The Home Buyer’s Guide to Home Inspection©

This guide is designed to assist home buyers in making informed decisions regarding home inspections by addressing some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this important service.

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What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a primarily visual, non-technical evaluation (using normal operating controls where applicable), of the visible and readily accessible systems and components specified in a contractual scope of inspection and in an applicable home inspection industry standard. The systems and components are examined for conditions which, in the knowledge and experience, of the inspector, are adversely affecting their normally intended function or operation at the time of the inspection. Such conditions are those which pertain to damage, deterioration, assembly, nonfunctionality, inoperability, installation, attachment, securing, support, clearances, dimensions, materials, missing parts, and missing components.

The findings developed in the course of a home inspection are documented in a written report which is provided to the home inspection company customer and will typically include the following:

• Identification of the included and specified systems and components inspected including information which differentiates systems and components from other or similar systems and components by type, materials, energy source, etc.
• A description of discoverable conditions which are adversely affecting the normally intended function or operation of the systems and components
• Recommendations for appropriate action (not specific repair or remediation techniques) to address the documented conditions
• Identification of any included and specified systems and components which were present and not inspected and the reason such systems and components were not inspected

The written report may also contain important maintenance and care information to help homeowners protect their investment.

Home inspectors put the information developed in the course of the inspection into perspective by providing direction regarding the relative importance of the conditions noted in the written inspection report and recommendations regarding how quickly additional evaluation and any necessary corrective measures should be implemented.

Home inspectors are objective impartial third parties; they are not parties to any real estate transaction. Therefore, they do not determine who may be specifically responsible for undertaking any corrective measures. To do so would violate their code of ethics.

A home inspector’s function is to examine, report, recommend action, and inform. It’s not to negotiate or to advise customers regarding what or how to negotiate with any third parties. In addition, inspectors are not appraisers and are not qualified to provide any opinions regarding the value of any property or the advisability or inadvisability of purchase.

Why should a home be inspected?

A house is, in a sense, a large machine which performs numerous functions. Its various systems and components provide protection from the elements, security, and sanitation as well as a place to work, play, eat, study, entertain, and raise families. In order to do all these things, a home’s systems and components not only have to function on their own, but also, they must function in concert with each other.

A home inspection provides valuable information about the condition and operation of these systems and components. It can assist buyers in assessing the need for both immediate and preventive maintenance. Very often, a home inspector is one of the few individuals in a real estate transaction whose interests are entirely those of the buyer and who enters the home solely on the buyer’s behalf.

Do all homes need to be inspected?

Whether buying a home which is pre-owned or newly constructed, buyers benefit from a thorough home inspection. It’s not uncommon to find gas leaks, improper electrical or plumbing work, roof covering issues, or other adverse conditions even in brand new homes. While builders may provide some type of warranty on a newly built home, it’s better to find and correct conditions before taking possession.

A home inspection can discover issues with systems in a new home which, during normal use, may not become evident until after the builder’s warranty has expired. A buyer is always in a stronger position to get corrective measures performed before the closing rather than after, no matter how comprehensive a builder’s warranty might be.

Who are home inspectors?

Home inspectors are trained and skilled observers who possess broad technical knowledge about the systems and components of a home and the skills necessary to apply that knowledge.

Home inspectors are also highly skilled interpreters. Homes speak for themselves and a competent inspector knows how to listen. However, it’s not enough just to be a skilled listener. A competent home inspector is also a master interpreter who knows how to translate the information the home provides so that buyers clearly understand the information which the inspector has developed in the course of the inspection.

Home inspectors do not offer to perform modifications or corrective measures to address any conditions determined in the course of performing an inspection. If a real estate professional or a buyer needs the names of qualified individuals, technicians, or contractors to perform any work, inspectors who choose to provide guidance in this area should provide the names of at least three qualified individuals or companies or suggest using the internet or the telephone book Yellow Pages, or other available resources.

What qualifications should a home inspector have?

Because the home inspection industry is regulated in some states and not in others, home inspectors’ credentials will vary. In states which regulate home inspectors, all home inspectors should meet all of the requirements of the state in which they perform their work. In states which do not regulate home inspectors, there are other ways for home buyers to identify qualified home inspectors.

Training and Experience: These may include educational and training programs as well as backgrounds in architecture, building trades, engineering, etc. Inspectors may also have time under their belts having been selfemployed or employed by a home inspection company as a home inspector for a period of time. However, it would be a mistake to assume that a home inspector who is just starting out cannot perform a competent home inspection. A well-trained “new” inspector may be just as technically competent, methodical, patient, and careful as an inspector who has been inspecting for a longer time because the new inspector really wants to do a good job and the knowledge and skills he or she have recently learned are still fresh.

Associations: Anyone who has belonged to a trade association knows that membership in a trade association does not automatically confer competence. What anyone gets out of an association is strictly dependent on the individual. It’s important to remember that the primary functions of any trade association are to promote the trade and to protect and educate the association’s members. The benefits which accrue to the public can be real and quite useful, but they are secondary to the primary functions which serve the association’s members.

There are numerous trade associations for home inspectors at the state, national, and international levels. Perhaps the oldest and most widely recognized is the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI has done a remarkable job of self-promotion but it is by no means the only trade association providing benefits to home

inspectors and to the public. There are others such as the International National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI, and the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (CAHPI) as well as individual state and provincial associations such as the Texas Association of Real Estate inspectors (TAREI), the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA), and the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors (OAHI). Each of these associations has its own membership requirements, continuing education requirements, home inspection industry standards, and code of ethics.

With regard to the various trade association membership benefits, it is education, standards, and codes of ethics which are the most important. Home inspection industry standards provide minimum requirements and guidelines which association members follow in the performance of home inspections as well as both general and specific limitations and exclusions for inspections. Codes of ethics delineate a member’s ethical duties and obligations to customers and to the public. It’s important to note that the standards and the codes of ethics of virtually every home inspector association as well as those adopted under individual state regulatory requirements are, with relatively minor differences, identical.

Therefore, if home inspectors state in their promotional materials and inspection contract that their inspections are performed in accordance with any one of these standards and codes of ethics, then they are meeting the same inspection standards of most state and national trade associations regardless of whether or not they belong to a specific trade association.

There are other trade associations to which some home inspectors belong such as the International Code Council (ICC), the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). All of these make valuable information and educational programs available to their members. These all enhance a home inspector’s knowledge and experience.

A home inspector’s credentials are only as good as the inspector. Even membership in multiple associations cannot, by itself, make a poor inspector a good inspector and, conversely, an inspector can be a consummately competent home inspector without belonging to any trade associations.

Home inspectors should be assessed on the basis of a whole picture of the individual inspector, not simply on one or two aspects.

Do inspectors need to be engineers?

The training and experience of home inspectors is broad while that of professional engineers is necessarily narrow and highly specialized. In many states the governmental agencies which regulate the practice of engineering have the power to suspend or revoke the licenses of professional engineers who are found to be performing services beyond their competency, training, or education. This means that engineers cannot provide engineering evaluations of the multiple diverse systems in a home unless they are specifically educated, trained, and experienced in the evaluation of each of those systems.

This does not mean that professional engineers cannot be competent home inspectors. It simply means that, unless they meet the criteria outlined above, they should not claim to be performing an engineering evaluation of all of the systems in a home. While many home inspectors have backgrounds in building construction, engineering, or other related fields and they bring their knowledge to bear on their work as inspectors, in the final analysis, all home inspectors bring their own unique perspectives, knowledge, training, and skills to every inspection they perform.

Do inspectors rate homes?

They do not. Every home stands on its own merits. Home inspectors do not rate homes they inspect, and a home cannot not pass or fail an inspection. Home inspectors know that most homes have been lived in. Normal wear and tear and even some deferred maintenance is to be expected. Home inspectors don’t rate or grade homes on an arbitrary scale or against some ideal standard of condition or maintenance. All homes speak for themselves. It takes a trained inspector to know what to look for and how to listen.

What about cosmetic conditions?

Other than when inspecting newly constructed homes where systems and components are expected to be in new condition, inspectors typically do not inspect for or report on cosmetic conditions such as torn screens, minor paint chipping, dented door knobs, or other conditions of normal wear and tear. Remember, inspectors are working under both time and cost constraints. If they spend the valuable time for which a buyer is paying to look for cosmetic and document conditions, they will have less time to inspect the major systems of a home for more important and potentially costly conditions.

Do inspectors provide cost estimates for corrective work?

It is not the job of inspectors to provide cost estimates for work which will be performed by other qualified individuals or companies. Some inspectors who have enough experience may choose to verbally discuss “ballpark” cost ranges for certain work with which they are familiar, but even general contractors use professional estimating guides and obtain competitive bids before providing the costs associated with specific work. When buyers ask inspectors to provide costs, they are asking inspectors to place a value on someone else’s labor and materials. In some instances, additional and unanticipated costs may arise from previously hidden conditions which are discovered in the course of performing corrective work.

Should buyers attend inspections?

Yes, buyers are encouraged to meet with the inspector at the home inspection. It’s important to dress appropriately and to bring a clipboard or other sturdy writing surface, a writing pad, and a pen to take maintenance notes during the inspection.

To ensure that buyers get the full benefit of the inspection requires that they give the inspector their undivided attention. An inspection is not a place for small children or for conducting other business such as reviewing or signing loan, title, insurance, or other real estate related documents, reviewing operational instructions for security systems, meeting with contractors or estimators, or for conducting negotiations based on the results of the inspection.
A home inspector is responsible for the home when the occupants are not present. Typically, when an inspection is complete, buyers should be prepared to leave with the inspector. All parties must leave the home at the conclusion of the inspection unless the inspector has specific instructions to the contrary from the seller, occupants, or appropriate real estate professional.

Are previous inspection reports reliable?

Typically, they are not. Previous inspection reports are not reliable sources of information not only because they have been performed for other parties, but also because they often do not contain current information. Conditions may have dramatically changed since a previous inspection was conducted, even if it was done recently. Buyers should always have an inspection performed specifically on their behalf. Only in this way can buyers be assured that they are receiving information on the current condition of the home and its systems and only in this way can they receive the advantage of maintenance and care information which is provided specifically for them. In addition, most inspection company contracts state that the inspection is for the exclusive use of the company’s customer and is a non-transferable document.

Is a home inspection a warranty?

A home inspection is an examination of specific systems and components for conditions which are adversely affecting the normally intended function or operation of the systems and components inspected. It’s intended to develop information which is documented in an inspection report and which can become part of an overall home and systems maintenance and management program.

A warranty is a pledge made by the original manufacturer of a product to repair, replace, or correct specific deficiencies in their product if such deficiencies occur within a stated period of time. It can also be a pledge made by the provider of a service to perform that service in a specified manner.

The term “warranty” is often confused with insurance plans offered for sale to home buyers. In order to avoid confusion, the term “insurance” is used here when discussing “home buyers’ warranties.”

Such insurance covers certain components or occurrences and contains deductibles and disclaimers regarding the items covered. Typically, a fee is paid by the insurance company to the individual or company who offers this type of insurance. Therefore, if an inspector offers to give or sell a buyer such insurance, that inspector is working for someone in addition to the buyer and is no longer a disinterested third party. There’s an old saying that no one can serve two masters – inspectors are no different. Qualified home inspectors do not offer such products or services.

If buyers desire the kind of insurance which these plans or policies provide, they should consult their real estate professional or insurance agent and should carefully read any such policies to be certain that they understand their limitations and meet their specific needs.

What about “warranties/certifications” at no additional cost?

The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself, “When was the last time that I got something for nothing?” Such warranties and certifications are primarily marketing devices. When read carefully, they often provide little or no protection. Typically, inspectors offering these will not certify a component unless they are absolutely certain that, given the age and condition of the component, no adverse conditions (outside of those which they specifically disclaim) are likely to occur.

Whenever speaking with inspectors who sell insurance or provide “free” certification programs, ask them about their loss ratios as well as their reserves for claims and request documentation pertaining to such information when considering engaging their services.

Should home inspection companies provide any warranty or guarantee?

Yes. They should warrant that they will perform their inspections in accordance both with a specific home inspection industry standard and with the terms and conditions of their written inspection agreement and scope of work. Because home inspectors cannot predict the future, they cannot be expected to provide any warranties or guarantees regarding the continued performance of or the efficiency of any system or component inspected or conditions which are not visible, or which are not able to be determined in the course of the inspection.

Home inspectors are to houses what doctors who perform general physical examinations are to patients. They perform general examinations and recommend further examinations and evaluations by specialists when they believe that it is necessary to do so. Neither a doctor nor a home inspector can guarantee that they have found “everything” in the course of performing their respective work and they cannot and are not expected to predict the future. Both are highly trained and skilled individuals who do the best which is possible within the scope and limits which define their work. That is all anyone can or should expect or ask of either.

Why are specific items excluded in inspection contracts?

It’s not uncommon for home inspectors to specifically exclude inspection of items including, but not limited to, swimming pools, hot tubs, household appliances, central vacuum systems, active and passive solar space heating and domestic hot water heating systems, lawn sprinkler systems, intrusion detection and alarm systems, fire and smoke detection and suppression systems, water wells, and septic systems to name only some. They also specifically exclude services such as testing for lead and asbestos, mold, or other environmental testing. All standards for home inspection exclude such items and services.

This is not necessarily because home inspectors are not competent or qualified to inspect such items or perform such services. Rather, it is because inspection of these items and performance of these services requires significant additional time and highly specialized training. Some services such as pest infestation inspection and treatment often require specific governmental licenses and mandated training.

A visual inspection of the visible and readily accessible components of a swimming pool for conditions which are currently adversely affecting, or which have the potential to adversely affect their normally intended function or operation may require as much as 1½ to 2 hours with fees starting at $100.00 per hour. In addition, some systems such as lawn sprinkler systems and swimming pools may be deactivated for extended periods of time.

Some home inspectors may choose to include certain items or services which are typically excluded, and others may offer inspection of specifically excluded items under separate contracts or they will direct buyers to individuals or companies qualified to perform such services.

If inspectors were to spend the additional time required to perform an inspection of typically excluded systems, they would have less time to inspect the major systems of a home for more important and potentially costly conditions unless they significantly increased their fees. If buyers desire information regarding the condition of excluded systems as well as specific operation and maintenance information, it is more cost effective for them to engage the services of the individuals or contractors who have been servicing and maintaining such systems for the current occupants.

While many home inspectors maintain liberal follow-up policies regarding telephone or in-office consultation with customers after inspections, the re-inspection of corrective measures resulting from information developed during inspections is typically not offered. This is because qualified individuals or contractors who are retained to perform corrective measures are expected to evaluate the conditions noted in the inspection report and make any appropriate and necessary corrections in accordance with all applicable industry standards and governmental codes, ordinances, and regulations.

What about systems which are shut off or de-energized at the time of the inspection?

Home inspectors will not turn on or restore service to any system which is shut off or not in service at the time of the inspection. Inspectors will not light standing pilot lights, energize electrical circuits which are shut off or out of service, or operate any water or gas in-line shut off valves. In order to inspect the plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical systems of a home, the electrical service, water service, gas/oil service and the components served by these utilities must be on and operational at the time of the inspection.

What about systems or components which cannot be inspected because they are not readily accessible or are not within the contractual scope of inspection?

Home inspectors perform their inspections under limitations of their contractual scope of inspection which typically limits inspections to the readily accessible portions of the systems and components included in that scope. If, in the sole determination of the inspector, a system or component is not visually observable or readily accessible and able to be examined, it will not be inspected. The inspection report will identify any such systems or components, describe the specific conditions which limited or prevented access, and will state that they were not inspected and the reason that they were not inspected.

How do I arrange for a home inspection?

The easiest part of arranging for a home inspection is contacting the inspection company. Once you have scheduled your inspection, the inspection company will contact the appropriate parties to coordinate the inspection with them.

Contact the inspection company to schedule your inspection as soon as possible after acceptance of your offer to purchase the home in order to give both you and your inspector maximum flexibility in scheduling. During periods of heavy real estate activity, it is not unusual for inspection companies such as ours to be booked up as far as seven days in advance.

Once you have agreed on the appointed inspection date and time, it’s imperative that you honor your commitment to your appointment. After all, by making your appointment, your inspector has committed that valuable time period to you and, in busy times, it may not be possible to reschedule your inspection.

What about inspection report formats?

There is no single “right” inspection report format. Some home inspectors produce a report in a checklist with narrative format while other inspectors produce software generated reports. Any inspection report should reflect that the inspection has been performed in accordance with a home inspection industry standard and should cover all of the components and conditions present in the home and listed for inspection in that standard and within the limitations set forth in the standard and in the inspection contract. Reports should be user-friendly, that is, they should be easy to read and understand. The information should be well-arranged, clear, provide perspective, and any recommendations should be clear and direct.

While some reports may also include a summary, it is extremely important that buyers read the entire report, not just the summary, before making any decisions which may be affected by the information contained in the full report. Only by reading the entire report can buyers get the full benefit of the inspection and report.

What about payment?

While the forms of payment inspection companies accept vary among inspection firms, payment is typically due upon completion of the inspection and prior to release of the inspection report. In order to maintain their position as impartial third parties with no ties to the sale of the properties they inspect, most inspection companies do not defer payment until the closing of the real estate transaction or the close of escrow. When payment for the inspection is, in any way, contingent on the closing, it creates the appearance of a potential conflict of interest for the inspection company. In addition, most inspection companies are small businesses which do not want to increase their costs by having to chase accounts due. Such costs would have to be passed on to their customers in the form of higher inspection fees.

The Home Seller’s Guide to Home Inspection

This guide will help make the process of having your home inspected as easy and smooth as possible by answering the most commonly asked questions about home inspections and by providing helpful information on how to prepare your home for an inspection.

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What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a primarily visual examination of the visible and readily accessible components of the interior, exterior, structural, roof, electrical, heating, cooling, and plumbing systems of a home for conditions which are currently adversely affecting the normally intended function or operation of those systems and their components.

The information which is developed from the inspection is documented in a written report along with recommendations for appropriate actions to address the conditions noted in the report. The completed report is delivered to the inspection company’s customer. The report will also describe locations of main water, gas, and electrical shut-offs as well as certain component materials and methods of installation and construction used in the home.

In the course of performing the inspection the inspector will typically give buyers maintenance information to assist them in caring for and getting the most out of, what will soon be, their new home. Some home inspectors also include the kitchen appliances in their inspections and some provide other services such as testing for radon gas, spa and swimming pool inspection, pest inspection, and mold testing.

What does an inspector do?

While each inspector will bring his or her unique knowledge and experience to an inspection, all home inspectors cover the same basic areas. They will examine the exterior including wall claddings and finishes, grading and drainage, drives and walkways, decks and balconies, roof coverings and the other components above the roof line when it’s readily accessible.

They will examine the exterior and interior components of the plumbing, electrical, heating, and cooling systems including the operation of plumbing fixtures and water heaters. Inspectors examine the interiors of electrical system main and sub distribution panels and the operation of heating and cooling equipment including, in some instances, removal of heating and cooling equipment access panels to permit closer examination of interior components. They will examine solid-fuel heating appliances such as wood stoves and fireplaces. Inspectors may enter under-building crawl spaces and attic spaces; open closets, cabinets, and cupboards; and enter and inspect every room of the home including garages and the function of automatic garage door operators.

A thorough home inspection of a typical home may take from two to four hours and it is customary for the buyer to accompany the inspector for part, if not all, of the inspection.

Will I receive a copy of the inspection report?

Typically the home seller will not get a copy of the report. The inspection and report are the property of the party paying for the inspection. If this is the buyer, then it is their report. Unless they authorize release of the report to other parties, only customers are provided with the report by the inspection company.

Can my home fail an inspection?

In a word, NO! Homes don’t pass or fail inspections. Homes speak for themselves and a good inspector knows how to listen. The inspection report documents any adverse conditions noted in the course of the inspection and provides recommendations for appropriate actions to address those conditions. Depending on what the inspector finds, the inspector’s recommendations may range from simply monitoring some conditions to addressing others as part of routine maintenance to recommending immediate action for some others. However, a home inspector is a disinterested third party and does not get involved in any negotiations between buyers and sellers and does not assign responsibility to either buyers or sellers regarding who is responsible for addressing any recommendations.

Should I be present during the inspection?

While it may not always be practical, it’s better for sellers and occupants to be away during the inspection and, in most cases, sellers or occupants are not present during the inspection. The inspection is the buyer’s time to really become familiar with the home under the guidance of the inspector. Buyers typically feel more at ease when they are free to ask the inspector questions or to make comments and observations in an uninhibited atmosphere. If you need to leave special instructions for the inspector, they are best communicated through your agent or you can leave written instructions for the inspector.

If you must be home during the inspection, keep in mind that the buyer is paying for the inspector’s time and expertise. Following along or chatting with the inspector or the buyer consumes their time and it may make the buyer uncomfortable. It’s always best if you go about your normal daily routine and allow the inspector and the buyer to proceed through the house unaccompanied and uninterrupted from start to finish.

Can I get my home ready for an inspection?

By all means you can. Not only can a home be prepared for an inspection, it should be prepared for an inspection. Everyone benefits when a home is properly prepared for an inspection. It makes it easier for the inspector, reduces the time required to conduct the inspection, and shows consideration for the buyer’s time as well. The results are not only fewer headaches for the inspector but also fewer disruptions and less inconvenience for you.

What should I do to prepare my home for an inspection?

Remove obstacles which may block the inspector’s access to the following:

  • Electrical panels
  • Heating and cooling equipment
  • Water heaters
  • Under-building crawl space access
  • Attic space access (this includes removing clothing and other personal property which may impede access through a closet or garage)
  • Under-sink areas
  • Ground fault interrupter type electrical receptacle outlets
  • Kitchen sinks
  • Dishwashers
  • Ranges and ovens
  • Interior areas including garages and basements
  • Any locked item or area (remove locks, unlock doors and gates, or provide keys or other means of access so that the inspector can have access to yards and can open electrical panels, storage rooms, etc.)
  • Fireplaces

Take measures to kennel, cage, or otherwise remove pets which cannot be let out (the inspector may be in and out of the home multiple times and cannot be responsible for monitoring the movements of your pets), which may harm the inspector or others present at the inspection, or which may be harmed by the inspection.

All space heating and water heating equipment should be operational (this means that standing pilot lights must be lit and that gas and fuel oil-fired equipment supply valves must be open). All systems (water, gas/oil, and electrical) should be on. If the inspector finds electrical circuit breakers in the off position, unlit pilot lights, gas or oil valves, water stops, or main water supply valves which are shut off; or other essential or major component controls which have been disabled, the inspector will assume that they are in such condition for a reason and the written report will state that they were not operated.

If the inspector operates a light switch for a permanently installed light fixture and the fixture has a burned out light bulb or no light bulb at all, the inspection report may state that the light was inoperable and may recommend further evaluation by a qualified electrician. To avoid this, replace burned out light bulbs or missing light bulbs in permanent light fixtures before the inspection.

Clean eave gutters and properly extend downspouts. Make sure that your roof is in good repair, that the heating/air-conditioning system is properly maintained and, where applicable, has a clean filter, that there is proper labeling of all of the circuits in the electrical pane, and intact cover plates on all electrical switches and receptacle outlets – all these reduce the number of adverse conditions an inspector will otherwise have to include in the report.

Finally, think about what appeals to you when you look at a home – curb appeal, a neat and trimmed yard, a wellpainted exterior and interior, clean carpets and floors, a garage or carport which is neat and roomy, uncluttered kitchen and bathroom countertops, etc. Talk with your real estate professional. Your real estate professional is an experienced and knowledgeable individual who can give you tips on how to help your home present its best face, both inside and out.

Inspectors aren’t drill sergeants and they do not come to a home to perform a military “white glove” inspection. However, an environment which is neat and easy to move about in will best present your home to the buyer and will make the entire inspection process more enjoyable for everyone.

What about after the inspection?

Sit back and relax. Your agent or representative will assist you in the process after the inspection. Remember, competent home inspectors provide their customers with objective, unbiased, and clear information. They put the conditions noted in the course of their inspections in perspective. This allows buyers to make calm and informed decisions about the information in the inspection report. Experience has shown that most buyers aren’t obsessive perfectionists. Unless there are significant conditions which require immediate modifications or corrective measures, they typically understand that your home is where people just like them live and they anticipate a reasonable amount of normal wear and tear and minor deferred maintenance.

The Real Estate Professional’s Guide to Home Inspection

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What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a primarily visual examination of the readily accessible components of the interior, exterior, structural, roof, electrical, heating, cooling, and plumbing systems of a home for conditions which are adversely affecting their normally intended function or operation. The systems and their related components included in the inspection are typically those specified either by state statutory and regulatory requirements or by a standard of a home inspector trade association and the inspection company’s contractual scope of inspection.

The information which is developed in the course of conducting a home inspection is documented in a written report along with recommendations that further evaluations and any necessary modifications or correction be performed by appropriate qualified individuals. The report will also note the locations of the primary water, electrical, and fuel gas/oil service shut-offs and include descriptions of certain materials and methods of construction. Because the written report is the property of the inspection company’s customer, it’s given only to the customer or to others whom the inspection company customer has specifically authorized.

Some home inspectors may also provide other services (often under separate contract and for an additional fee) such as testing for radon gas, testing for mold, inspection of swimming pools, pest inspection, sewer line scoping, and other services and inspections which are not part of established home inspection standards.

Is a home inspection a health and safety inspection?

No, it is not. While some adverse conditions documented in a home inspection report may also have health and/or safety implications does not mean or intend that a home inspection is “health and safety” inspection. To represent it as such to buyers is unintentionally misleading and may have unintended and unwanted consequences later.

Who are home inspectors?

Home inspectors are highly trained and skilled observers and educators who possess broad technical knowledge about the systems and components of a home and the skills necessary to apply that knowledge.

Home inspectors know that even the highest degree of technical knowledge and skills alone are not sufficient. Knowledge and skills have to be integrated with a clear understanding of the human side of the inspection process – and there are no regulatory requirements, registrations, certifications, licenses, or other credentials which attest to an inspector’s understanding of the psychology of that process or which measure an inspector’s people skills. Home inspectors recognize that the human side of the inspection process is as important as the technical knowledge and skills side. They intuitively understand the psychology of the home inspection process and apply it to their work along with their other skills and knowledge.

Home inspectors are highly skilled interpreters. Homes speak for themselves and a knowledgeable and experienced inspector knows how to listen. But it’s not enough just to be a skilled listener; a knowledgeable and experienced home inspector is also a master interpreter who knows how to translate the information which the home provides so that buyers clearly understand the information which the inspector has developed in the course of the inspection.

Home inspectors wear only one “hat,” so to speak, and that hat says, “Home Inspector.” It does not and should not say “Repair Contractor,” “Code Enforcement,” “Hired Gun,” “Hero,” “Self-Important / Big Ego,” “Real Estate Transaction Negotiator,” “Appraiser,” “Absolute Authority,” or “I Know Everything.” Home inspectors are disinterested third parties. They understand that they have specific contractual, fiduciary, ethical, and, in some instances, regulatory obligations to their customers as well as ethical and legal obligations to the other parties to the transaction. While they assist buyers in understanding the condition of a home and how to maintain it, they also know that they are not qualified to give opinions regarding the value of any property or the advisability or inadvisability of purchase. A home inspector is not a party to any contracts, negotiations, or agreements between the Customer and any third parties including, but not limited to, sellers, lessors, lenders, appraisers, title companies, surveyors, insurers, attorneys, or real estate agents. Inspectors cannot and will not provide any advice or direction pertaining to the use or timeliness of use of any information contained in the Inspection Report with regard to any such contracts, negotiations, or agreements.

Home inspectors do not offer to perform modifications or corrective measures to address any conditions determined in the course of performing an inspection. If a real estate professional or a buyer needs the names of qualified professionals to perform any work, inspectors who choose to provide guidance in this area should provide the names of at least three qualified individuals or companies or suggest using the internet, the telephone book Yellow Pages under the appropriate heading, or other available resources.

Do inspections “kill” deals?

No! An inspection performed by a knowledgeable and experienced home inspector never “kills a deal.” If a real estate transaction is terminated as a result of the information developed in the course of a home inspection, the home has spoken for itself and blaming the inspector is unwarranted. Blaming the home inspector is like shooting the messenger because the message is unpleasant or unwanted. Statistics repeatedly show that, as a percentage of the total number of residential real estate transactions, the number of transactions which are terminated as a direct result of home inspections is extremely low. It is also worth keeping in mind that in many states, buyers can use the home inspection to terminate a contract to purchase a home without stating on what, specifically, they are basing their decision. Some buyers may have a hidden agenda to terminate a contract before an inspection ever takes place and may simply use the inspection to do exactly that.

What about credentials?

Because the home inspection industry is regulated in some states and not in others, home inspectors’ credentials will vary. In states which regulate home inspectors, all home inspectors should meet all of the requirements of the state in which they perform their work. In states which do not regulate home inspectors, there are other criteria which can aid real estate professionals and home buyers in identifying qualified home inspectors.

Training and Experience: This may include a state mandated educational program in states which regulate home inspectors as well as an inspector’s background in architecture, building trades, engineering, or specific non-mandated educational and training in the field of home inspection. Inspectors may also have time under their belts having been self-employed or employed by a home inspection company as a home inspector for a period of time. However, it would be a mistake to assume that a home inspector who is just starting out cannot perform a competent home inspection. A well-trained “new” inspector may be just as technically competent, methodical, patient, and careful as an inspector who has been inspecting for a longer time because the new inspector really wants to do a good job and the knowledge and skills he or she have recently learned are still fresh.

Associations: Anyone who has belonged to a trade association knows that membership in a trade association does not automatically confer competence. What anyone gets out of an association is strictly dependent on the individual. It’s important to remember that the primary functions of any trade association are to promote the trade and to protect and educate the association’s members. The benefits which accrue to the public can be real and quite useful, but they are secondary to the primary functions which serve the association’s members.

There are numerous trade associations for home inspectors at the state, national, and international levels. Perhaps the oldest and most widely recognized is the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI has done a remarkable job of self-promotion but it is by no means the only trade association providing benefits to home inspectors and to the public. There are others such as the International National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI, and the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (CAHPI) as well as individual state and provincial associations such as the Texas Association of Real Estate inspectors (TAREI), the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA), and the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors (OAHI). Each of these associations has its own membership requirements, continuing education requirements, home inspection industry standards, and code of ethics.

With regard to the various trade association membership benefits, it is education, standards, and codes of ethics which are the most important. Home inspection industry standards provide minimum requirements and guidelines which association members follow in the performance of home inspections as well as both general and specific limitations and exclusions for inspections. Codes of ethics delineate a member’s ethical duties and obligations to customers and to the public. It’s important to note that the standards and the codes of ethics of virtually every home inspector association as well as those adopted under individual state regulatory requirements are, with relatively minor differences, identical.

Therefore, if home inspectors state in their promotional materials and inspection contract that their inspections are performed in accordance with any one of these standards and codes of ethics, then they are meeting the same inspection standards of most state and national trade associations regardless of whether or not they belong to a specific trade association.

There are other trade associations to which some home inspectors belong such as the International Code Council (ICC), the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). All of these make valuable information and educational programs available to their members. These all enhance a home inspector’s knowledge and experience.

A home inspector’s credentials are only as good as the inspector. Even membership in multiple associations cannot, by itself, make a poor inspector a good inspector and, conversely, an inspector can be a consummately competent home inspector without belonging to any trade associations.

Home inspectors should be assessed on the basis of a whole picture of the individual inspector, not simply on one or two aspects

Should inspectors be engineers?

The training and experience of home inspectors is broad while that of professional engineers is necessarily narrow and highly specialized. In many states the governmental agencies which regulate the practice of engineering have the power to suspend or revoke the licenses of professional engineers who are found to be performing services beyond their competency, training, or education. This means that engineers cannot provide engineering evaluations of the multiple diverse systems in a home unless they are specifically educated, trained, and experienced in the evaluation of each of those systems.

This does not mean that professional engineers cannot be competent home inspectors. It simply means that, unless they meet the criteria outlined above, they should not claim to be performing an engineering evaluation of all of the systems in a home. While many home inspectors have backgrounds in building construction, engineering, or other related fields and they bring their knowledge to bear on their work as inspectors, in the final analysis, all home inspectors bring their own unique perspectives, knowledge, training, and skills to every inspection they perform.

How important are language, perspective, and people skills?

All are of paramount importance. Home inspectors are reporters and educators who work solely for their customers and, as such, have an obligation to their customers to present the information developed in the course of an inspection with impartiality and with proper, honest perspective. Their job is to inform their customers, not to alarm them. They will typically indicate the relative degree of importance of the conditions they observe by recommending that a particular condition is a normal and expected routine maintenance condition or by recommending immediate attention to reduce the potential for further deterioration or damage.

The language which home inspectors use when speaking with their customers is critical to providing proper perspective during the inspection process. Using the right terms and language allows buyers to make informed decisions for which they feel responsible. Using improper terms and language can lead buyers to make uninformed or even panicky decisions which, if they later regret, they may blame on someone else. By using incorrect or improper language, an inspector can inadvertently, unintentionally, but quite effectively make decisions for buyers.

Knowledgeable home inspectors don’t use terms such as “defect/defective”, “deficient/deficiency,” or “problem” to describe the various conditions they observe in the course of an inspection. If these terms are used, regardless of whether the conditions observed are all minor, by the end of the inspection the buyer will perceive the house to be “defective,” “deficient,” or plagued with “problems.”

Knowledgeable home inspectors use the neutral term “condition” to describe their observations and to assign a specific and appropriate degree of importance to the conditions they find in the course of the inspection. Inflated spoken or written language, exaggeration, and editorializing have no place in a home inspection or report. Home inspectors understand the potential effect of extravagant language and overstatement such as, “I’ve never seen anything this bad! This place is a real firetrap!” and they avoid using such language. They also describe adverse conditions simply and descriptively as improper or as not consistent with generally established practices – not as “amateur” or “shoddy.”

Two examples:

In the course of conducting a home inspection an inspector determines that there are specific wiring conditions needing attention inside of the main electrical distribution panel. In this example we’ll use “overfusing” (undersized wire for the ampacity rating of a given circuit breaker) and “multiple tapping” (two or more wires connected to a circuit breaker terminal which is designed and intended for only one wire) as the conditions. It‘s perfectly normal for the buyer to ask why such conditions are important and why they merit inclusion in the written inspection report.

If, without considering the effect of the answer, the inspector says, “These defects are real safety hazards. It’s shoddy and amateur work. They’re problems which can cause a fire or electrocute someone,” then the buyer is much more likely to become unduly anxious or uncomfortable with the home and unnecessarily alarmed about the specific electrical conditions.

In this example, the terms “defects,” “safety hazards,” “shoddy,” “amateur,” and “problems” imply a defective, hazardous, and shoddily constructed house built by or worked on by amateurs. The terms “fire,” and “electrocution” are alarming words; they conjure up images of the house in flames. People don’t listen well or make reasoned and informed decisions when they are distracted with worry about other things, in this case, things which simply require calm consideration, not alarm.

Now, consider the following answer to the same question:

However, if the home inspector thoughtfully and in a non-alarmist manner explains the conditions as follows: “There are two primary issues associated with incorrect electrical conditions – overheating and shock. However, there’s no evidence at this time to indicate overheating has occurred and these particular conditions don’t currently pose the potential for shock. Typically, these conditions can be easily corrected by a qualified electrical contractor,” the buyer will be much more likely to calmly accept the information and have a realistic perspective regarding the conditions being discussed.

In this second example the careful consideration of terminology demonstrated in the use of the terms “issues,” “conditions,” “overheating,” “shock,” and “common” provides an answer which is not alarming or exaggerated. It clearly and calmly describes common conditions which can be easily remedied. It puts them in perspective and leaves the buyer ready to move on with the rest of the inspection

What about building codes?

Building codes are primarily life/safety codes. Having a good working knowledge of the various building codes can be an asset to home inspectors because it gives them a broader understanding of certain issues which may bear on some of the conditions which they come across in their work. Since some of the conditions which home inspectors may observe and document in their reports have certain potential implications, it’s not uncommon when those conditions also do not to conform to a specific portion of a particular building code as well. However, this congruency between a condition which a home inspector observes and non-conformance to code does not mean that home inspectors are performing “code” or “safety” inspections. Competent home inspectors know that they are not performing safety inspections or inspections for compliance or non-compliance with any governmental codes, ordinances, or regulations. Therefore, competent home inspectors do not use terms like “non-complying,” “illegal,” “is not permitted,” “is not allowed,” “violates code,” “does not meet code,” or “unsafe” because these are all authoritative terms which imply that inspections include evaluating homes safety or for code compliance.

Homes built under earlier building standards and codes are not required to be continually brought into conformance with newer codes every time such codes are adopted by the jurisdictional authority any more than cars manufactured in past years are required to meet changing Federal Department of Transportation regulations. Just as a buyer of an older car might find it relatively inexpensive and easy to install seat belts but not air bags or anti-lock brakes after buying the car, so might a buyer of a pre-owned home find it relatively inexpensive and easy to have GFCI devices but not a fire suppression sprinkler system installed after purchasing the home. Therefore, some home inspectors may choose to refer to conditions such as guardrail component spacing, the presence of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) devices, self-closing devices on garage-to-house doors, and similar items in older homes under a heading of Elective Modification or a similar term to indicate that such conditions are not adverse conditions.

Such terms designate any condition noted in the report which is intended to be considered as an improvement which customers may wish to consider performing as part of modifying or upgrading the subject property after they own it. These conditions are not adverse conditions. As with any modifications to the subject property, all work should be performed by qualified individuals or companies and in accordance with all applicable standards and governmental codes, ordinances, and regulations.

Home inspectors typically educate buyers regarding relatively simple and reasonably cost-effective upgrades at the same time making it clear that homes are not substandard in any manner because they do not have certain components or systems which may be present or even required in newer homes. They emphasize that there is no requirement that older homes be upgraded to meet current standards. Therefore, if buyers wish to modify a home or its systems to meet current standards, such work would be implemented by them, at their option and cost, after they own the home. This important concept is one which real estate professionals may wish to explain to buyers prior to the home inspection.

What about cosmetic conditions?

Other than when inspecting newly constructed homes where systems and components are expected to be in new condition, inspectors typically do not inspect for or report on cosmetic conditions such as torn screens, minor paint chipping, dented door knobs, or other conditions of normal wear and tear. Remember, inspectors are working under both time and cost constraints. If they spend the valuable time for which a buyer is paying to look for cosmetic and document conditions, they will have less time to inspect the major systems of a home for more important and potentially costly conditions.

What about insurance?

Historically, home inspectors receive the lowest fee of any of the parties involved in a residential real estate transaction. Yet, they spend as much as three to four hours in and around the home not only inspecting it but also educating buyers. In fact, it is not uncommon for the home inspector to be one of the few individuals who enters the home and works with the buyer solely on the buyer’s behalf. Yet, there is an assumption that the inspector should bear the same degree of legal exposure which the other individuals involved in the transaction bear. This has led to an expectation that home inspectors should, therefore, carry errors and omissions (E&O) insurance in addition to their general liability insurance – and some inspectors have chosen to do so.

There is a widely held misconception that if an inspector carries E&O insurance, it will reduce the legal exposure of the other real estate professionals involved in the transaction should a disgruntled buyer threaten legal action by providing an additional “target” for the buyer’s ire. However, almost all inspectors’ contracts limit their liability to the cost of the inspection. These liability limitation clauses have been upheld in the courts in some states and jurisdictions. Even inspectors who choose to carry E&O seldom turn in claims to their E&O carrier. This is for several reasons. The first is that, in most instances, a buyers’ claim of negligent or incompetent inspection turns out, on further investigation and analysis, to be baseless and without foundation. The second is that home inspectors will enforce the limitation on liability clause of their contract with the buyer and will, at most, return no more than the original inspection fee. Finally, the vast majority of claims made by buyers against home inspectors are for less than the deductible on the home inspector’s E&O insurance. All of this has to be considered in light of the fact that, as a percentage of the total number of home inspections performed annually, the number of claims against home inspectors by buyers is miniscule. In short, it is not an issue.

Real estate professionals, whether acting as transactional agents or buyers’ agents, should have no contingent liability for any real or perceived mistakes made by home inspectors. This is because real estate professionals follow all of the proper procedures and duties for their work such as fiduciary duties as well as using care and diligence in filling out contracts, obtaining a seller’s disclosure statement, carefully and patiently explaining every aspect of transactions to buyers, and not “steering” buyers to inspectors. All home inspectors should carry general liability insurance and some also may carry a fidelity bond as well. E&O insurance, however, only increases an inspector’s cost of doing business and that cost is passed on to the consumer. It typically does little or nothing to protect real estate professionals or buyers.

Should inspectors rate homes?

Absolutely not! Every home stands on its own merits. Home inspectors do not “rate” homes they inspect, and a home cannot not “pass” or “fail” an inspection. Home inspectors know that most homes have been lived in. Normal wear and tear and even some deferred maintenance is to be expected. Home inspectors don’t “rate” or “grade” homes on an arbitrary scale or against some ideal standard of condition or maintenance. All homes “speak for themselves;” it takes a qualified home inspector to know how and for what to listen and how to interpret the information developed in the course of an inspection.

Do inspectors provide cost estimates for corrective work?

It’s not the job of inspectors to provide cost estimates for work which will be performed by other qualified individuals or companies. Some inspectors who have enough experience may choose to verbally discuss “ballpark” cost ranges for certain work with which they are familiar, but even general contractors use professional estimating guides and obtain competitive bids before providing the costs associated with specific work. When buyers ask inspectors to provide costs, they are asking inspectors to place a value on another individual’s or company’s labor and materials. In some instances, additional and unanticipated costs may arise from previously hidden conditions which are discovered in the course of performing corrective work.

Are previous inspection reports reliable?

Typically, they are not. Previous inspection reports are not reliable sources of information not only because they have been performed for other parties, but also because they often do not contain current information. Conditions may have dramatically changed since a previous inspection was conducted, even if it was done recently. Buyers should always have an inspection performed specifically on their behalf. Only in this way can buyers be assured that they are receiving information on the current condition of the home and its systems and only in this way can they receive the advantage of maintenance and care information which is provided specifically for them. In addition, most inspection company contracts state that the inspection is for the exclusive use of the company’s customer and is a non-transferable document.

Is a home inspection a warranty?

A home inspection is an examination of specific systems and components for conditions which are adversely affecting the normally intended function or operation of the systems and components inspected. It’s intended to develop information which is documented in an inspection report and which can become part of an overall home and systems maintenance and management program.

A warranty is a pledge made by the original manufacturer of a product to repair, replace, or correct specific deficiencies in their product if such deficiencies occur within a stated period of time. It can also be a pledge made by the provider of a service to perform that service in a specified manner.

The term “warranty” is often confused with insurance plans offered for sale to home buyers. In order to avoid confusion, the term “insurance” is used here when discussing “home buyers’ warranties.”

Such insurance covers certain components or occurrences and contains deductibles and disclaimers regarding the items covered. Typically, a fee is paid by the insurance company to the individual or company who offers this type of insurance. Therefore, if an inspector offers to give or sell a buyer such insurance, that inspector is working for someone in addition to the buyer and is no longer a disinterested third party. There’s an old saying that no one can serve two masters – inspectors are no different. Qualified home inspectors do not offer such products or services.

If buyers desire the kind of insurance which these plans or policies provide, they should consult their real estate professional or insurance agent and should carefully read any such policies to be certain that they understand their limitations and meet their specific needs.

What about “warranties/certifications” at no additional cost?

The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself, “When was the last time that I got something for nothing?” Such warranties and certifications are primarily marketing devices. When read carefully, they often provide little or no protection. Typically, inspectors offering these will not certify a component unless they are absolutely certain that, given the age and condition of the component, no adverse conditions (outside of those which they specifically disclaim) are likely to occur.

Whenever speaking with inspectors who sell insurance or provide “free” certification programs, ask them about their loss ratios as well as their reserves for claims and request documentation pertaining to such information when considering engaging their services.

Should home inspection companies provide warranties?

Yes. They should warrant that they will perform their inspections in accordance both with a specific home inspection industry standard and with the terms and conditions of their written inspection agreement and scope of work. Because home inspectors cannot predict the future, they cannot be expected to provide any warranties or guarantees regarding the continued performance of or the efficiency of any system or component inspected or conditions which are not visible, or which are not able to be determined in the course of the inspection.

Home inspectors are to houses what doctors who perform general physical examinations are to patients. They perform general examinations and recommend further examinations and evaluations by specialists when they believe that it is necessary to do so. Neither a doctor nor a home inspector can guarantee that they have found “everything” in the course of performing their respective work and they cannot and are not expected to predict the future. Both are highly trained and skilled individuals who do the best which is possible within the scope and limits which define their work. That is all anyone can or should expect or ask of either.

Why are specific items excluded in inspection contracts?

It’s not uncommon for home inspectors to specifically exclude inspection of items including, but not limited to, swimming pools, hot tubs, household appliances, central vacuum systems, active and passive solar space heating and domestic hot water heating systems, lawn sprinkler systems, intrusion detection and alarm systems, fire and smoke detection and suppression systems, water wells, and septic systems to name only some. They also specifically exclude services such as testing for lead and asbestos, mold, or other environmental testing. All standards for home inspection exclude such items and services.

This is not necessarily because home inspectors are not competent or qualified to inspect such items or perform such services. Rather, it is because inspection of these items and performance of these services requires significant additional time and highly specialized training. Some services such as pest infestation inspection and treatment often require specific governmental licenses and mandated training.

A visual inspection of the visible and readily accessible components of a swimming pool for conditions which are currently adversely affecting, or which have the potential to adversely affect their normally intended function or operation may require as much as 1½ to 2 hours with fees starting at $100.00 per hour. In addition, some systems such as lawn sprinkler systems and swimming pools may be deactivated for extended periods of time.

Some home inspectors may choose to include certain items or services which are typically excluded, and others may offer inspection of specifically excluded items under separate contracts or they will direct buyers to individuals or companies qualified to perform such services.

If inspectors were to spend the additional time required to perform an inspection of typically excluded systems, they would have less time to inspect the major systems of a home for more important and potentially costly conditions unless they significantly increased their fees. If buyers desire information regarding the condition of excluded systems as well as specific operation and maintenance information, it is more cost effective for them to engage the services of the individuals or contractors who have been servicing and maintaining such systems for the current occupants.

While many home inspectors maintain liberal follow-up policies regarding telephone or in-office consultation with customers after inspections, the re-inspection of corrective measures resulting from information developed during inspections is typically not offered. This is because qualified individuals or contractors who are retained to perform corrective measures are expected to evaluate the conditions noted in the inspection report and make any appropriate and necessary corrections in accordance with all applicable industry standards and governmental codes, ordinances, and regulations.

What about systems which are shut off, out-of-service, or de-energized at the time of the inspection?

Home inspectors will not turn on or restore service to any system which is shut off or not in service at the time of the inspection. Inspectors will not light standing pilot lights, energize electrical circuits which are shut off or out of service, or operate any water or gas in-line shut off valves. In order to inspect the plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical systems of a home, the electrical service, water service, and gas service must be on and operational at the time of the inspection.

What about systems or components which cannot be inspected because they are not readily accessible or are not within the contractual scope of inspection?

Home inspectors perform their inspections under limitations of their contractual scope of inspection which typically limits inspections to the readily accessible portions of the systems and components included in that scope. If, in the sole determination of the inspector, a system or component is not visually observable or readily accessible and able to be examined, it will not be inspected. The inspection report will identify any such systems or components, describe the specific conditions which limited or prevented access, and will state that they were not inspected and the reason that they were not inspected.

Who should be present at the inspection?

It is typically best if only the buyer(s) and the inspector are present at the inspection. Remember, the buyer is typically paying for the inspection and, therefore, for the inspector’s time and knowledge. Home inspectors encourage their customers to attend the inspection. When buyers attend inspections, the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication is significantly reduced. At the same time, it allows the buyer take advantage of the maintenance information most inspectors provide as part of their inspections as well as to ask questions of the inspector in an uninhibited and unhurried atmosphere – without feeling pressured.

If it’s absolutely necessary for a real estate professional to be present at the home being inspected, it’s best that he or she not follow the inspector and buyer around during the inspection. Again, it allows the buyer to speak freely with the inspector and, at the same time, the real estate professional avoids the temptation to comment on or to editorialize about things the inspector points out to the buyer. Such commentary or editorializing could later be construed by a buyer suffering “buyer’s remorse” as an attempt on the part of the real estate professional to gloss over or downplay conditions which the inspector has observed and thus, to influence the buyer’s decision to purchase the home.

While it may not always be practical, it’s better for sellers and occupants to be away during the inspection and, in most cases, sellers or occupants are not present during the inspection. The inspection is the buyer’s time to really become familiar with the home under the guidance of the inspector. Buyers typically feel more at ease when they’re free to ask the inspector questions or to make comments and observations in an uninhibited atmosphere. If there is a need to leave special instructions for the inspector, they are best communicated through the real estate professionals or written instructions can be left for the inspector.

If a seller or occupant must be home during the inspection, again, keep in mind that the buyer is paying for the inspector’s time and expertise. A seller or occupant who follows along or “chats” with the inspector or the buyer consumes both the buyer’s and the inspector’s time and it may make the buyer uncomfortable. It’s always best if sellers or occupants go about their normal daily routine and allow the inspector and the buyer to proceed through the house unaccompanied and uninterrupted from start to finish.

Do home inspectors return to perform re-inspections?

Typically, home inspectors will not return to any property which they have previously inspected for the purpose of performing a re-inspection to verify that any conditions documented in the course of the original inspection have been modified or corrected or that any remedial measures have been performed. This is because home inspectors recommend that all modifications, corrective measures, or new work undertaken on any component or system be performed only by qualified individuals or contractors and that only new, appropriate or specified materials be used. Further, that all work be performed in a workmanlike manner and in accordance with all appropriate applicable industry standards and governmental codes, ordinances and regulations. Finally, subsequent to completion, it is recommended that all such work be documented by work orders, invoices, or receipts from the individuals or companies which performed the work as well as by copies of all signed off building permits and lien releases when applicable.

There’s no reason for a home inspector to return to re-inspect. It’s not cost-effective and home inspectors do not want to assume any liability for conditions which they have previously identified and for which they have recommended specific action by qualified individuals or contractors.

What about inspection contracts?

A home inspection is performed under a written contract between the inspection company and the customer of the inspection company. Just as real estate professionals would not expect a buyer or seller to work with them without signed contracts, it is unreasonable to expect a home inspector to work with a customer without a signed inspection contract.

What about payment?

While the forms of payment inspection companies accept vary among inspection firms, payment is typically due upon completion of the inspection. In order to maintain their position as impartial third parties with no ties to the sale of the properties they inspect, most inspection companies do not defer payment until the closing of the real estate transaction or of escrow. When payment for the inspection is, in any way, contingent on the closing, it creates the appearance of a potential conflict of interest for the inspection company. In addition, most inspection companies are small businesses which do not want to increase their costs by having to chase accounts due. Such costs would have to be passed on to their customers in the form of higher inspection fees.

What about buyer concerns and questions after the inspection?

Specific concerns or questions which a buyer may have subsequent to the inspection should be addressed directly to the home inspector by the inspector’s customer, the buyer. The vast majority of concerns and complaints regarding home inspections turn out to be based on buyers who fail to thoroughly read the inspection report and to follow the recommendations outlined in the report.

The buyer’s contract for the home inspection is with the home inspection company and no one else. Therefore, it’s inappropriate for buyers to expect real estate professionals to contact home inspectors regarding concerns or complaints. When a buyer attempts to bring pressure to bear on a home inspector by communicating through a third party such as a real estate professional without first speaking directly with the inspector, it is typically because the buyer does not really believe that her or his concern or complaint is valid. Communicating with a home inspector through an intermediary without first having communicated directly with the inspector involves parties in the discussion who have neither the need nor the contractual right to participate and may not only constitute a breach of the contract between the inspection company and the buyer, but also it may impose contingent liability on real estate professionals who involve themselves in such communications.

What about inspection report formats?

There is no one “right” inspection report format. Some home inspectors produce a report in a checklist with narrative format while other inspectors produce software generated reports. Any inspection report should reflect that the inspection has been performed in accordance with a home inspection standard and the contractual scope of inspection and should cover all of the components and conditions present in the home and listed for inspection in that standard with in the limitations set forth in the standard and in the inspection contract. Reports should be user-friendly, that is, they should be easy to read and understand by buyers, real estate professionals, and sellers. The information should be well-arranged, clear, provide perspective and general implications regarding adverse conditions documented in the inspection report. All recommendations in the report should be clear, consistent, and direct.

While some reports may also include a summary, it is extremely important that buyers read the entire report, not just the summary, before making any decisions which may be affected by the information contained in the full report. Only by reading the entire report can buyers get the full benefit of the inspection and report.

Can real estate professionals prepare buyers and sellers for a home inspection?

Absolutely, in fact, it’s beneficial to do so. Real estate professionals should encourage buyers to attend home inspections. Having buyers present significantly reduces the chances for misinterpretation and miscommunication regarding the nature and degree of importance of the conditions documented in the inspection report. In addition, most home inspectors provide useful home maintenance and care information to their customers in the course of conducting inspections.

Give buyers a copy of The Home Buyer’s Guide to Home Inspection© and give sellers a copy of The Home Seller’s Guide to Home Inspection. © These informative guides will help buyers and sellers understand the home inspection process as well as what is and is not included in a home inspection.

While it is of utmost importance that home inspectors act as completely independent third parties with no interest in the actual transfer of a specific property, it is to everyone’s benefit for real estate professionals, home inspectors, appraisers, lenders, title company professionals, and insurance professionals to recognize and understand the importance of each trade or profession to the home buying and selling process.

Always encourage buyers to schedule their home inspection as soon as possible after acceptance of their offer to purchase the home in order to give both them and the inspection company maximum flexibility in scheduling. During periods of heavy real estate activity, it is not unusual for inspection companies to be booked as far as seven days in advance.