective measures. These measures are used when chronic flooding occurs.

Sealing foundation cracks can be performed several ways with the cost of repairs varying. The approach taken depends on the specific crack; however, the most successful approach is sealing from the outside (Cost $500 - $900). Urethane or epoxy injection repairs can be done from the interior on poured concrete walls only (cost $300 - $500 per crack).   Many companies perform this type of work in northern Illinois and guarantee there work for life.

Excavating, damp-proofing and installing drainage tiles should be used as a last resort. Damp-proofing on the exterior typically involves parging a masonry foundation wall with a one-quarter inch layer of mortar covered with a bituminous or plastic membrane which extends down to the footings.

The drainage tile laid beside the footing is covered with gravel and filter paper. These tiles can often be damaged or clogged by roots and some localized repairs may be required. Because excavating on the exterior is expensive ($8,000 - $15,000 typically), an alternative is an interior drainage system. The cost of this approach is one-third to one-quarter the cost of exterior work. There are many cases where this proves satisfactory, although this must be judged on a case by case basis. Where underground streams and/or a high water table are present, sump pumps are usually required.   But for the vast majority of homes built in northeastern Illinois, the lower priced repairs are usually adequate.


Old Wiring

Recently some of our clients have reported back that they have had difficulty securing homeowners insurance for the house they want to purchase because we (correctly) identified that the house has knob & tube wiring.  Many insurance companies consider knob & tube wiring unsafe (or at higher risk), due primarily to its age.  And, as many of you know, mortgage companies require insurance before closing on a new home, thus, no insurance = no mortgage = no house!  Naturally, real estate agents have also become very upset with us when we report that the electrical system was functional, serviceable or in good condition, only to realize the deal is falling apart because the insurance is saying it is not.  Let's take a look at what all the fuss is about. 

Knob & tube wiring
Knob and tube wiring gets its name from the way it is installed.  There are ceramic tubes when the wires run through lumber framing, and knobs when the wires run along or next to lumber framing.  The two wires (there is no ground wire) are separated about four inches apart, one is the black hot, and the other is the white neutral (although some knob & tube wires are not different colors).  The connections for knob & tube wiring are open and visible.  The wires are spliced and soldered together with older style fibrous electrical tape around the splices.  Knob & tube wiring was installed in houses up until about 1945, although in rural areas until about 1950.

Modern wiring
There are three types of modern wiring; romex, armored cable, and conduit.  Most cities and suburbs now require conduit, but allow small sections of armored cable.  Rural areas in McHenry, Kane, and Lake Counties still allow romex.  Romex is a flexible plastic sheathed bundle of insulated wires, usually three or four wires (one being a bare ground wire).  The romex bundle is usually white, but recent styles include yellow and underground romex is usually gray.   Armored cable is like romex but has a metal flexible cover.  Conduit is a rigid pipe (metal or plastic) with wires inside the pipe.  Conduit is the most time consuming and expensive to install.  All modern wiring has connections that are made inside metal junction boxes. 

Modern wiring is usually #14 gauge or #12 gauge wires.  A #14 gauge wire is capable of handling up to 15 amps, while #12 gauge can handle 20 amps of electricity.   Knob & tube wiring was usually #12 gauge, although some #14 was used. 

So what?s the problem?
The problem has little to do with the original wiring itself; it has to do with how the wires have been maintained.  Most old houses did not have many electrical outlets.  As our electrical needs changed, unsuspecting homeowners would add outlets in the rooms by splicing into the existing old wires, making improper splices and improper taping.  Having completed over 4000 home inspections in the Chicagoland area, I have seen first hand many splices wrapped with things like; duct tape, hockey tape, masking tape, scotch tape, plastic bags, shoe laces, and even band-aids.  Sometimes there is no insulation at all over the splice.

When additional outlets are added, it could cause the fuses (or breakers) to blow.  The unsuspecting homeowner then puts in 25 or 30 amp fuses to solve the problem.  Allowing 25-30 amps to flow through these wires causes them to overheat, thus causing the insulation and copper wire to become brittle.  Brittle wire has a higher risk of arching to something flammable. 

What about grounding?
Knob and tube wiring does not have a ground wire.  A ground is necessary if you are plugging in appliances that have a third prong in the plug.  However, if the knob and tube wiring is limited to bedrooms, living room, dining room, etc, this is not necessarily a hazard.  Plugging in a two prong lamp, TV, or clock is just as safe as a three prong grounded outlet.

Knob and tube wiring is not necessarily dangerous.  If installed properly, with the insulation in good condition and not abused with over splicing and connections, can provide many more years of reliable service.  It is wiring that has been abused that is the potential hazard.  On its own, knob & tube wiring is not inherently a problem.  If the knob & tube wiring in on top of the attic floor, it could be easily nicked or the insulation could be worn off, causing a safety hazard.  If the knob & tube wiring is in a traveled area, even for just storage, I recommend it be protected or replaced.

At Home Check America we believe the insurance companies rejection of knob & tube wiring is a knee jerk reaction reminiscent of their immediate reactions to EIFS siding, 60-amp panel boxes, fuse boxes, radon, and now also with mold.  We hope the insurance industry will realize that this is not a black and white issue (no pun intended), and that the real issue is the condition of the wiring not the type. 


AN UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE - Explaining Truss Uplift

Truss uplift is a common phenomenon in homes built with roof truss systems.  A truss is a prefabricated roof structure, which holds up the roof decking wood, shingles, and top floor ceiling.  They are assembled, usually from 2x4 lumber, in a building material factory.  The 2x4?s are held together with either metal or plywood gusset plates. 

Trusses tend to be stronger, lighter, and less expensive than rafters.  Trusses are strong because they make use of the most efficient geometric shape, the triangle.  The outside members of a truss are called chords while the inner pieces are known as webs.  Each component is important because they apply pressure onto the other two sides of the triangle, establishing support balance between each other.  They are less expensive than rafters because the lumber thickness and lengths are smaller. 


If a house experiences truss uplift, the top floor ceiling literally lifts off the interior walls, usually in the winter, then drops again in the summer.  It may appear that the floors or walls have settled, but actually the ceiling has moved up, then down.   Sometimes the gap can be as much as an inch where interior walls meet the ceiling. 

Modern construction places the bottom chord of the truss below a deep blanket of insulation.  Even on the coldest days the bottom chord is nice and warm.  The top chords however, are above the insulation and get very cold in the well ventilated attic.   The bottom chords are warm and dry. As the warm air from the home travels through  the top chords they begin to condensate with the cold air of the winter season.  It's kind of like the condensation that occurs on the outside of a ice cold glass of water on a hot summer day, only in reverse.  As the top chords begin to absorb some moisture from the air, it causes them to elongate, or swell. 

With the top chords growing and the bottom chords shrinking, the truss arches up in the middle to account for the pressure differences, thus lifting the truss off the interior walls. 


From a structural standpoint it is not a major problem.  But cosmetically, it may cause cracks and separations in the drywall.  A common question clients ask us during the inspection is, What about those small cracks along the ceiling, aren't those a problem??  Many homeowners repair the cracks with drywall compound, only to have them reappear next year.

Some contractors have helped disguise truss uplift by securing the ceiling drywall to the top of the interior walls and not the trusses for 18 inches away from the interior walls.   The drywall flexes and stays fastened to the walls while the trusses lift above it.   Others use a decorative molding where the walls meet the ceilings.  They fasten the moldings to the ceiling but not to the walls.  As the ceilings move up, the molding go with the ceiling and cover any gap that may develop.   If this molding plan is used in your home, try to decorate with this in mind. 


Inspect The Inspector

What did they do before?
Ask your prospective home inspector what they did before they became a home inspector.  Many home inspectors were firemen, police officers, or insurance salespersons.  Home inspectors who were general contractors usually make the best home inspectors because they have been involved in all the activities of home construction.  General contractors are more familiar with foundations, concrete, framing, structural integrity, roofing, HVAC, plumbing, electric, drywall, trim and much more.  Oglesby adds, ?Unlike most home inspection companies out there, Home Check
America inspectors have ten years or more construction experience, plus management and customer service experience.?

What about insurance?
Proper certification and insurance is a must in our legal active society.  Ask your prospective inspector what certifications they have and who their insurance company is.  Only choose inspectors who have passed the National Home Inspectors exam.  Inspectors that are members of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) are considered in the upper half of credentialing, but membership is elective.  Not all insurance companies are equal either.  Only choose inspectors who have Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance that protects you the client, the inspector, and also the referring realtor. 

What kind of service can I expect?
Ask them what additional services they provide.  Most inspectors provide only the basic services.  Others provide additional services, like radon detection, lead based paint detection, water quality analysis, insect detection, EIFS analysis, and free home maintenance manuals which help the new homeowner properly maintain their home.  Although you may not want these additional services, the inspectors who do offer them are the best-trained inspectors. 

Franchise or not
There are several franchise companies in the home inspection business.  Each inspector who has bought into the franchise owns a region or county.  The franchise company trains their inspectors for one or two weeks.  Some home inspectors have attended more comprehensive twelve-week courses from internationally recognized engineering firms, such as the inspectors with Home Check
America in Elgin.  Experience and training is everything in this business. When you hire a home inspector, you are really hiring an individual person, not a company says Oglesby.  The individual person is the one looking at your furnace and giving you an opinion, not a company. Before making a decision on a home inspector, ask them what kind and how much training they have received.

What about the cost?
Most home inspections cost $225 to $325 depending on the size of the home.
Several home inspection companies offer $25 to $50 off coupons.

Finding a good inspector means doing some inspecting on the inspector.  Don't accept inspector's assurances that their franchise trains them well.  Ask to see their credentials. 


"What Are These Little Buttons On My Outlets?"

Elgin, IL- The little buttons on electrical outlets marked as test and reset are specially designed to better protect people from electric shock than ordinary outlets.  GFCI's or GFI's as they are commonly called, have been used in homes since the 1970's, although most notably in the last ten years.

GFCI?s are designed to shut power off to the outlet if there is a very small variance, interruption, or leak of any electricity, which ordinary outlets don't detect.  Normal outlets turn off by a fuse or breaker if more than 15 amps flows through the breaker.  Fuses or breakers prevent the wires from over heating, thus preventing fires.  But fuses and breakers do not protect people from electrocution.  Surprisingly enough, people can be killed by just 1 amp of electrical current.  GFCI's turn off power if a variation as small as .005 amps occurs.

How do they work?

A GFCI detects a small leak or variance in electrical current by comparing how much electricity comes back through the neutral (white) wire to how much was sent in the hot (black) wire.  If just .005 variance in amperage between the two wires is detected, the GCFI trips and will not allow electricity to pass through it.  Appliances that are malfunctioning, power surges and moisture in the outlet can cause these variances.

People can be an excellent grounding source for a leaking outlet.  The unsuspecting person may get a shock from a normal outlet, but is protected from a properly functioning GFCI outlet because the GFCI trips at the slightest fluctuation in electricity.

Where are they used?

GFCI's are now required by code for outdoor outlets and all areas within six feet of a water source inside the home, which includes bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages, basements, and the kitchen.

Do all GFCI?s have buttons?

No.  Some outlets are GFCI protected at the electric panel box with a special GFCI breaker that performs the same function as a GFCI outlet for all outlets running to that breaker.  Any outlet wired in series downstream of a GFCI outlet or GFCI breaker is protected.  So, some normal looking outlets may be GFCI protected.  Most hardware stores sell GFCI testers that will trip a GFCI when used.

Can older houses have GFCI?s?

Yes.  GFCI's can be added to any electrical system.  Home Check America inspectors recommend they be installed whenever they are absent in a home.  Although they do not replace the grounding system of the home, some codes do allow them in place of grounding in some cases.  They are more expensive than regular outlets ($10-$15 vs. 50-90 cents), but are an inexpensive protection from electric shocks. 


Frequently Asked Questions About Financing

What type of loan is the right one for me?
This is a good question, considering the number of loans available to people today. Much depends not on what type of loan you can get, but the type of loan you want. For example, loans such as the FHA/VA program and others allow you to buy a home for little or no money down. But how much money you put down on the loan is not the ultimate test of a loan. Many factors come into play.

Are you comfortable taking out a loan that varies in percentage, such as an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)? Perhaps you're comfortable with a mortgage that can take down your monthly payment, with a large final payment such as a balloon mortgage. Or you might find a fixed rate mortgage more your style, or perhaps you're looking at commercial property and need a commercial loan.

That covers the loan types. You're probably also wondering what factors within your control affect your ability to get a mortgage. Essentially, four factors affect your loan application status:
 Credit: Do you have a good credit history?
 Income: Is your Income appropriate for the property you'd buy?
 Monthly Debt: With your level of bill payments every month, can you afford the mortgage too?
 Type of Income: Are you self-employed? Do you work on commission only? How much do you rely upon bonuses for your income? How much of your income right now is due to overtime?
These are the more common factors assessed when companies decide to write a mortgage for a home or other property

How much of a down payment do I need?
The old rule about 20 percent down on a house no longer applies, although it is a good barometer of a person's financial situation. Housing costs have increased faster than wages over the past 30 years, so we'll all pay more for our houses in real dollars than our parents did. Lenders are aware that housing is more expensive than ever, and have come up with unique programs to help serve buyers.
Some of these we've discussed already, like FHA/VA programs. Your down payment requirement could be affected by your income and credit situation.

How much of a down payment do I need?
The old rule about 20 percent down on a house no longer applies, although it is a good barometer of a person's financial situation. Housing costs have increased faster than wages over the past 30 years, so we'll all pay more for our houses in real dollars than our parents did. Lenders are aware that housing is more expensive than ever, and have come up with unique programs to help serve buyers. Some of these we've discussed already, like FHA/VA programs. Your down payment requirement could be affected by your income and credit situation.

How do I know if I have good credit?
There are several ways to find out. If you've never been late--ever--with a payment, you have good credit. Many people who have been late with an occasional payment still have good credit.
You can find out your credit rating by letting Chicago Funding run a credit check for you, automatically and securely. Or, you can contact a credit bureau such as Equifax at (708) 449-0600, Trans Union at (312) 408-1400, or TRW at (800) 682-7654.

I just moved in the past six months. Will that affect my ability to get a loan?
No, not if it was a local move, or really anywhere within the
U.S. Sometimes things can get complicated if you moved from another country to our area. In the latter case, you may experience delays due to the difficulty in moving important paperwork over national lines.

How do I know if I have good credit?
There are several ways to find out. If you've never been late--ever--with a payment, you have good credit. Many people who have been late with an occasional payment still have good credit.
You can find out your credit rating by letting Chicago Funding run a credit check for you, automatically and securely. Or, you can contact a credit bureau such as Equifax at (708) 449-0600, Trans Union at (312) 408-1400, or TRW at (800) 682-7654.

I just moved in the past six months. Will that affect my ability to get a loan?
No, not if it was a local move, or really anywhere within the
U.S. Sometimes things can get complicated if you moved from another country to our area. In the latter case, you may experience delays due to the difficulty in moving important paperwork over national lines.

I just changed jobs. How will that affect me?
As long as you're in a similar industry, making similar money, it won't affect you. The only differences might be if you were salaried and now you are commission-based in your pay, if you're now self-employed, or went to an entirely different industry making less money.

I'm self-employed. Will the loan process be difficult?
The loan process for self-employed people varies on a number of factors. How much money you have available, the type of business you're in, and how you pay yourself might affect your loan status. Many complex issues are involved; your best bet is to make an appointment to visit Chicago Funding in person to determine your ability to get a mortgage that you want.

What do I need to consider if I or my spouse was divorced?
As long as your debts are separate and you do not jointly own property, divorce will not be a large hurdle in the application process. Your Chicago Funding loan officer will inform you of any documentation you might need.
How does bankruptcy affect my ability to get a loan?
In many cases, after the discharge of debtors in the bankruptcy process, two years of spotless credit is needed to have a clean slate. No late payments, nor judgments, nor collections can exist within a five-year period after bankruptcy is declared.

I just changed jobs. How will that affect me?
As long as you're in a similar industry, making similar money, it won't affect you. The only differences might be if you were salaried and now you are commission-based in your pay, if you're now self-employed, or went to an entirely different industry making less money.

Are there ways to buy a house for little or no down payment?
Depending on your credit, income, and debt situations, you could qualify for a down payment of only 3 percent. You should also check your eligibility for FHA/VA loans--in some cases, these programs offer loans for no money down.

Do I really need an attorney for the closing process?
We always recommend that you find an attorney for the closing process. Why? You probably know your job well, and know the type of house you'd like, but very few people are expert in the areas of plat surveys, liens, title transfers, etc. That's why we think it's a good idea to hire an attorney. For the small amount of money during the closing, they could save you many dollars and lots of headaches.

Will I pay an application fee? What is this fee designed to cover?
You will not pay an application fee. What you will be charged for, however, are fees to cover the property appraisal and credit report. There is no "application" fee.

Will I need mortgage insurance?
As long as you have at least 20 percent equity in the property--or can make a 20 percent down payment on the house you want--you will not pay for mortgage insurance. However, if you are buying property as an investment and you don't intend to live at that residence, you generally need to have more than 20 percent equity or down payment in a property to avoid paying mortgage insurance.

I'm interested in buying a property as an investment, not to live in.  What should I know?
As we discussed, you might need mortgage insurance unless you have a significant down payment. But as long as you qualify on income, credit, and debt for your own house, that's a good indicator that you'll be successful in getting a mortgage for your investment property.

What documentation do I need to start the loan process?
 Last two years' W-2 forms and tax returns
 Last two years' W-2 forms and tax returns
 Last 30 days' pay stubs
 Last 3 months' bank statements
 Name, address, and account numbers for all accounts (checking, savings, CD, money market, IRA, 401K)
 Name, address, and account numbers, and current balance for all credit cards
 Loan payment information (car, student loan, etc.)
 Complete mortgage or landlord information
 Divorce decree (if applicable)
 Realtor and attorney's telephone numbers and addresses
 If self-employed, business tax returns and certified P&L statement
 Appraisal/credit fee

What documentation do I need to start the loan process?
 Last two years' W-2 forms and tax returns
 Last two years' W-2 forms and tax returns
 Last 30 days' pay stubs
 Last 3 months' bank statements
 Name, address, and account numbers for all accounts (checking, savings, CD, money market, IRA, 401K)
 Name, address, and account numbers, and current balance for all credit cards
 Loan payment information (car, student loan, etc.)
 Complete mortgage or landlord information
 Divorce decree (if applicable)
 Realtor and attorney's telephone numbers and addresses
 If self-employed, business tax returns and certified P&L statement
 Appraisal/credit fee




Mold has received considerable media attention recently, as though this were a new
problem. While it's true that mold in homes can be a problem, this is nothing new, and
probably not news. However, since there is an increased level of awareness and concern,
let's look at the issue from a common sense perspective.

What is it?

Mold is a common term for a large family of fungi that have a cottony or wooly
appearance. There are nearly a million species of mold. Mold is a naturally occurring
organism that has been around far longer than us. Mold grows in buildings where there
is moisture, air, a food source, and whenever the temperature is between 40 and 140
degrees F. When conditions for growth are not met, mold becomes dormant; it does not
die. Mold spreads by dispersing spores through the air as well as by growth on or within
building materials.

Mold plays a key role

We can't eliminate mold, but this is a good thing because we need mold to break down
animal and vegetable matter. Mold plays a key role in the food chain. When we say
things are rotting or decaying, we are referring to mold at work. If there were no mold,
there would be no rot and we'd all be buried under all the leaves and trees that ever fell
down but never decayed.

Mold spores are everywhere

People sometimes tell us that they don't have mold in their home. We ask what happens
if they leave bread in a drawer for a month or don't take out the garbage for two weeks.
This helps them understand that no matter how clean they keep their home, mold spores
are always there ready to grow on any favorable host. There are always mold spores in
the air and there is always some mold in buildings, so the objective of a "mold-free
home" is not realistic.

How dangerous is mold?

Since it is normal for mold to be present in air and in buildings, its mere existence is not
necessarily a reason for alarm. But if mold is present in indoor air at levels higher than
would be found in outdoor air, or if a significant mold colony is growing on building
surfaces, it could be a cause for concern.

Media articles about "black mold," especially Stachybotrys, have terrified some people.  Actually, it is fairly common to find black Stachybotrys. chartarum in very small amounts in houses where there has been leakage or water entry. It is a toxic mold and it should be removed professionally.  But don't assume that anything black on the wall or ceiling is highly toxic mold. Other common species are also black but may be of low or no toxicity. For example, Chateomium glabo,S'um is allergenic rather than toxic. Clado,sporium csphaero,spermum is often found growing indoors on bathroom tile or refrigerator gaskets. It's a member of the most common mold family, Cladosporium, the "universal fungus." Mold in your house might be only a cosmetic concern. "Bluestain" or Ceratocy.s'tis /Ophistoma is common on framing lumber and we often find it in attics on the underside of roof sheathing. Unless one of these cosmetic molds is in a living space, no action is needed.

Air-borne spores may cause distress

People may react to mold spores alone. There does not always have to be a visible
growth to cause problems for sensitive people.

You can't tell by looking

You cannot tell what kind of mold you are dealing with by looking at it. Don't assume
that "black mold" is "bad" and that other mold is OK. Lots of black molds are
cosmetic concerns, not "toxic killers." Some light-colored molds, which are hard to see
in your house, can be a health concern. Some species of Penicillium and A.spergilli.s' are
often light-gray to green, and these are probably more common than their infamous
brother " Stachybotry.s' chartarum," and may be more toxic. Of course, other
species are used as medicine. So competent identification is important. An expert, trained
in microscopic identification of mold, can usually determine the identity of mold from
a physical sample. We cannot rely on the naked eye, or on mold color to identify

The home test kits are also not reliable.

The swab, culture, settlement dish, or simple air sample methods these kits use are fundamentally inaccurate: for example, the spores collected and "grown" in culture using these methods could be dead, fail to grow on the culture medium, and still be toxic if inhaled. These methods are not a reliable way to determine or characterize a possible mold problem in a building.

Keeping mold in its place

Although mold is needed and always with us, we want to keep mold in its place,
preferably outdoors. Wolves are a key part of the food chain too, but we don't want them
inside our homes. While we will always have some spores in our homes, the goal is to
keep the spores from growing to problem levels.

Prevention is the key

Four things have to be present to have a mold growth:

1. Mold spores

2. Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F

3. A moisture source.

4. A food source. This is wood or gypsum board, or that old bread in your bread box


So, how do we control mold growth?

I. We have said that mold spores are everywhere. So is their food. We can't control

2. People are not comfortable in their homes at temperatures below 40 degrees or
above 140 degrees, so this is no help.

3. The only thing left is moisture. The best way to prevent mold from growing is to
control moisture. This is lucky in a way because controlling moisture is
something we want to do in homes anyway.

Moisture sources

Sources of moisture in homes include:

1. Leaks into or through roofs walls, door, windows, basements, etc. The leaks that
come through usually get corrected quickly. The leaks that stay in walls, for
example, often don't get corrected because they are not noticed.

2. Leaks from plumbing or heating systems.

3. High humidity from cooking, bathing etc., resulting in condensation.

4. Air conditioning systems, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, sump pits and other places
where moisture is commonly present.

Getting rid of a mold problem - Step One - remove the mold

Most molds can be cleaned up easily with soap and water, or bleach solution.

If the mold species is allergenic or toxic and present in large quantity, special procedures
are necessary to assure that cleanup is performed safely and to prevent contamination
of other building areas or contents.


A word of caution

People who are allergic, a.sthmatic, infant, elder(v, immune-impaired, etc.,) should not
disturb mold and should not be in the area where mold remediation
is being
Consult with your doctor, health department or other professional before
tackling this job yourself.


Specialists with respirators, skin protection and eye protection should be called in to
clean up large amounts (more than 2 square feet) of toxic mold.

Maintenance is important

Don't forget to clean your refrigerator, including gaskets, coils, and evaporator tray.
Regular furnace and air conditioning service will help ensure that standing water or
chronic moisture is not an issue. Gutters and downspouts should be kept clear and leaks
should be corrected.

Closing comments

Mold can be a significant problem, but in most homes, good maintenance and common
sense are the best weapons. As home inspectors have been saying for years, moisture is
the biggest enemy of homes. Mold is just one of the results of high moisture levels.  Home Check
America tests topically for mold whenever 2 square feet or more of staining is discovered.  If you have any concerns about mold in your home, call our toll free number for advise or visit our website.

 By Tim Oglesby, Home Check America

 Home Check America is responsible for the content of its articles and has no affiliation with the RE/MAX organization.




Direct call, Regina Zak Tomas  773-520-1522
or email me at:

© 2001-2017 Reliance Network and RE/MAX Northern Illinois. All rights reserved. US Reg. Copyright TX-5-910-991, TX-5-910-992, TX-5-910-993, and TX-5-910-994.
Each RE/MAX® Office is Independently Owned and Operated. Equal Housing Opportunity.

Privacy Policy Terms of Use Chicago Real Estate Site Map