Multi-Family Quick Tips When Doing An Exterior Inspection

Multi-Family Quick Tips When Doing An Exterior Inspection

By: Curtis Gabhart, CCIM

Here is a quick recap of some things I look for when doing a quick inspection of an apartment building or even a single family home and common issues I come across.

I like to do a quick review to the outside condition of the property in order to gain insight as to whether it warrants further consideration for purchase or investment.

Now, before getting into the details, let me summarize the most important factors regarding the physical condition of a property.

Some of the important visible considerations are:

  • Reviewing the foundation and cement
  • Checking the siding
  • Reviewing the sprinkler systems
  • Analyzing the quality of the landscaping
  • Looking at the windows
  • Looking at the roof
  • Inspecting at the front door
  • Looking at the gas meters
  • Looking at the train gutters
  • Reviewing the quality of the paint
  • Looking at the overall neighborhood

When buying a property, whether it’s an apartment building or single-family house that you may plan on flipping, some of the concepts are going to be very similar, if not identical. With many investment properties, you will find an inside inspection is subject to an accepted offer. This means you will need to make some assumptions about the property before you submit your offer. This can prove difficult, especially when you’re not able to view the inside.

Starting Out 

I’ll look from the ground up – I’ll start by looking at the ground and taking an overall look at the condition of the property to see what level of care has been maintained. As a general rule, if it’s a piece of shit on the outside, it’s probably a piece of shit on the inside. There have been a few exceptions where I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I got inside a property, but that’s exactly what they are – exceptions. I’d use this analogy as a general rule of thumb – if you see a car that looks junky on the outside, it probably just as junky on the inside.

Foundation – I’ll look at the foundation, all the cement on the ground near the foundation, and all landscaping near the foundationI’m looking for things like sprinklers spraying on the building. I’ll then check if there is stucco peeling off the building, which can sometimes indicate moisture intrusion into the building. I’ll also check if the ground is sloping towards or away from the building; it should be sloping away from the building. If it’s sloping towards the building, it may indicate that a possibility of having a foundation or other problem that relates to water. If there’s cement, I’ll look for big cracks in the cement, which sometimes can indicate unstable soil or cracks in the foundation.

This could indicate further foundation issues

Landscaping – what is it going to cost me to improve the landscaping, what do I need to do to it, are there sprinkler systems, and are they automatic or non-automatic?

Building – what kind of siding is there? Is it stucco, brick, vinyl, wood? I pay close attention to the condition that it is in. If it’s wood, I will check for visible water or termite damage.

Eaves – Does the wood going into the eaves have damage? If there’s a lot of damage in the eaves, it very well could go into the attic rafters, which could be a lot more expensive. If it’s on the siding, what kind of siding is it? If it’s an old building, a lot of times replacing siding can get very expensive for two reasons:

the eaves is the part of the roof that meets or overhangs the walls of the building

  1. First is the fact that you may not be able to find that particular kind of siding anymore without having it specially milled.
  2. Second is anytime you pull something off an old building, you’re very likely to find unforeseen surprises. Because you can’t be certain of the magnitude of these surprises, it is safe to assume everything is going to cost you a little more than you think. Whatever you think the price is, assume it probably cost more than you originally estimated. 


Windows- Are they new or old? If it’s an old building, are they wood sash or aluminum windows? Is that something that’s going to need to be replaced? Typically, the double-wood-hung windows that you see in houses or old apartment buildings are not in very good condition. With aluminum windows, I essentially just look at them and decide if I’m going to replace them or not.  What you need to be aware of is in many areas where you replace these windows, there may be architecture review committees that require you to replace them with historical windows. This could prove to be very costly, especially if they are wood sash.

wood sash window

Building Corners – Does everything appear straight? If there’s siding, are the lines of the siding vertical or are they all straight? On the corners of the building, what does the wood look like? Is there stucco coming off?

Roof – Does the roof have something called a drip edge?  This is a little metal edge that goes into the lip of the shingle roof. Are there rain gutters? If there are no rain gutters, water may not have been running away from the building. Because of this, I will spend more time thoroughly inspecting the foundation.

I look at the shingles of the roof; if there are many noticeable curved edges, it is likely on its last leg. Then, if I think I may need to replace the roof, I will look at how many layers of roofing there are. Typically, you don’t want to go past two or three layers of roofing. What that means is that if you replace a roof that has two or three layers, you need to put in your budget funds to tear off that existing roof before replacing it. You also will need reserves for unexpected issues when you pull of the old roof because you may need to repair the plywood underneath. Depending on how much work you do around the roof, you may have to re-sheet it.

re-sheeting a roof

Fence  Do I need to replace or paint it? Is the fence wood? Is it leaning, does it look like it’s on my property line, does it look I could add private yards for apartment units? Many times, you will find large open areas in the back of apartments that are shared. What we can do is put up a fence around the units and now each unit has their own backyard – a very inexpensive fix that not only can help you get higher rent but can reduce costs because you may not have as much landscaping to maintain

Paint (for older buildings) – If it’s pre-1978 and you have peeling paint, you’re probably going to want to get a lead-based paint test conducted. That’s going to tell you whether you’re going to need to do any kind of abatement or work on the property. If work is needed, you may need to use lead-based paint best practices, which can prove very costly. I usually recommend getting a test. Paint used in older buildings in San Diego is less likely to have lead in it compared to the east coast, where the weather is harsh and requires more durable paint.  Most of the properties I have tested did not contain lead, but it is still important to get it tested.

If it is tested and comes back negative you do not need to follow lead based paint best practices. If you have a pre-1978 property and decide not get it tested, you still must work on it like it contains lead based paint – which is a good reason to get it tested in the first place.

peeling lead-based paint

Click here for information on lead-based paint best practices

Front Doors – Aesthetically, are they looking good? Are there any gaps? If I look at top of door, I will look for a little pie-shaped gap at the top. If this is present, it indicates there may be some settling in the property.

Meter Boxes

Meters  Is it gas or electric? Are there gas meters for all units? If the property runs on gas and there is one water heater, there should be gas meters for each unit and also for the building.If it’s a multi-unit building, I count how many individual meters there are. There should be as many individual meters as there are units, plus one additional one, which would be for the common area. If you’re missing a meter, you may have something called a bootleg property, which means one of the units may have been put in unpermitted (just something to look at).  These are important things to note because in San Diego the tax assessor will charge for all the units, and state on the public website that it is X units, but that does not necessarily mean they are legal units.

Electrical – As far as electric meters go, I’m looking at what kind of panel it is. If it’s old, it could be something called knob and tube, which could indicate that I’m going to have to put a lot of money into upgrading the electrical. This will likely increase the interior costs as well. I then look at the circuit panel – is it updated? Then, I’m looking at how many amps each unit has. Ideally, you want 100 amps, but for many apartments, you’ll have between 30-50. Newer apartments should have 100.

Knob & Tube Wiring

I’m also looking at the type of panel; Murray Lampert typically have problems, so I want to check what kind of panel there is. Are there circuits in the units? Is there any room to add additional circuits if you want to add appliances or anything else inside the property? Is the inside of the panel painted? If so, it could indicate that the previous people who worked on the property weren’t doing things the proper way. This would lead me to believe other things were not done the proper way.

This is quite the mess!

I’m looking for bunches of electrical or cable lines running all over the place. We’ve bought properties where it looks like spaghetti running all over the building, and we’ve ended up having to rip it all off and start from scratch simply because it’s easier to do instead of trying to sort it all out.



Staircases – When I walk on the stairs, I make sure to walk very heavy. I’m looking to see if it seems squishy. Is termite damage visible, are the railings stable? In compliance with code, railing spacing should be about three and a half inches. For me, if I can make a fist or place my hand through the pickets of the railing, it is most likely not up to code and I’ll have to replace it depending on my insurance company and how bad it is. I look at the stairs to see if the tread rise and depth are consistent. It should be around 7” of rise and 11” of depth. If they are not to code they may need to be replaced.

Inconsistent stair depth

After An Inspection  Once the inspector gets into the property and finds things that I may not have found, do I decide not to buy the property? No, not at all. It just helps me to figure out what it’s going to cost to fix or if I even want to fix it, and what exactly I’m getting myself into. That’s what is critical about the inspectionYou can make a well-informed decision on the property rather than going in blindly and being surprised later.

It is naïve to think you can figure out how to hit a certain number or certain profit, or how to stay within a tight budget, without being informed of all the problems. This is valuable while I’m negotiating in the beginning. If I’m coming in lower than the initial offer, I can right away talk to them about some of these problems, which, most likely, the owners already know about but haven’t disclosed yet or many times they had no idea there were these problems which make it easier to negotiate.

Final Remarks

Keep in mind, none of this is 100%. These are just good rules of thumb when looking at a property. They have served me well to establish if an investment property warrants further investigating and analysis, and if so, what kind of offer to submit. This obviously isn’t everything. I depend on inspection in most cases. I will be posting an interior walk through an article in the weeks that follow. I’m interested to hear your story and what else you may look at when walking a property. Please share your take in the comments below.

**Disclaimer** – make sure you are walking the property with the consent of the current owner. Please keep in mind we are in the San Diego market and practices in your area may be different.  I highly reccommend you get a building inspector to look at the property unless you are highly confident in your ability. 

Curtis Gabhart, CCIM President Gabhart Investments, Inc.

Edited By Blake Imperl, our newest intern at Gabhart Investments. Check out his Linkedin page by clicking here.

Gabhart InvestmentsGabhart Investments, INC. (GII) is a privately held real-estate investment firm based in San Diego, California. We operate in a rapid paced project driven environment.  The employees at Gabhart Investments, INC. (GII) are close-knit, highly qualified professionals, possessing the necessary competence to meet our clients’ goals. GII promotes ethical balance for continuous training, leadership, and teamwork. Since 2000, GII has acquired and converted multi-family properties into condominiums throughout San Diego County. The new real-estate market has presented us with many opportunities to take advantage of. Along with our equity partners, Gabhart began to grow its portfolio in, arguably, the strongest housing market in the country. Thus, we consistently generate superb risk-adjusted rates of return for our investors. In 2005, Gabhart’s private investment portfolio had transactions in excess of 40 million dollars.  We intend to accelerate our business model by maintaining our focus within the purchasing and rehabilitation of bank owned real-estate property. Our additional services include consulting, brokerage, venture funding, development, construction management as well as property and asset management.

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Esparta Fix and Flip workshop

Esparta Fix and Flip workshop

We invite you to join us for a free workshop at our newest completed project!

Saturday October 29th from 9am-11am at 9759 Esparta Ct.  Santee, CA 92071

Our workshop series covers the 5 F’s of Residential Redevelopment: Finding, Feasibility, Funding, Fixing, and Flipping.

In this workshop we will primarily focus on what many consider to be the most challenging: Fixing!







Some highlights include:

  • Our scope of work & budget and how it changed during the project.
  • Challenges we encountered during construction.
  • Permitting a garage and bedroom/bath additions with the city.

 Space is limited, so SIGN UP HERE to reserve your spot!

All those in attendence will recieve a copy of our initial walkthrough packet which can be used to estimate construction costs on your projects.

Light refreshments will be served.


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Chula Vista Flip… Going once, Going twice, Sold the cat pee house…

Chula Vista Flip… Going once, Going twice, Sold the cat pee house…

Ahhhh finally we sold our Chula Vista 2 bedroom 1 bath house.


The cats in Chula Vista didn’t use the bathroom like this good kitty did

  • trying to get rid of the strongest nastiest cat urine smell I have ever encountered (see video below for the smell O’ vision cam)

  • the 30′ septic pit we discovered (which was supposed to be a septic tank – actual picture)
  • paying $13,000 in city fees to hook up the septic (pit) to the city.
    • An appraisal that came in $20,000 to low.
Besides those little things you couldn’t have asked for a smoother, easier, less stressful transaction.
I must have been on a bathroom break (training the cat to pose for the picture above) while I was watching those get rich quick late night Real Estate riches infomercial (those nights I wake up thinking about sink holes, low appraisals, and dealing with city governments) hosted by those two midget dudes.

Does one steer while the other brakes and accelerates?

I just don’t recall seeing my little buddies mentioning those damned septic pits that cost 15 gees to take care of.
In addition they didn’t include the super duper negotiating navigating techniques it takes to keep a deal together with these challenges.

That must come with the more expensive course sold by Tom Vu


Falcon construction underway and 3 houses closing

Falcon construction underway and 3 houses closing


The demo is complete and the downstairs walls have been framed out. Our electrician is installing wiring for outlets and lights this week. Plumbing and mechanical is about 85% complete. We visited and took some video for you (Curtis almost sprained an ankle walking through all that action, but he made it out OK):

Our Home Depot crew helped out with some sleek tile, lights and finishes. It is going to be a very modern home with a lot of light and clean lines and colors. I mean, take a look at the floorplans as well as some renderings put together by the dynamic duo at HD.




5th, Bullrush, and Caminito Agadir are all slated to close within the week.  We had to slay a few dragons in the past couple of weeks. An appraisal issue on Bullrush, resolved. A sewer issue on 5th, resolved. An air conditioning issue on Caminito Agadir, resolved. Buyers are happy now and all contingencies have been removed, so things are looking promising.

For the most updated information & news on real estate & Gabhart Investments go to our facebook & twitter pages

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Bullrush Glen Project 38 Update

Bullrush Glen Project 38 Update

This is the property we closed on in the beginning of July  in Escondido, CA.
This property is located in a gated community constructed in the 1970’s. Surprisingly, the property did not need many renovations to get it ready for resale.
The exterior of the property will be repainted as well as new plants and bark will be added to bring some color to a colorless property. Part of bringing color to any property is installing a new front door, which is what we did. In the backyard new sod was installed and a new deck was constructed.
Inside new tile, carpet, and paint was needed as well as a light renovation in the kitchen. The kitchen cabinets were painted a dark Ebony color as well as a new sink and granite counter top were installed. The existing fireplace is going to be refaced with new travertine tile and a new Ebony colored wood mantle.
By August 11 this property will be on the market.

Home depot has great deals on queen palms here in San Diego. These guys were $10 each and we mixed them in with some queens that were $25 and a little bigger.
If you have the budget and it is appropriate there palms for @ $100 are HUGE and can really make a statement.
Since this yard is so big I needed to buy more plants so tried not to spend to much on any one plant.

All the cabinets throughout were honey oak.
We sprayed them out with a color coat of lacquer which ended up being a much better finish than the new cabinets we have been buying from home depot and the cost for  the whole house (3 bathrooms, 1 bank of linen cabinets) was about a 1/4 of buying new and installing.
You need good painters to do this. Don’t leave it up to your handyman.

The deck was in such bad shape that I decided to demolish the whole thing and rebuild a bigger one in it’s place. This deck is about 450 square feet and sits off the dining room. It really connects the inside and outside together and will be a great place to BBQ and entertain.

Our tile buys getting ready to face the fireplace with travertine tile.
Cheap way to really update the place and almost the first thing you see when you walk in the front door.
I always try to have a few “show” pieces in the house. I always try to put myself in the shoes of the buyer.
When they walk through I want them to think in there head that they can’t wait to show these things off to their friends and family.
To the right here is the sod we installed on the side yard. This was all dirt.

For the most updated information & news on real estate & Gabhart Investments go to our Facebook & twitter pages

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