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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.