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Mark Coleman

First Sunday

BY MARK COLEMAN

Sunday, April 6, 2003


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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Manfred "Manny" Manfredi has inspected almost 8,000 homes in Hawaii during the past 30 years.




MANFRED 'MANNY' MANFREDI

House detective


Things aren't always what they seem, and that's why longtime Hawaii resident Manfred "Manny" Manfredi is a busy man. Especially now, with the real estate market booming, Manfredi is one of an elite core of home inspectors in Hawaii who is frequently called upon to render an opinion regarding the condition of a particular house -- nearly 8,000 of them during the past three decades, from virtual shacks to multimillion-dollar mansions.

Local real estate agents rely on Manfredi to carefully check a home's structural integrity, including electrical, plumbing, roofing, water drainage and possible termite infestation. Home sellers sometimes dread hearing that Manfredi's on the job, because he can find things that could kill the deal.

Originally an Argentinian -- who still speaks with a strong Spanish accent -- Manfredi is a Hawaii-licensed general contractor who has built about a dozen homes on his own, remodeled hundreds of other properties, and bought and sold many fixer-uppers in Hawaii.

He is a past Hawaii chapter president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, a selective national professional organization that sets a high standard for inspectors.

He also has taught seminars on home inspecting, served as a consultant and investigator for the Hawaii Contractor License Board and participated as a guest speaker for termite workshops sponsored by the Hawaii Pest Control Association.

His latest venture is a Web site, www.hawaiihomeinspector.com, where he has a feature called "Ask the Inspector."


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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
"I get paid to make sure there are no major problems in the house, and if there is a problem, I have to communicate that to the buyer." --Manny Manfredi, home inspector




Common problems

MC: What's the main problem you usually find as a home inspector?

MM: Electrical. Everybody's an electrician. (Laughter). They go to Home Depot where you can buy anything you can dream of.

MC: Switches and ...

MM: Yeah, but I'm also talking about wiring, main panels, main switches. You have a lot of handyman people doing that work. You have a lot of unlicensed people doing extensions and renovations. So the No. 1 problems, I would say, are electrical, roofing and foundation.

Termites

MC: Are there any areas where homes have more problems than others?

MM: One area was Hawaii Loa Ridge. There are a couple of termite inspectors who refused to go up there. There was a tremendous problem with water control and termites, and the way the houses were built.

MC: Termites, up there? And water control, you mean like runoff?

MM: Water control and termites sometimes go hand in hand. The ground termites need the water.

MC: How can you deal with that? For example, I lived in Palolo for about 15 years and the soil was very clayish, and the house I lived in had a terrible ground termite problem. They came right up through the beams, even though the beams were sitting on concrete blocks.

MM: They still go up.

MC: Right, and, in fact, I have a large album and book collection, and they came out through the walls into some of my books and record covers. It was horrible.

MM: They love those things.

MC: What can you do about that?

MM: Well, the Sentricon system has solved quite a bit of the problems in the islands.

MC: And that's what?

MM: The Sentricon system is a baiting system. They put these canisters in the ground around the foundation of the house. Most of the termite companies do that. They drill and put a little canister, and when you open it, inside it has a piece of clear wood; it has no treatment. What they're hoping is that the ground termite is going to find it. Then the termite company is supposed to come every month or so and open it to see if the termites are there . If they are, they carefully remove the wood, clean out the termites, which are still alive, put a special chemical into the canister, put the termites on top, then close it. The termites then go through the chemical, which then affects the whole colony. Within three months, you get the whole colony sick. So that has changed the ball game, as far as termite control, drastically. But still, termites are all over the place. I spent about two years raising termites in my own house, in my backyard, and studied them.

MC: What did you hope to find out from that?

MM: To learn how they act. Because I'm inspecting and I wanted to find out a little more about it, I also took classes.

MC: So there are basically two kinds of termites that homeowners have to worry about?

MM: Ground termites are the most important.

MC: And what are the other ones?

MM: Drywall termites.

MC: And why are they less dangerous?

MM: Because they fly in, and they don't do as much damage. I mean, you look at the damage they do, it looks like hell, but it's not structural damage. The ground termite damage is structural.



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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
With help from his trusty screwdriver, Manny Manfredi checks the main electrical box of a home in Hawaii Kai.




Tract vs. custom homes

MC: When we were talking about the homes on Hawaii Loa Ridge, you said something about "the way they were built." What did you mean?

MM: Well, when you have, for example, Gentry, or some developer that is building a lot of houses, while they're building the houses there's one or two persons who work for the developer. The only thing they do is they go from place to place making sure that everything is being done correctly. So very few times I find big problems with that type of housing. When you go into a house that is custom-made, then you have problems that were not caught, either because they were not built correctly or there were changes they had done that would be very hard and very expensive to fix.

Tools of the trade

MC: When you're doing your typical home inspection, what are some of the tools of the trade that you've really got to have?

MM: Screwdriver and flashlight. Those are the only things that I use.

MC: What about a digital camera? That's part of the trade now, too, isn't it?

MM: Yeah, that's right. I've been using that now, too. I have additional tools in the car but I very seldom use them.

MC: A ladder?

MM: Well, yes, but also I have hammers and a wrench and special tools to check the electrical. Some people have humidity testers. I'm also a certified mold inspector.

The lowdown on mold

MC: When they found mold at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, was it really necessary for Hilton to close down the whole Kalia Tower?

MM: Yes.

MC: Really?

MM: If you want to learn a little more about mold, go to the Environmental Protection Agency, at www.epa.com. There's a little search in there; put in "mold" and you will see that it's nasty.

MC: Why would mold go so crazy in that tower?

MM: What's happening is that you have enclosed places called "chasers" and they go through the building. These pipes, especially the air-conditioning pipes, are a preferred place for the mold. The air-conditioning pipes are insulated, but if the insulation is not properly installed, you have some sweating that takes place, so from there you have the humidity, you have a danky place. That's how it starts growing. And it grows through the building.

MC: What was your personal reaction when you read about the Hilton thing?

MM: Well, I got exposed to mold myself about four or five months ago. A house I was inspecting had been closed for about four years. Nobody was living in it, and through time, the sprinklers were sprinkling against the house, so you had a lot of humidity growing between the windows and the side of the walls. In one of the bedrooms, I pulled the carpet up to see under it and the whole thing was reeking with mold.

And like a dummy, I lost control of the carpet, and when the carpet went down, it created a puff of mold spores that went into my system. For the next two months I didn't feel so well, and I still once in a while think it's related to my health problems. So when that thing happened, I went onto the Internet to get educated. One type of mold is very bad, and that's more likely what they have in the Hilton. Not only is it bad, it's very hard to control. It even gets into the furniture.

Becoming an inspector

MC: How did you become a home inspector?

MM: About 28 years ago, a friend of mine in real estate, Carla Fishman, got a customer from New York, and the guy wanted to make sure that the house he wanted was going to be checked out. So my friend started calling around, and she called the state licensing board, and that's how they got my name.

MC: Because you were a general contractor?

MM: No, because I was doing consulting work for them. That's how the whole thing started. For the first five years, I didn't even write reports. I think my inspections at the time were $120, $150 per inspection (vs. anywhere from $200 to $800 now).

MC: To be a home inspector, you really need a background in a lot of fields, yeah?

MM: That's why having a general contracting background is valuable. The general contractor basically organizes what is going to take place. That's why they call them "general." He knows at what point they have to pour cement and when the planner or electrical contractor has to be there to do what. He has to be totally knowledgeable on reading plans, because he's going to build according to the plans. And he has to be able to recognize if there are some problems and how to resolve them in the field. So he has to have a total knowledge of what is taking place. And Hawaii is a very small place. If the guy doesn't do good quality work, he doesn't last. The same with home inspectors. Through the years, quite a few guys have had to skip town because eventually they got sued.

General contracting

MC: How did you become a general contractor?

MM: When I arrived here 30 years ago, we came here to open a business, with my family.

MC: With your wife?

MM: My wife, Tina, and our four kids. So anyhow, what happened is, the business didn't pan out. It was a restaurant business.

MC: What was the theme?

MM: It was gonna be from Spain, but it didn't work out. But I always loved to work with my hands, so what happened is, we were renting in Kailua and I guess my neighbor took pity on us. He was a contractor and he had an open patio at the back of his house, and he said, "Will you help me enclose the patio?" So I start enclosing his patio. During that week, a friend came down and he looked at what was happening and said, "Oh, I'm going to do the same thing on my house." So I finished that, and pretty soon I was doing a lot of construction work, bigger than what I had anticipated, and pretty soon I said I'd better go and get my license, so that's what I did.

Finding an inspector

MC: How does one find a good home inspector?

MM: Most people get it from their Realtors. Other people, they are intelligent or smart enough to call around. But the most important thing, it's like buying a used car. If you're going to go to anybody, like a friend, to check the car, that's what you're going to get. You're going to buy something that you do not know.

MC: When the real estate market is booming like it is, does this bring out a lot of other home inspectors all of a sudden?

MM: Yeah, in the last year, there's been a large amount of inspectors. I don't even recognize half of them. I don't know where they're coming from, what their backgrounds are. The most important thing for anybody considering buying a house is, you have to know that the person who is going to be doing the inspection, to start with, is going to call it like it is, that he's not going to paint it rosy because he's afraid to kill the deal or he's afraid that the Realtor's not going to call him again. As a home inspector, you're working for the buyer, to make them aware and learn what they're getting into: how the house was kept, how it was built, where are problems, what are immediate problems, what are the future problems? If the buyer knows this, it's their decision. I never tell anybody, "Don't buy it."

The future

MC: You've been doing this for almost 30 years now. Have you inspected enough homes yet?

MM: I'm having fun doing what I'm doing. As long as I keep busy and am doing the job the way that I feel it should be done, I see no reason for me to stop.

MC: Do you feel really good when you go out and you give a really good report, like you've done a good deed?

MM: In a sense. I get paid to make sure there are no major problems in the house, and if there is a problem, I have to communicate that to the buyer. Some problems are easy to fix: Throw some money and the problem goes away. Others are very hard to fix, and that's where you have to have the knowledge to tell the buyer that this is going to be difficult to fix. When you're going to be making comments or influencing a decision with large amounts of money at stake, it's a huge responsibility.





Mark Coleman's conversations with people who have had an impact on our community appear on the first Sunday of every month. If you have a comment or suggestion, please send it to mcoleman@starbulletin.com.



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