If You Decide Upon Search Engine Marketing Based Solely on Price, You Are Likely a Victim

Everyone loves a bargain. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with saving money or finding a great deal by shopping around. As a consumer, it almost feels like you have "won" something when you can compare notes with others and have the bragging rights to say, "You paid how much? Wow, you got ripped off! I got it for 30% less." From a business perspective, it's just good decision making to minimize expenses as much as possible by finding the lowest price on whatever product or service you need- most of the time, that is. There are exceptions.

If your purchase is shrink wrapped in plastic and branded by a manufacturer, you can be somewhat assured that finding it somewhere else at a lower price is a "safe" bonus. In most product and service industries, when comparing generic product labels to brand names the old expression, "You get what you pay for" applies as a universal caution that quality comes with a price tag. The moral of the story with such expressions including, "Pay me now or pay me later" illustrate that you really don't get much of a bargain by buying offshoot products and services. In most cases, the knockoff product breaks prematurely or the discount service needs to be redone (in part or in whole) to make it right. At the end of the day, cutting corners usually results in spending more time and money later to get what you thought you were getting in the first place, and any savings that you initially realized is negated.

The same is true for your business' marketing efforts on the Web. Unfortunately, many website developers avoid discussing what it actually takes to get a positive return on investment from your website. Whether it's because they don't really know what's involved or because they want to get whatever money they can from you before asking for more, the topic of marketing and promotion is rarely covered during the design process. For the website developer, it's safer that way. Once your website is built (and you have paid them), the afterthought question, if it gets asked at all, is typically, "What are you going to do to promote your website?" The question comes as casually as, "Do you want fries with that?" The topic of marketing is almost treated as though it were optional.

It's not- if you want your website to pay for itself and bring you new business.

For your website to perform, you must ensure that its pages are constructed with certain features and characteristics that are important to the search engines so that search engines (like Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.) can properly and effectively consider listing the site when someone searches for what you sell. The process of adjusting the site is called search engine optimization, and it involves more than just pasting a few keywords on the pages of your site. Text, links, font, typesetting, image labeling, and other characteristics are all adjusted as part of the optimization process. Or at least, they should be.

After your website is optimized (prepared for the search engines), it then must be marketed (promoted to the search engines). Yes, that means more money. By now, you're probably thinking, "When will it end? How do I stop the bleeding? Won't people just find me because I have an optimized site?"

Unfortunately, your website is not like the ball field in the 1989 movie, "Field of Dreams". In other words, it's not a case of the coined expression, "If you build it, they'll come". For your website to develop a findable presence on the Internet amidst all of the competition, some kind of action is necessary to get the search engines to take notice of it. Search engine marketing is performed by many methods, including article publication, blog posting, social media, link building campaigns, pay-per-click, subscribed directory listings, and much more. Just as traditional marketing can be done by many methods (television, radio, newspaper, phone book listings, magazine ads, billboards, etc), marketing your website on the Internet is an expansive (and often expensive) process.

Aside from the methods, other significant differences between search engine marketing and traditional marketing are your audience and your competition. In traditional marketing, your audience is people and your competition is anyone who sells what you sell in your marketplace. It's different on the Web. On the Internet, your target audience for marketing efforts is not just people, it is the search engines as well. And your competition is not just other service providers in your area, it is any document, video, article, blog post, or other company that is taking up space where you want your business to appear.

Similar to traditional marketing efforts, your dollars are 100% at risk with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). There are no guarantees that people who find you will pull out their wallets and buy what you are selling. Inexperienced and unethical people who tout themselves as search engine "experts" count on that little detail. There are numerous deceptive ways that unscrupulous fraudsters can artificially inflate the amount of traffic that your website receives without bringing any real, qualified customers to you. Often times, such fraudsters lure you in with lofty promises and seemingly bargain basement prices. Even some of the legitimate companies in the SEM arena can be misleading. The term "Buyer Beware" applies in full force, and the only defense you have is to get a basic education on SEO/SEM topics.

Therefore, read on.

As we've discussed above, Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing are not black-and-white, cut-and-dried, plain-and-simple processes. You can receive two price quotes from completely different companies claiming to optimize your site, one for $200 and one for $2000, and they are both "telling the truth." Assuming that both companies are honest and ethical, the price difference does not necessarily reflect that one is a bargain while the other is overpriced. To explain the difference, you must look at the extent to which your site will be optimized. For example:

  • Will each page on your site be optimized with the same set of keywords throughout the site, or will each page be individually optimized with a unique set of keywords relevant to the content on the page?
  • Will images on the page be adjusted and "labeled" with keywords in the programming on the page, or will they be left as generic?
  • Will text characteristics like font size, font style, use of headings, etc. be adjusted along with the text content, or will the words simply be changed to reflect keywords on the site?
  • Will the keywords be selected, analyzed, and verified based on market research data to determine demand, relevance, and applicability, or will the words be selected by intuitive guessing?
  • How will such characteristics of keyword density, keyword dilution, placement "above the fold", and geo-targeting be addressed, or will these strategic elements of SEO be omitted from your project's scope of work?
  • Will the physical characteristics of the site (use of frames, tables, site maps, page names, navigation structure, etc.) be addressed, adjusted, and corrected as appropriate, or will the scope of work involve just quick tweaks, working with what's already there?
  • The list goes on...

The $200 deal may take eight to ten months to achieve mediocre results, if any results at all. The $2000 dollar deal may result in top rankings within a couple of weeks, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars each month in sales. Maybe-but not guaranteed.

You see, there are varying levels of detail to the extent that your website can be optimized. It's not a matter of "is it optimized, or isn't it?" Knowing that, it becomes easy for one company to undercut another in price, sometimes substantially, using the same language that "We will optimize your website."

I wish it were a simple equation that could be summed up by saying, "You pay less, you get less", but that is not the case either.

To complicate the issue, we need to examine the ethics of the service provider involved. Here is where you really need to do your homework to protect yourself. You might be in safe haven if you initiated contact with the SEO/SEM provider based on a referral from another happy customer, but more times than not, you are the one receiving a call from a company that is soliciting. Buyer Beware.

Before you commit to doing business with anyone regarding the marketing "fate" of your company, check them out thoroughly.

  • What is their Better Business Bureau rating?
  • Do a search for the company on the Internet using the company's (or freelancer's) name to obtain any information about them. If the company is legitimate, you should see plenty of references to them. If they're shady, you may see evidence of lawsuits, complaints or bad press associated with them. Be sure to explore what you find, and dig a little deeper.
  • Obtain references and examples of client success stories that you can verify yourself by doing keyword searches on the web. If an SEO/SEM company claims to have achieved great placement for their customers, your response should be, "Show me." If they refuse or cannot produce examples, walk away.

In the SEO/SEM world, "You get what you pay for" is a best-case scenario. Since there are no guarantees on producing results, it is very easy for rogue fraudsters to overcharge for services, deliver nothing, and laugh all the way to the bank. Adding insult to injury, if you sign a year-long contract for ongoing marketing services, those same fraudsters can legally bind you into throwing good money after bad, month after month, and if you refuse to pay, they can sue you and collect even more. I'll emphasize it again, you should absolutely look out for your best interests and perform some kind of background check on anyone who asks for your Internet marketing money.

Even some of the larger, popular phone book companies must be questioned. If you have been in business for any length of time, you will undoubtedly be solicited by a telemarketer from one or more online phone book directories. You are low-hanging fruit for them-after all, they own a database of phone numbers and business names and business-to-business calls are exempt from the Do-Not-Call registry, so why not exploit it?

When you are approached by such companies, the sales pitch is often geared towards getting your business (not necessarily your website) found at the "top of the listings, on page one". In the same breath, the sales person may inter-mingle a comment about being partnered with a search engine company like Google, or some such statement. Although the sales person may not be intentionally trying to be deceptive, the resulting confusion is the same: In these conversations, the business owner usually ends up (mistakenly) thinking that his or her website will be guaranteed a top position in the organic search engine listings on page one of Google (or other search engines) for selected keywords.

What is really being promised, usually? For a fee, the business will receive a top placement listing within the online directory of the company that is soliciting the business owner. That listing will be for the selected keywords, but it will not be the business website at all. It may be for a profile page or for a template landing page, but it will not necessarily be found anywhere on Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc. in the organic listings. What of all the talk about being "partnered" with the search engine company? Whether stated for informational purposes, credibility, or as a "red herring" to distract and mislead, it's pretty common for phone directory companies to do enough business with the search engines' pay-per-click programs to achieve "partner" status... but that status guarantees you nothing. It just means that the phone directory company met the search engine company's administrative and financial requirements to be dubbed a "partner". If a directory listing company makes claims about top placements for your business, insist that they show you examples of other clients whose websites show up in the organic search engine listings under various keywords other than the business names. Don't be surprised if they can't, at which "no, thank you" is an appropriate close to the sales conversation.

Like SEO, SEM involves more than one method or process to be effective. The success of your SEM efforts relies on the extent of your promotion efforts and how well diversified they are. Another old expression, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket" applies to the methods used in promoting your business. If you find yourself in the situation of doing only pay-per-click, your organic search engine positioning will suffer. If you find that you're paying someone to do just blog posting for you, your organic marketing is imbalanced. The price tag may (and probably will) be much lower than if you used a competent broadened strategy focused on your local, regional, or national markets, but paying less to get nothing in return is just plain dumb.

It's smart to compare SEO/SEM service providers and cost does need to be considered. But cost should not be the deciding factor. It should be a contributing factor. More importantly, credibility, experience, demonstrated results, level of detail, and diversification of methods need to weigh in on the decision, too. If you make your decision based solely on price, by the time you figure out that what you're doing isn't working, you are most likely out hundreds or thousands of dollars and bound under a contract to spend thousands more. How does that bargain feel now?

Construction - Building Industry Safety and Good Lifts by CIF

Construction Industry Federation (CIF) actively represents and serves over 3,000 members covering businesses in all areas of the Irish construction industry through a network of 13 Branches in 3 Regions throughout Ireland and through its 37 Sectoral Associations.

CIF delivers its services to members either directly or through its Branch Network and Sectoral Associations. Member firms come from all over sectors of the industry and span all sizes of firms from the very small to the very large. The 37 different Associations are grouped in four key categories:

General Contractors, mechanical & electrical, specialist contractors, home builders

Each local CIF Branch will include members from each of these four sectors.

CIF's team of construction experts know the industry from experience, from member feedback and from research. As a member you too can benefit from our problem solving expertise.

What they Do

The CIF engages with Government, professional groups, business groups and the social partners on our members' behalf. They monitor issues and trends, initiate proposals and act in our members' interests at local, national and EU levels.

13 Branches

Represent members at local level throughout Ireland. Branch members and dedicated regional staff deal with issues affecting their localities and regions. They contribute to national policies through representation on the Federations Executive Body.

37 Associations

Represent general contracting, house building and specialist firms in Ireland's construction industry providing a forum for members to develop initiatives and deal with problems affecting each sector of the industry.

CIF Safety Services assist members in implementing best safety and health practices for the prevention of accidents. CIF Safety Services provides an extensive range of advice on Safety, Health and Welfare issues and also presents training courses designed specifically for the Irish Construction Industry as well as individual member company needs.

Public Consultation - Draft Working on Roads Code of Practice for Contractors with Three or Less Employees

The Health and Safety Authority has developed a draft Working on Roads Code of Practice for Contractors with Three or Less Employees which it intends to publish in accordance with section 60 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (No. 10 of 2005).

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires all employers to have a safety statement for all workplaces which is based on written risk assessments. This Code of Practice allows employers, who employ up to three people and are engaged in road works, to meet the legal requirement to have a safety statement in a simple and easy way.

This Code of Practice is based on the Health and Safety Authority's Safe System of Work Plans (SSWP). The SSWP relies heavily on pictograms to explain and clarify hazards and controls, thus creating a wordless document where safety can be communicated to all workers regardless of literacy or language skills.

At present there are five SSWP for employers to use; each one covers typical construction activities: Ground Works; House Building; Demolition; New Commercial Buildings and Civil Engineering. These SSWP are covered by the Code of Practice for Contractors with Three or Less Employees published in 2008.

This supplementary Code of Practice deals specifically with the Working on Roads SSWP. This code of practice can be used by any trade engaged in road works.

Operation of Passenger and Goods Lifts

Following a recent fatal accident involving operation of a goods lift, the Health and Safety Authority is asking all employers to ensure that the lifts on their premises have undergone the necessary thorough examination by a competent person.The HSAA would advise all employers in all sectors that passenger and goods lifts including pavement hoists and dumb waiters, are subject to requirements set out in chapter 2 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations, [S.I No.299 and 732 of 2007].Lifts must have a periodic thorough examination by a competent person every 6 months. Reports of such examinations shall be kept available for inspection by a HSA inspector. All repairs required to lifts must also be carried out by a competent person. Under no circumstances should goods lifts be used for carrying passengers unless they meet all the requirements for passenger lifts. All employees should be clearly instructed on the dangers of inappropriate use of goods lifts.Lifts which are not designed for lifting persons shall be clearly marked to this effect. Employers are required to maintain a register of lifting equipment which shall also be kept available for inspection by a HSA inspector. Employers who currently have either passenger or goods lifts on their premises should ensure that they have undergone the required thorough examination and that the risks associated with the use of such lifts are addressed in the Safety Statement to ensure that these risks are controlled.

Electro-Technical council of Ireland (ETCI) launched its new publication ET215:2008 'Guide to the Maintenance, Inspection and Testing of Portable Equipment (Electrical Appliances and Tools) in the Workplace. This Guide is intended to help employers meet their statutory duties in this regard. The Guide is available as a free download.

Construction Industry in Albania and Tax Administration

General overview of construction industry in Albania

Construction is one of the most dynamic sectors of the Albanian economy, with a real growth of 14% for the recently period of 2008. Construction activity is concentrated in the major urban centers. State participation in the construction sector is mainly focused on infrastructure and engineering constructions. State financing for engineering constructions constitute 85 % of total state financed construction.

Private sector construction is mainly focused on flats and buildings for families, which comprise about 82% of the total financing of private construction. The more people in the economy, the greater the demand for housing. it is households that demand housing services: typically one household per house. The size and demographic composition of households is variable and not entirely exogenous.
Construction Industry - Accounting and Tax Legislation

Invoices between the owner/builder and the subcontractors should be standard GDT invoices and are required to be raised on a monthly basis. All other suppliers' invoices will be obtained as and when supplies are made, e.g. when cement and steel rods are delivered. Other accounting records such as the sales and purchase ledgers will be present together with a stock inventory. The records will follow the normal pattern of accounting, however, the accounts may relate to one particular construction. In the event a building contractor is involved in the more than one construction it will be necessary for the accounts to reflect the costs for each site separately so as to be able to determine the final cost in total. There is likely to be a building account, where all the costs relating to that particular construction are itemized.

Taxation of construction and repair works includes:

1. VAT
2. Profit tax and Personal Income Tax
3. Withholding tax
4. Dividend taxation
5. Local taxes and;
6. Employment taxes

One of the amendments to the Albanian Value Added Tax Act, includes the supply of buildings, except in the process of construction, is an exempted supply and also the renting of buildings is an exempted supply, except in cases of a) renting for a period of not more than two months; b) accommodation in hotels or resort buildings.

Since 2005 various interpretations were given by GTD to clarify misunderstandings with respect to land and buildings. To understand the implications of VAT and buildings, certain key definitions should be explained.

Land and building

The person desirous of having a building constructed is the person "erecting" such building. Leasing a land or a site is an exempted supply, except the cases when the land is used for parking of transport vehicles and other means of transport. The parking of means of transport and other movable vehicles is VAT taxable. Services supply in construction, thus the process of construction and maintenance of buildings, are taxable supplies. The renting of buildings, unless they are public property, by the central or local government authorities, is taxable. Leasing of public buildings by central or local government bodies shall be considered an exempted supply for VAT purposes. The definition of the "ground", according to this law, implies an area unprocessed, unattended, undeveloped, not containing any erections, except for simple divisive walls or fences that determine the borders of such area. Building implies a fixed construction on the ground, or part of that structure (such as a room or an apartment), which includes the ground on which it stands as well as the surroundings included in the sale, but does not comprise roulots or trailers.

Specialties of VAT treatment

On the basis of VAT Albanian law minimum taxable on buildings for dwelling purposes on the process of construction is based minimum fiscal price and the construction surface.

Minimum orientating prices for fiscal purposes on the process of construction of buildings for dwelling purposes are defined by Decision of Council of Ministers after consultation with Builders Association of Albania.

Each month the constructor is required to present a 'work in progress' report that is required to be checked by the auditor. A technical construction engineer belonging to the GTD estimates the amount of work that has taken place in the month and the auditor then reconciles the estimate with the stock movement of the goods. Additionally, account is taken of all other expenses, i.e. cost of the land, wages, and social insurance payments, electricity etc. Once the engineer has completed his work the auditor checks the movement of the stock to ensure the figures reconcile with the amount of work estimated to have been completed.

To the total estimate cost of the month's work a mark-up of between 6 - 10% is added and VAT is paid on the total. VAT from purchases is allowed to be deducted in the normal way.

On conclusion of the whole construction reconciliation is conducted between the VAT paid monthly and the VAT due on the final sale. The difference is said to be minimal!

The seller is not required to charge VAT on the eventual sale of the apartments, assuming it to be an apartment block.
If the work is paid in advance, then the taxable person receiving the advanced payment is obliged to issue an invoice and register this invoice in the register of sales belonging to the taxable period in which that advanced payment was made.

Profit tax and personal income tax

In construction and repair projects extending over one calendar year, the final determination of the profit and losses shall be made every year and not in which the project ends. The income calculated in the year in which the temporary acceptance is made is taxed under the legislation of the same year. The profit tax rate is 10%. Enterprises must file profit tax returns until March 31st of the following year and pay the tax promptly until the end of the month in which filing is made.

Sale of immovable property, land and building shall be taxed at 10% of the realized capital gains. Such condition is not applicable in the cases when there is an exchange of the right on the ownership of the land with the right of the ownership of the building constructed on that land.

Withholding tax (taxation of project-in-progress)

According to the Income Tax Law, both work advances and progress invoice amounts paid to those performing the work, i.e. contractors or subcontractors, are subject to withholding tax at a rate of 10%.

Dividend taxation

In construction projects, final determination of the profit and losses shall be made every year; profit from the project is distributed afterwards.

Under the current regulations in Albania, dividend withholding tax rate is 10% if dividend is distributed to non-residents and resident individuals. Dividend distributions to resident corporations are exempt from withholding tax. However, the bilateral tax treaties, which may determine lower tax rates, should also be considered.

Tax treatment of construction and repair works performed outside Albania

Profits from construction and repair work and technical services performed outside Albania, which are added to the income generated in Albania, are exempt from corporate tax regardless of whether such profits are transferred to Albania or not.

On the other hand, should these kinds of profits be distributed to the shareholders, they are taxed as dividends.

Special Tax Audits in case of merging, fusion or splitting of construction companies

Merging includes more than all fixed assets and liabilities of the company merging company with the company that takes over. The rights and obligations of the merging company pass to the company that takes it over. The decisions to audit a merging company are issued in the name and registration number of the company that takes it over. The authority to represent the merged company has already been transferred through merging to the company that takes over. The decision to audit a company that has been transferred through merging covers only the time to the moment of merging. If the audit needs to cover the time after the merging, then it is necessary to request another audit order for the company that has taken over the former company. If the merging occurs while the audit is in process, the parties automatically change, in other words, the entire communication is made with the company that is taking over.

The merged company is subject to taxes until the moment the merge is executed. The company that takes over is considered to have been exercising the business of the merged company since the beginning of the last fiscal year of the merged company; If the audit focuses on the review of operation dating before or after the merging day, then it is necessary to prepare to audit memos, one for each company. Through merging, one or more companies can transfer their heritage to an existing company or a new company established by them, or to a temporarily created "partnership". Through splitting, a company can also transfer its heritage to some existing companies or some new companies.
Such opportunities are open to companies in the process of liquidation, provided that the distribution of their assets among the partners has not been subject to execution. The partners of the companies transferring their heritage in the framework of the above-mentioned operations, benefit shares of the initial capital or stock from the benefiting company or companies. Sometimes they can benefit compensation in cash, the value of which cannot exceed 10% of the nominal value of the initial capital shares or stock.

If the operation includes the creation of new companies, each of them should be established according the rules that apply for the form of the company being created. Merging or splitting causes the disintegration without liquidation of the disintegrated companies and their heritage is completely transferred to the benefiting companies, in the condition it is at the moment the operation is finalized.

However, no action is taken to exchange the initial capital shares or stock of the benefiting company/companies with the initial capital shares or stock of the merged or split company/companies if such shares are owned by:

- The benefiting company or a person acting on its behalf or to the benefit of this company.
- The merged or split company or a person acting on its behalf or to the benefit of this company.

Merging or splitting enters in force:

- When one or some new companies are created: on the date when the last of the newly created companies is registered in the commercial register.
- In other cases: on the date of the last meeting of the assembly approving the operation, except cases when the contract foresees that the operation will enter in force on another date, which should be no later than the closing date of the ongoing financial year of the benefiting company/companies, and no sooner than the closing date of the closed financial year of the company/companies that are transferring their heritage.

The partners of a company can agree to re-split the company, instead of liquidating it. It often happens that there is a real split. We can talk of a real split when the partners of a company take over parts of the company's activity and run them as separate companies.

What next?...influencing compliance behaviour with tax professionals...

Being able to deal with taxpayers through their agents substantially reduces the cost of tax administration. Think of what life would be like for a tax administration if there were no tax professionals. Some people who work for tax administrations might say that life would be much easier without them. Yes, there might not be so much tax planning, or challenges to taxation, and taxpayers might be more willing to accept tax administration's view. This might make life easier for the tax officials. But given the complexity of tax system for anyone that it's no part of tax administration, despite all the efforts at simplification, think of what the disadvantages might be?

Instead of funnelling the interaction with businesses and corporations through tax professionals, it would be necessary to interact directly with an additional two-three thousands subcontractors and supply businesses and over one hundred VIP construction taxpayers. This would have huge cost implications for tax administration, as more employees would be needed to service the substantial additional contacts and queries that would ensue.

It would also be immeasurably harder for tax administration to ensure that all taxpayers understood their obligations and this would adversely affect voluntary compliance.

For these reasons, tax structures recently are trying to make it as easy as possible for tax professionals to meet their client's compliance obligations and we provide a variety of support services and measures to support and achieving client's compliance.

Home Inspections - A Question and Answer Guide

A home inspection is an evaluation of the visible and accessible systems and components of a home (plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical, structure, roof, etc.) and is intended to give the client (buyer, seller, or homeowner) a better understanding of the home's general condition. Most often it is a buyer who requests an inspection of the home he or she is serious about purchasing. A home inspection delivers data so that decisions about the purchase can be confirmed or questioned, and can uncover serious and/or expensive to repair defects that the seller/owner may not be aware of. It is not an appraisal of the property's value; nor does it address the cost of repairs. It does not guarantee that the home complies with local building codes or protect a client in the event an item inspected fails in the future. [Note: Warranties can be purchased to cover many items.] A home inspection should not be considered a "technically exhaustive" evaluation, but rather an evaluation of the property on the day it is inspected, taking into consideration normal wear and tear for the home's age and location. A home inspection can also include, for extra fees, Radon gas testing, water testing, energy audits, pest inspections, pool inspections, and several other specific items that may be indigenous to the region of the country where the inspection takes place. Home inspections are also used (less often) by a seller before listing the property to see if there are any hidden problems that they are unaware of, and also by homeowners simply wishing to care for their homes, prevent surprises, and keep the home investment value as high as possible.

The important results to pay attention to in a home inspection are:

1. Major defects, such as large differential cracks in the foundation; structure out of level or plumb; decks not installed or supported properly, etc. These are items that are expensive to fix, which we classify as items requiring more than 2% of the purchase price to repair.

2. Things that could lead to major defects - a roof flashing leak that could get bigger, damaged downspouts that could cause backup and water intrusion, or a support beam that was not tied in to the structure properly.

3. Safety hazards, such as an exposed electrical wiring, lack of GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) in kitchens and bathrooms, lack of safety railing on decks more than 30 inches off the ground, etc.

Your inspector will advise you about what to do about these problems. He/she may recommend evaluation - and on serious issues most certainly will - by licensed or certified professionals who are specialists in the defect areas. For example, your inspector will recommend you call a licensed building engineer if they find sections of the home that are out of alignment, as this could indicate a serious structural deficiency.

Home Inspections are only done by a buyer after they sign a contract, right?

This is not true! As you will see when you read on, a home inspection can be used for interim inspections in new construction, as a maintenance tool by a current homeowner, a proactive technique by sellers to make their home more sellable, and by buyers wanting to determine the condition of the potential home.

Sellers, in particular, can benefit from getting a home inspection before listing the home. Here are just a few of the advantages for the seller:

· The seller knows the home! The home inspector will be able to get answers to his/her questions on the history of any problems they find.

· A home inspection will help the seller be more objective when it comes to setting a fair price on the home.

· The seller can take the report and make it into a marketing piece for the home.

· The seller will be alerted to any safety issues found in the home before they open it up for open house tours.

· The seller can make repairs leisurely instead being in a rush after the contract is signed.

Why should I get a home inspection?

Your new home has dozens of systems and over 10,000 parts - from heating and cooling to ventilation and appliances. When these systems and appliances work together, you experience comfort, energy savings, and durability. Weak links in the system, however, can produce assorted problems leading to a loss in value and shortened component life. Would you buy a used car without a qualified mechanic looking at it? Your home is far more complicated, and to have a thorough inspection that is documented in a report arms you with substantial information on which to make decisions.

Why can't I do the inspection myself?

Most homebuyers lack the knowledge, skill, and objectivity needed to inspect a home themselves. By using the services of a professional home inspector, they gain a better understanding of the condition of the property; especially whether any items do not "function as intended" or "adversely affect the habitability of the dwelling" or "warrant further investigation" by a specialist. Remember that the home inspector is a generalist and is broadly trained in every home system.

Why can't I ask a family member who is handy or who is a contractor to inspect my new home?

Although your nephew or aunt may be very skilled, he or she is not trained or experienced in professional home inspections and usually lacks the specialized test equipment and knowledge required for an inspection. Home inspection training and expertise represent a distinct, licensed profession that employs rigorous standards of practice. Most contractors and other trade professionals hire a professional home inspector to inspect their own homes when they themselves purchase a home!

What does a home inspection cost?

This is often the first question asked but the answer tells the least about the quality of the inspection. Fees are based according to size, age and various other aspects of the home. Inspection fees from a certified professional home inspector generally start under $300. An average price for a 2,000 square foot home nationally is about $350-$375. What you should pay attention to is not the fee, but the qualifications of your inspector. Are they nationally certified (passed the NHIE exam)? Are they state certified if required?

How long does the inspection take?

This depends upon the size and condition of the home. You can usually figure 1.2 hours for every 1,000 square feet. For example, a 2,500 square foot house would take about 3 hours. If the company also produces the report at your home, that will take an additional 30-50 minutes.

Do all homes require a home inspection?

Yes and No. Although not required by law in most states, we feel that any buyer not getting a home inspection is doing themselves a great disservice. They may find themselves with costly and unpleasant surprises after moving into the home and suffer financial headaches that could easily have been avoided.

Should I be at the inspection?

It's a great idea for you be present during the inspection - whether you are buyer, seller, or homeowner. With you there, the inspector can show you any defects and explain their importance as well as point out maintenance features that will be helpful in the future. If you can't be there, it is not a problem since the report you receive will be very detailed. If you are not present, then you should be sure to ask your inspector to explain anything that is not clear in the report. Also read the inspection agreement carefully so you understand what is covered and what is not covered in the inspection. If there is a problem with the inspection or the report, you should raise the issues quickly by calling the inspector, usually within 24 hours. If you want the inspector to return after the inspection to show you things, this can be arranged and is a good idea, however, you will be paying for the inspector's time on a walkthrough since this was not included in the original service.

Should the seller attend the home inspection that has been ordered by the buyer?

The seller will be welcome at the inspection (it is still their home) although they should understand that the inspector is working for the buyer. The conversation that the inspector has with the buyer may be upsetting to the seller if the seller was unaware of the items being pointed out, or the seller may be overly emotional about any flaws. This is a reason why the seller might want to consider getting their own inspection before listing the home.

Can a house fail a home inspection?

No. A home inspection is an examination of the current condition of your prospective home. It is not an appraisal, which determines market value, or a municipal inspection, which verifies local code compliance. A home inspector, therefore, cannot not pass or fail a house. The inspector will objectively describe the home's physical condition and indicate which items are in need of repair or replacement.

What is included in the inspection?

The following list is not exhaustive. Not all of these may be in the inspection you get, but the inspector will be following a standardized checklist for the home:
· Site drainage and grading
· Driveway
· Entry Steps, handrails
· Decks
· Masonry
· Landscape (as it relates to the home)
· Retaining walls
· Roofing, flashings, chimneys, and attic
· Eaves, soffits, and fascias
· Walls, doors, windows, patios, walkways
· Foundation, basement, and crawlspaces
· Garage, garage walls, floor, and door operation
· Kitchen appliances (dishwasher, range/oven/cooktop/hoods, microwave, disposal, trash compactor)
· Laundry appliances (washer and dryer)
· Ceilings, walls, floors
· Kitchen counters, floors, and cabinets
· Windows and window gaskets
· Interior doors and hardware
· Plumbing systems and fixtures
· Electrical system, panels, entrance conductors
· Electrical grounding, GFCI, outlets
· Smoke (fire) detectors
· Ventilation systems and Insulation
· Heating equipment and controls
· Ducts and distribution systems
· Fireplaces
· Air Conditioning and controls
· Heat Pumps and controls
· Safety items such as means of egress, TPRV valves, railings, etc.

Other items that are not a part of the standard inspection can be added for an additional fee:
· Radon Gas Test
· Water Quality Test
· Termite Inspection (usually performed by a separate company)
· Gas Line Leak Test (usually performed by the gas company)
· Sprinkler System Test
· Swimming Pool and Spa Inspection
· Mold Screening (sometimes performed by a separate company)
· Septic System Inspection (usually performed by a separate company)
· Alarm System (usually performed by a separate company)

We recommend getting a Radon Test if your prospective home falls into an area of the country with known Radon seepage, since Radon gas produces cancer second only to cigarette smoking and can be easily mitigated by installing a vent system. We also recommend a water test to make sure you do not have bacteria in the water supply. Water can also be tested for Radon.

What is not included in the inspection?

Most people assume that everything is inspected in depth on inspection day. This misunderstanding has caused many a homebuyer to be upset with their inspector. The inspections we do are not exhaustive and there is a good reason for this. If you hired someone with licenses for heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing, engineering, etc. to inspect your house, it would take about 14 hours and cost you about $2000! It is much more practical to hire a professional inspector who has generalist knowledge of home systems, knows what to look for, and can recommend further inspection by a specialist if needed. Your inspector is also following very specific guidelines as he/she inspects your home. These are either national guidelines (ASHI - American Society of Home Inspectors, InterNACHI - International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) or state guidelines. These guidelines are carefully written to protect both your home and the inspector. Here are some examples: We are directed to not turn systems on if they were off at the time of the inspection (safety reasons); we are not allowed to move furniture (might harm something); not allowed to turn on water if it is off (possible flooding), and not allowed to break through a sealed attic hatch (possible damage). The downside of this practice is that by not operating a control, by not seeing under the furniture, and not getting into the attic or crawlspace, we will might miss identifying a problem. However, put into perspective, the chances of missing something serious because of this is quite low, and the guideline as it relates to safety and not harming anything in the home is a good one. There are other items that 95% of inspectors consider outside a normal inspection, and these include inspecting most things that are not bolted down (installed in the home) such as electronics, low voltage lighting, space heaters, portable air conditioners, or specialized systems such as water purifiers, alarm systems, etc.

What if there are things you can't inspect (like snow on the roof)?

It just so happens that some days the weather elements interfere with a full home inspection! There isn't much we can do about this either. If there is snow on the roof we will tell you we were unable to inspect it. Of course we will be looking at the eves and the attic, and any other areas where we can get an idea of condition, but we will write in the report that we could not inspect the roof. It is impractical for us to return another day once the snow melts, because we have full schedules. However, you can usually pay an inspector a small fee to return and inspect the one or two items they were unable to inspect when they were there the first time. This is just the way things go. If you ask the inspector for a re-inspection, they will usually inspect the items then at no extra charge (beyond the re-inspection fee).

Will the inspector walk on the roof?

The inspector will walk on the roof if it is safe, accessible, and strong enough so that there is no damage done to it by walking on it. Some roofs - such as slate and tile, should not be walked on. Sometimes because of poor weather conditions, extremely steep roofs, or very high roofs, the inspector will not be able to walk the roof. The inspector will try to get up to the edge though, and will also use binoculars where accessibility is a problem. They will also examine the roof from the upper windows if that is possible. There is a lot the inspector can determine from a visual examination from a ladder and from the ground, and they will be able to tell a lot more from inside the attic about the condition of the roof as well.

Should I have my house tested for Radon? What exactly is Radon?

In many areas of the country, the answer is a definite yes. You can ask your real estate agent about this or go on to the internet for a radon map of the country. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that's formed during the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Radon exits the ground and can seep into your home through cracks and holes in the foundation. Radon gas can also contaminate well water.

Health officials have determined that radon gas is a serious carcinogen that can cause lung cancer, second only to cigarette smoking. The only way to find out if your house contains radon gas is to perform a radon measurement test, which your home inspector can do. Make sure the person conducting your test has been trained to The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) or The National Radon Safety Board (NRSB) standards.

What about a newly constructed home? Does it need a home inspection?

Yes! In fact, we find far more problems, some quite serious, in newly constructed homes than in homes that have been lived in for years. This is not due to your builder's negligence - he/she has done the best job they could with subcontractors and planning - it's just that there are so many systems in a home, that it is close to impossible to inspect everything, and correct it before the Certificate of Occupancy is issued. Then, for some reason, the subcontractors no longer want to work on the home, and final jobs and details are missed. We recommend getting several professional home inspections near the completion stages of the home to discover everything that should be corrected. If the house is still new but sitting for a while before sale, it's even more important to get a home inspection. We have seen water lines not hooked up, plumbing lines not hooked up, sewer lines not hooked up, vents not hooked up, and a variety of other serious but easily correctable problems!

I am having a home built. The builder assures me he will inspect everything. Should I have an independent inspector make periodic inspections?

Absolutely yes! No matter how good your builder is, he/she WILL miss things. They are so concerned with the house, they get so close to their work, as do the subcontractors, that important items can, and will be, overlooked. Have a professional inspector make at least 4-6 interim inspections. They will be worth their weight in gold.

What is the Pre-Inspection Agreement?

Most service professionals have a service agreement, and home inspection is no different. In fact, there is enough confusion about what a home inspection should deliver that the agreement is even more important. Some homeowners who get a home inspection expect everything in the home to be perfect after the repairs. This is not the case! Imagine getting a call from a homeowner a year later who says the toilet is not flushing - remember that the inspection is a moment in time snapshot. In the inspection agreement the inspector is clear about what the inspection delivers and the things that are not covered, as well as what you should do if you are not pleased with the services. We really think that by reviewing this before-hand you will understand much more about the inspection and be happier with the results. A home inspection does not guard against future problems, nor does it guarantee that all problems will be found.

What kind of report will I get following the inspection?

There are as many versions of a "report" as there are inspection companies. Guidelines dictate that the inspector deliver a written report to the client. This can range from a handwritten checklist that has multiple press copies without pictures and 4 pages long to a computer generated professionally produced report with digital pictures that is 35 pages long and can be converted to Adobe PDF for storage and emailing. Be sure to check with your inspector about the report he or she uses. We recommend the computer generated report, since the checklist is more detailed and easier for the homeowner/buyer/seller to detail out the issues with photographs. In this modern age, we feel the reports must be web accessible and e-mailable to match the technologies most of us are using.

There are some great things you can use the report for in addition to the wealth of information it simply gives you on your new home:

· Use the report as a checklist and guide for the contractor to make repairs and improvements or get estimates and quotes from more than one contractor.

· Use the report as a budgeting tool using the inspector's recommendations and the remaining expected life of components to keep the property in top shape.

· If you are a seller, use the report to make repairs and improvements, raising the value of the home and impressing the buyers. Then have a re-inspection and use this second report as a marketing tool for prospective buyers.

· Use the report as a "punch list" on a re-inspection and as a baseline for ongoing maintenance.

Will the report be emailable or available as an Adobe PDF file?

Yes. As discussed in the last question, you will probably want your inspector to be using the latest reporting technology.

What if I think the inspector missed something?

Inspectors are human, and yes, they do miss items. However, they routinely use advanced tools and techniques to reduce the possibility that they will miss something. This includes very detailed checklists, reference manuals, computer based lists, and a methodical always-done-the-same-way of physically moving around your home. That is one of the reasons that an inspector can miss an item when they get interrupted. The inspector will have a set way of resuming the inspection if this happens. If, in the end, something IS missed, call the inspector and discuss it. It may warrant the inspector returning to view something that you found. Remember, the inspector is doing the very best job they know how to do, and probably did not miss the item because they were lax in their technique or did not care.

What if the inspector tells me I should have a professional engineer or a licensed plumber or other professional contractor in to look at something they found? Isn't this "passing the buck"?

You may be disappointed that further investigation is required, but, believe us, your inspector is doing exactly what they should be doing. The purpose of the inspection is to discover defects that affect your safety and the functioning of the home; the inspector is a generalist, not a specialist. Our code of ethics as well as national and state guidelines dictate that only contractors that are licensed in their specialty field should work on these systems and areas. When they tell you that a specialist is needed, there may be a bigger, more critical issue that you need to know about. If you move into the home without getting these areas checked by a qualified specialist, you could be in for some nasty and expensive surprises. The inspector does not want to cause you any more expense or worry either, so when they do recommend further evaluation they are being serious about protecting you and your investment.

Will the inspector provide a warranty on the inspected items?

Most inspectors do not give the homeowner a warranty on inspected items. Remember, a home inspection is a visual examination on a certain day, and the inspector cannot predict what issues could arise over time after the inspection. However, some inspectors are now including a warranty from the largest home warranty company in America - American Home Warranty Corporation, as well as others, on the inspected items for 60 or 90 days. This is a very good deal, and the agreement can be extended after the initial period for a relatively small amount of money.

Do most inspection companies offer money back guarantees?

Most inspection companies do not offer a satisfaction guarantee nor do they mention it in their advertising. It's always a good thing if you can get extra services for no additional cost from your inspection company, and of course a satisfaction guarantee is an indication of superior customer service. You usually have to call your inspection company right after the inspection and viewing of the report to tell them you are not satisfied. If you are not happy with the services, you should talk to your inspector first and let him/her correct the issue(s) you are unhappy with first, as the inspector is trying to make an honest living just like the rest of us, and is not failing you on purpose.

What if my report comes back with nothing really defective in the home? Should I ask for my money back?

No, don't ask for your money back - you just received great news! Now you can complete your home purchase with peace of mind about the condition of the property and all its equipment and systems. You will have valuable information about your new home from the inspector's report, and will want to keep that information for future reference. Most importantly, you can feel assured that you are making a well-informed purchase decision.

What if the inspection reveals serious defects?

If the inspection reveals serious defects in the home (we define a serious defect as something that will cost more than 2% of the purchase price to fix) then pat yourself on the back for getting an inspection. You just saved yourself a ton of money. Of course it is disappointing, even heart wrenching, to find out that your well researched house is now a problem house, but you now know the facts and can either negotiate with the seller, or move on. You may want the home so much that it will be worth it to negotiate the price and then perform the repairs. Imagine, though, if you had not gotten the inspection - you would have had some very unpleasant surprises.

Can I ask my home inspector to perform the repairs?

You can, but if your inspector is ethical, he/she will refuse, and correctly so; it is a conflict of interest for the person who inspected your home to also repair it! Inspectors are specifically barred from this practice by licensing authorities, and it's a good practice - an inspector must remain completely impartial when he or she inspects your home. This is one reason you should have a professional home inspector inspect your home and not a contractor - the contractor will want the repair work and you are likely to not have an objective inspection from this person even though they mean well and are technically competent.

Does the Seller have to make the repairs?

The inspection report results do not place an obligation on the seller to repair everything mentioned in the report. Once the home condition is known, the buyer and the seller should sit down and discuss what is in the report. The report will be clear about what is a repair and what is a discretionary improvement. This area should be clearly negotiated between the parties. It's important to know that the inspector must stay out of this discussion because it is outside of their scope of work.

After the home inspection and consulting with the seller on the repairs, can I re-employ the inspector to come re-inspect the home to make sure everything got fixed?

You certainly can, and it's a really good idea. For a small fee the inspector will return to determine if the repairs were completed, and if they were completed correctly.

What if I find problems after I move into my new home?

A home inspection is not a guarantee that problems won't develop after you move in. However, if you believe that a problem was visible at the time of the inspection and should have been mentioned in the report, your first step should be to call the inspector. He or she will be fine with this, and does want you to call if you think there is a problem. If the issue is not resolved with a phone call, they will come to your home to look at it. They will want you to be satisfied and will do everything they can to do this. One way to protect yourself between the inspection and the move-in is to conduct a final walkthrough on closing day and use both the inspection report AND a Walkthrough Checklist to make sure everything is as it should be.

Copyright 2010 by Lisa P. Turner

10 Phases of Swimming Pool Construction

Building an inground swimming pool is the culmination of 10 different phases of swimming pool construction. This article will give you a brief understanding of the construction cycle. And it all begins with, the desire to have a pool in your own backyard.

Design & Engineering

The first place most homeowners look for qualified swimming pool contractors is the local phone book, and by word of mouth from others who have built a pool. After the initial interview process, you will have a good idea what your swimming pool will cost to have built. The contractor or consultant will provide a design and a complete bid for your acceptance. With a contract in hand, the contractor will obtain all necessary engineering from a qualified structural engineer. The contractor will then submit for permits from the local jurisdiction. At this point, it might also be necessary for the contractor to apply for a Home Owners Association(HOA) approval depending on your local community requirements. Once the building permit is obtained, the construction kicks off in high gear.

Layout & Excavation

This is one of the most exciting phases of swimming pool construction, excavation. Excavation is the digging and forming of the swimming pool. The very first thing the excavation crews do is the pregrade. Pregrade is the clearing of the pool site and the grading of the area for the swimming pool. This allows the crew to paint on the ground the final shape of your pool and at the same time the crew will stake the perimeter of the pool and add forms for the structure of the pool. The typical time needed to dig a pool depends on various factors. These factors include: access, soil conditions, and overall size and depth of the pool. Most pools these days are dug in 1 to 2 days.

Rough Plumbing & Electrical

Once the pool is dug, it's time to move on to the rough plumbing and electrical. This is where all of the trenches will be dug for all the pipes and conduits necessary to operate your pool. Sometimes, the rough plumbing & electrical will be broken down in a couple of parts, otherwise all trenching and installation of the pipes and conduits will be done at the same time. This includes installation of the suction and return lines, water-feature lines, vacuum cleaner lines, fill lines, solar inlet and returns, gas lines for swimming pool heater and future barbecues and firepits, and the electrical service line. In most cases this will take 2-3 days to complete, and may be done either before, during or after steel.


The steel phase is the addition of rebar formed in the ultimate shape of the pool. A rebar contractor will "tie" the steel using bailing wire in a grid pattern determined by the structural engineer. A good crew will normally take less than a day to tie the steel depending on the size, shape and any raised walls or bond beams.

Gunite or Shotcrete

Up until this time, your backyard will look like one big disaster area, with trenches running here and there and a big hole in your yard with a criss-cross pattern of rebar running through. Gunite or Shotcrete is the application of the concrete to the pool surface, it makes the shell of your pool. The crews will arrive and via a hose will apply the concrete in the end, the pool will have a close to finish look. The benches installed, and the pool walls and floor will have been completed. This will also be one of the first times you will be required to be actively involved in the construction of your pool. For the next 7 to 10 days, you will be required to hose down the swimming pool shell two and three times a day with water to help cure the gunite or shotcrete. You will be truly amazed at how much water the pool structure adsorbs.

Tile & Rock

After the installation of the gunite or shotcrete, the waterline tile and any rock or boulders will be installed on your pool. The tile is necessary to provide an easy surface to keep clean at the waterline. Rock or boulders are added to incorporate a natural "swimming hole" look and feel and for waterfalls and jump rocks. For pools with the contemporary look or classic style, tile is incorporated into the design and is applied not only to the water line, but also to any raise walls or water-features.


(Concrete, Pavers, Trex, Tile, Stone, etc.) With the tile installed, the next addition to your swimming pool project is the decking. Now where I grew up, decking was always associated with wood, and redwood was king. But when I got involved in the swimming pool industry, deck was the item that surrounded the pool. For the majority of swimming pool owners, the deck of choice is concrete. Concrete is durable and inexpensive when compared to the other options being, grass or landscaping, tile, stone, pavers and natural or synthetic wood products. The installation of decking takes a minimum of a couple of days for forming and finishing, or it can require multiple days and weeks depending on the surface. The deck crew will also be responsible for installing the equipment pad, where all the pumps, filters, heaters and other equipment necessary to operate your pool will be located.

Equipment Set

The excitement builds, you're almost done and ready to swim. At equipment set, either your pool service company or the plumbing and electrical company will return to install all of the equipment. The lights will be installed, control panels will be hooked-up, all pumps, heater and filter will be mounted to the equipment pad and plumbed. This normally is routinely completed within one to two days. All ready for the filling of your pool with water. But wait, we're missing the all important pool surface.


Plaster provides the waterproofing surface for your pool. Plaster comes in many different forms from plain-old, to pebble and polished surfaces. Typically, this can be done in a day. And for those of you where money is no object, this can be an all tile pool surface complete with Grecian borders. After the swimming pool finish has been applied, now is the time to start filling your pool.

Construction Clean-Up and Start-Up

Once the bulk of the construction is complete, all excess and left over materials will be removed from the pool site. All empty boxes will be hauled to the dumps, and finally, your backyard will be ready to be enjoyed and not looking like a disaster zone. The last item left to do is to start up the pool. The start up process assures all equipment is operating and the swimming pool has all of the necessary chemicals to prevent algae and other problems. Now it's your turn to start reaping all of the benefits of swimming pool ownership.

This has been a brief article describing the inground swimming pool process for gunite or shotcrete pools. A swimming pool is the culmination of many individual persons, each an experienced veteran of his or her trade. For most homeowners, a licensed contractor can guide them through the process. For others, the option of building their own pool and acting as their own general contractor can save them thousands of dollars but requires a deeper level of understanding.