Fine Tooth Home Inspections
Fine Tooth Home Inspections

Buyers Guide

What is a professional home inspection?
A professional home inspection is a primarily visual examination of the visible, safely accessible, and readily accessible areas of a home’s foundation, structure, roof, and electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and plumbing systems including their related components for conditions which currently adversely affect or have the potential to adversely affect their normally intended function or operation. Additionally, a home inspection includes a printed report that documents any such conditions and provides important maintenance and care information to help homeowners protect their investment.

Professional home inspectors put into perspective the information developed in the course of the inspection regarding the relative importance of the conditions noted within the printed report and how quickly certain corrective measures should be implemented. Depending on what the inspector finds, the inspector’s recommendations may range from simply monitoring some conditions, addressing others as normal maintenance items, or recommending further evaluation by a qualified service person or contractor.

While each inspector will bring a unique point of view to an inspection, all professional home inspectors cover the same areas. They will inspect the exterior when it is safe to do so including walking the roof to inspect the roof covering materials and the other components above the roof line. They will examine the foundation, gutters, downspouts, chimneys, grading, drainage, balconies, decks, porches, patios, exterior wall claddings, walkways, driveways, and other exterior components. They will inspect 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, removing of heating and cooling equipment access panels to permit closer examination of interior components. They will inspect solid-fuel heating appliances such as woodstoves 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 professional inspector does not assign responsibility to either buyers or sellers regarding recommended corrective measures. A professional inspector’s function is to investigate, report, educate and recommend actions to address certain conditions. It is not to negotiate between buyers and sellers or to advise customers regarding what or how to negotiate. In addition, they are not appraisers and are not qualified to provide any opinion regarding the value of any property or the advisability or inadvisability of purchase.

Why should a home be inspected?
Home may be where the heart is but a home is also a very large piece of technology. It is a large machine that performs numerous functions. Its various systems and components keep us safe, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and dry when it’s raining. It provides a place to work, play, study, entertain and relax. In order to do all these things, a home’s systems have to function individually as well as together as a cohesive unit.

A professional home inspection provides valuable information about the condition and operation of these systems and components. It assists buyers in assessing the need for both immediate and preventative maintenance and is intended to develop information which can become part of an overall risk reduction and risk management plan. Professional inspectors are not parties to any real estate transactions; they are impartial third parties.

Do all homes need to be inspected?

Absolutely! Whether buying a home that is pre-owned or newly constructed, buyers benefit from a thorough professional home inspection. Even in newly constructed homes, it is not uncommon to find gas leaks, improper electrical or plumbing work, roof covering issues or other adverse conditions. While builders may provide some type of warranty on a newly built home, it is better to find and correct conditions before taking possession. A competent inspector 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 warranty might be.

Should buyers attend inspections?
Buyers are encouraged to meet with the inspector at the home inspection. If the buyer wishes to follow the inspector throughout the attic or other crawl space, it is important that he or she dresses appropriately. The buyer may want to bring a pen and a writing pad with a sturdy writing surface such as a clipboard for taking maintenance notes during the inspection. To get the full benefit of the inspection buyers should give the inspector their undivided attention. A professional 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. Buyers should be prepared to leave with the inspector when the inspection is complete. 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.

What qualifications should a professional home inspector have?
At present (2007) about twenty-eight states have some form of regulation of home inspectors ranging from simple registration to licensing with extremely restrictive requirements. The majority of these states require home inspectors to meet specific experience and education criteria; to demonstrate through testing specific technical knowledge and skills; and to adhere strictly to a standard of practice.

Because the home inspection profession is regulated in some states and not in others, home inspectors’ credentials will vary. In states that regulate home inspectors, all professional home inspectors should meet all of the requirements of the state in which they perform their work. In states that do not regulate home inspectors, there are other ways for home buyers to identify competent home inspectors, such as the inspector’s training and experience. An inspector may have a background in architecture, building trades, engineering, or specific education 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.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that a home inspector who is just starting out could not 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. Often the new inspector is eager to demonstrate his competency and the knowledge and skills he or she has recently learned are still fresh.

Associations: Membership in a professional association does not automatically equate with competence. What anyone gets out of an association is strictly dependent upon the individual. The primary functions of any professional association are to promote the profession, to protect the association’s members, and to educate the association’s members. Any benefits that accrue to the public are tangential and secondary to the primary functions that serve the association members.

In the final analysis, a professional 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 and professional home inspector without belonging to any professional 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?
No. The training and experience of professional engineers are highly specialized and necessarily narrow. In many states the governmental agency that regulates the practice of engineering has 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 professional home inspectors. It simply means that unless they meet the criteria outlined above, they cannot claim to be performing an engineering evaluation of all of the systems in a home.

Do inspectors rate homes?
Professional inspectors do not “rate” or “grade” homes against some ideal standard of condition of maintenance and a home cannot “pass” or “fail” an inspection. The inspection report simply documents the conditions noted in the course of the inspection and provides recommendations for appropriate actions to address those conditions. Normal wear and tear and even some deferred maintenance are to be expected.

Do inspectors report cosmetic conditions?
Professional inspectors typically do not inspect or report on cosmetic conditions such as torn screens, minor paint chipping, dented door knobs, or other conditions of normal wear and tear. A professional home inspection is an examination and documentation of specific systems and components for specific conditions which are currently adversely affecting or that have the potential for adversely affecting the normally intended function or operation of the systems and components inspected. Remember, inspectors are working under both time and cost constraints. If they spent the valuable time for which the buyer is paying looking for cosmetic conditions, they would have less time to inspect the major systems of a home for more important and potentially costly conditions.

Do inspectors perform corrective work?
Professional 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 telephone book’s yellow pages under the appropriate heading.

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 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.

Is a home inspection a warranty?
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 specific manner. A second meaning of the term “warranty” is used with insurance plans offered for sale to home buyers. Such insurance plans typically cover certain components or occurrences and contain deductibles and disclaimers regarding the items covered.

Professional home inspectors do not offer such products or services. Typically, a fee is paid by the insurance company to the individual or company that offers these home “warranty” policies. Therefore, if an inspector offers to sell a buyer such insurance, that inspector is working for someone in addition to the buyer and is no longer a disinterested third party. If buyers desire the kind of insurance that 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 meet their specific needs.

What about “warranties/certifications” at no additional cost?
Professional inspectors should not be expected to provide any guarantees regarding the continued performance or the efficiency of any system or component inspected. Typically, inspectors offering these will not certify a component unless they are absolutely certain that, given the age and condition of the component, no conditions (outside of the specifically disclaimed conditions) could possibly occur. Such warranties and certifications are primarily marketing devices. When read carefully, they often provide little or no protection. 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 of such information before considering engaging their services.

Should home inspection companies provide any guarantee?
Yes. They should guarantee that they will perform their inspections in accordance with a specific standard of professional practice and the terms and conditions of their written inspection agreement. Professional inspectors should not be expected to provide any guarantees regarding the continued performance or the efficiency of any system or component inspected.

What items are excluded in home inspection contracts?
It is not uncommon for professional home inspectors to specifically exclude inspection of items such as swimming pools, hot tubs, household appliances (kitchen appliances, central vacuum systems, etc.), active and passive solar space heating or hot water heating systems, lawn sprinkler systems, intrusion detection and alarm systems, and fire and smoke detection and suppression systems. Typically, they also specifically exclude services such as testing for lead and asbestos, or other environmental testing. All standards of practice for professional home inspections exclude such items and services.

This is not because professional inspectors are not competent and qualified to inspect such items or perform such services. Rather, it is because competent 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 require specific governmental mandated training and licenses.

If inspectors were to spend the additional times required to perform a thorough and competent inspection of typically excluded systems, they would have less time to inspect the major systems of a home 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 companies that have been servicing and maintaining such systems for the current occupants. For example, a thorough and competent visual inspection of a swimming pool for conditions which are currently adversely affecting, or that have the potential to adversely affect, their normally intended function or operation may require as much as 1 ½ to 2 hours with fees starting at $100.00 per hour. However, some professional home inspectors may choose to include certain items or services that are typically excluded or they may offer inspection of specifically excluded items under separate contract. Other inspectors will direct buyers to individuals or companies qualified to perform such services.

While many professional inspectors maintain liberal follow-up policies regarding telephone or in-office consultation with customers after inspections, reinspection of corrective measures resulting from information developed during inspections is typically not offered. This is because qualified individuals or companies 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. However, some conditions can be corrected by the sellers, such as a missing faceplate for an outlet. This is a safety issue but it may not be necessary to hire an electrician for this task. In such a case the inspector may return to check for these repairs.

What about systems that are shut off or de-energized at the time of the inspection?
Professional home inspectors will not turn on or restore services to any system that is shut off or not in service at the time of the inspection. Inspectors will not light standing pilot lights, energize electrical circuits that 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, water and gas service must be on and operational at the time of the inspection.

What about systems or components that cannot be inspected due to inaccessibility or unsafe conditions?
Professional home inspectors perform inspections of safe and readily accessible systems and their components. If inspection of any systems or components is obstructed or limited by the presence of personal property, pets, weather or any other conditions of inaccessibility, or if, solely in the professional opinion of the inspector, it is not safe to inspect any systems or components, those systems or components will not be inspected. The inspection report will identify any such systems or components that were not inspected due to unsafe conditions or due to inaccessibility and also will describe the unsafe conditions or the specific conditions that limited accessibility.

Are previous inspection reports reliable?
Typically they are not. Previous inspection reports are not reliable sources of information because they do not contain current information. Conditions may have dramatically changed since a previous inspection was conducted. Furthermore, inspection reports prepared for other parties are nontransferable property and cannot be used legally for other real estate transactions. Buyers should always have a professional 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 that is provided specifically for them.

How do I arrange for a professional home inspection?
Contact the inspection company to arrange your inspection as soon as possible after the acceptance of your offer to purchase the home in order to give both you and your inspector maximum flexibility in scheduling. It is not unusual for inspection companies to be “booked up” as far as seven days in advance. During periods of heavy real estate activity the wait may be longer. Once you have scheduled your inspection, the inspection company will contact the necessary parties to coordinate the inspection with them. Once you have agreed on the appointed inspection date and time, it is 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 payment?

While the form of payment that inspection companies accept varies 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 that 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 or a service fee for payment at escrow.