Winter Home Inspections
Although winter time retreat shopping can afford many positives like reduced prices and motivated sellers, there can also be a few downsides as well. While purchasing your retreat during the winter, especially when there is a considerable amount of snow on the ground, extra care must be taken during your inspection period. Many surprises may await you when the spring thaw arrives. Among them may be hidden trash and slash piles that will have to burned or removed, road grading and repair work, downed frost free spigots, fencing repairs, vegetation removal and major grounds keeping issues that are hidden under the snow. That nice rock flowerbed may be a heap when the snow melts due to falling ice/snow off the roof. Also, varmints and pest infiltration can be a major issue especially in unoccupied dwellings. On a side note a recent home inspection report here stated “The woodpeckers appear to have mounted an attack on the front porch eve”. Funny? Absolutely! But not to the new owner. Beware of unoccupied dwellings for sale, especially in the winter. Snow hides many maintenance items that may need to be addressed and could be quite costly. Asking the seller to plow the driveway may be one thing but asking them to remove the snow load all the way around the house and each out building so the inspector can complete a thorough inspection may be an issue, especially with upwards of three solid frozen feet of snow on the ground here in the mid-range elevations of northern Idaho. This cost may range upwards of over a thousand dollars and sellers who have had their property overpriced and on the market for a while will not be motivated to incur such costs unless you release some earnest money to pay for it, and the fee reimbursed should you actually purchase the property. Why? Who knows, it makes no sense to me, but some sellers are very stubborn, to their own detriment.
Here is a list of items to make sure are working and not damaged during a winter time purchase: Well and well pump(s), all water lines (have they burst?), septic lines and tank, any generators and off grid solar components (have the batteries been neglected or are they due for replacement or upgrade?), wood decking (has the snow cracked or otherwise damaged the decks/railings/steps), wood stoves and piping/flues (creosote build-up or other deferred maintenance like loose flashing at the roof seal?), roofing (has the snow load loosened or ripped off any shingles?)–a good reason to have metal roof (for fire protection as well), any appearance of water intrusion into the basement or crawl space in winter is really going to be an issue in the spring. It is recommended that the buyer be present at the home inspection and normally a good inspector will let the buyer follow them around the home for most of the inspection. Most inspectors will be happy to let you tag along, as you’re paying them and they will explain certain details of demerit or merit, as you go.
If the retreat you’re buying has been on the market for a while, then your agent should have visited the property during the summer/fall months and therefore should be aware of any issues regarding road, vegetation, downed timber, and landscaping issues that wouldn’t be obvious under snow cover. This is one more reason to seek out a qualified retreat real estate agent in your desired locale.
Survival Supplies Storage
Once you have closed escrow, the work begins at your new retreat. As I have stated before several times, before TEOTWAWKI  the threat of fire will be either first or second on the list of major threats, next to theft. Speaking with a client this morning I was very specific that they should store their supplies ‘assuming’ that the retreat was going to burn down. Yes, having just spent a bunch of money on a retreat one may feel a bit annoyed, but storing expensive supplies under the house or hidden in walled over closets and crawl spaces is at best mediocre and dangerous at worst. If there is not a full concrete built basement under the house where a bunker can be walled off to survive a fire and water damage then an alternatively located underground bunker must be built, period. It would be better to put a bit less cash down on the property and save $15,000 for building a self contained storage bunker than to lose it all during fire season, or worse yet from a small propane heater malfunction– the heater that must be left on during the winter in order to keep your water pipes from freezing while the place is not attended. Not living at your retreat full time has its issues, none of which cannot be overcome with a little forethought.
A simple excavated 12’x12′ (finished size) underground concrete room–typically insulated concrete form (ICF) block–with proper drainage on the sides/underneath and a small CONEX  container placed on top would probably be enough for anyone’s basic storage of supplies. (Clothes, storage food, medical supplies, tents, sleeping supplies, guns, and ammo). These supplies would be needed to survive if you were to find the main retreat structure just a smoking hole, upon arrival. Note that the CONEX should have a secured internal vertical entrance door leading to the shelter. [JWR Adds: in addition to a stout lock and equally stout hasp, the trapdoor should be concealed beneath something that doesn’t look worth stealing, such as burlap sacks full of rags, prominently marked “Extra shop rags”.] The rest of the less essential and less valuable supplies can be hidden in the retreat itself, but always have a reserve in place. Owning a retreat is a blessing, and very few have the opportunity. Just be diligent about your supplies, since storage consideration are as important as the retreat itself.
If you have any questions about retreat real estate in northern or north central Idaho, then please contact Todd Savage via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org