The Home Inspection Profession – An In Depth Look

Professional home inspection is a very real and unique profession like no other. Home inspection as a profession has been in existence for nearly 50 years. There are currently 31 states in the country that require home inspectors to be licensed and there are approximately 15,500 licensed home inspectors nationwide, however for some odd reason, many people still do not have a full understanding of our profession as a whole. Even though home inspection services are available to anyone at anytime, the only time most people think about a home inspection is when they are purchasing a home. Many in this profession such as myself are dedicated to educating people on home inspections in the hopes of raising awareness of the profession and its many benefits to people all across the country. Home inspections are the #1 consumer protection service available today.

So what exactly is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a complete evaluation of the visible and accessible systems and components of a home and is intended to give the client a better understanding of a home’s overall general condition. Most often it is a prospective home buyer who requests an inspection of the home he or she is about to purchase. A home inspection delivers vital information so that decisions about the purchase can be confirmed or questioned, and can uncover serious and/or expensive to repair defects that the seller/owner has neglected or may not be aware of. It is not an appraisal of the property’s value; nor does it address the cost of repairs. It does not guarantee that the home complies with local building codes or protect a client in the event an item inspected fails in the future. A home inspection should not be considered a “technically exhaustive” evaluation, but rather an evaluation of the property on the day it is inspected. Home inspections are also used (less often) by a seller before listing the property to see if there are any hidden problems that they are unaware of, and also by homeowners simply wishing to care for their homes, prevent unwanted surprises, and keep the home investment value as high as possible for resale.

The important results to pay attention to in a home inspection are:

1. Major defects, such as large differential cracks in the foundation; structure out of level or plumb; decks not installed or supported properly, mold, termite damage etc.

2. Things that could lead to major defects – a roof flashing leak, damaged downspouts that could cause backup and water intrusion, or a support beam that was not tied in to the structure properly.

3. Safety hazards, such as an exposed electrical wiring, amateur electrical repairs, lack of GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) in kitchens and bathrooms, lack of safety railing on decks more than 30 inches off the ground, etc.

Your home inspector will advise you about what to do about these problems. He/she may also recommend further evaluation – and on serious issues most certainly will – by licensed or certified professionals who are specialists in the defect areas. For example, your inspector will recommend you call a licensed structural engineer if they find areas of the home that are out of alignment, as this could indicate a serious structural deficiency.

When do I call in the home inspector?Before you sign the contract or purchase agreement, make sure your purchase obligation is contingent upon the findings of a professional home inspection. Contact a home inspector immediately after the purchase agreement has been accepted. Home inspectors are well aware of the time constraints involved in purchase agreements and most are available to conduct the required inspection within a few days. Don’t find yourself scrambling to find a home inspector at the last minute to schedule your home inspection. Most reputable Inspectors are booked at least 3-5 days in advance.The earlier you call to schedule your home inspection, the better your chances are at getting the time and date that works best for you.

How do I know the inspector I choose is looking out for my best interest and not just trying to get another realtor referral?

One of the most difficult and highly debated question to answer. While conflicts of interests between agents and inspectors certainly exist in this industry, it is not the norm. There are many home inspectors to choose from, all with different backgrounds, knowledge, work ethics and morals. When searching for a home inspector one thing I can honestly tell you to watch out for, are pages on their website that specifically target real estate agents. On those pages you might see catch phrases such as “non-alarmist”, ”team member” or “we won’t kill your deal”. These tell tale phrases should be viewed as a conflict of interest and it is in your best interest to continue your search elsewhere. An important thing to remember is that home inspectors are not employees of real estate offices or agents. True professional home inspectors are hard working owner/operators of their own companies. Their primary job and focus should be solely on you the client. They should only be working for you and be looking out for your best interest, no matter where their referral came from. Remember, the choice is completely yours to make when it comes to hiring a home inspector. Do not feel rushed or pressured by your agent to use one of their “preferred” inspectors. Take your time and find the RIGHT home inspector for you.

Home Inspections are only done by a buyer after they sign a contract, right?

This is not true! Contrary to popular belief, home inspection services are available to anyone at anytime. By hiring a licensed professional home inspector for services you can save yourself hundreds if not thousands of dollars off of typical prices charged by large corporate entities. Also, by hiring a home inspector you are getting an unbiased, third party service that only has one agenda, and that is making sure that you and your family get the inspection service you need, done right and at a price that you can actually afford. As you will see when you read on, a home inspection can be used as a maintenance tool by a current homeowner, a proactive technique by sellers to make their home more sellable, and by buyers wanting to determine the condition of the potential home.

Sellers, in particular, can benefit from getting a home inspection before listing the home. Here are just a few of the advantages for the seller:

•A home inspection will help the seller be more objective when it comes to setting a fair price on the home.

•The seller can take the report and make it into a marketing piece for the home. The inspection report can serve as an addendum to the sellers’ disclosure as well as show potential buyers that the seller is serious and acting in good faith.

•The seller will be alerted to any safety issues found in the home before they open it up for showings and open house tours.

•The seller can make repairs leisurely instead being in a rush after the contract is signed.

Why should I get a home inspection?

Your new home has literally dozens of systems and over 10,000 parts – from heating and cooling to ventilation and appliances. When these systems and appliances work together, you experience comfort, energy savings, and durability. Weak links in the system, however, can produce assorted problems leading to a loss in value and shortened component life. Would you buy a used car without a qualified mechanic looking at it? Your home is far more complicated, and to have a thorough home inspection that is documented in a report arms you with substantial information on which to make educated decisions.

Why can’t I do the inspection myself?

Most homebuyers lack the knowledge, skill, and objectivity needed to inspect a home themselves. By using the services of a professional home inspector, they gain a better understanding of the overall condition of the property; especially whether any items do not “function as intended” or “adversely affect the habitability of the dwelling” or “warrant further investigation” by a specialist. Remember that the home inspector is a generalist and is broadly trained in every aspect of a home’s components.

Why can’t I ask a family member who is handy or who is a contractor to inspect my new home?

Although your nephew or uncle may be very skilled, they are not specifically trained or experienced in professional home inspections and usually lack the specialized test equipment and acquired knowledge required for a proper home inspection. Home inspection training and expertise represent a very distinct, licensed profession that employs rigorous standards of practice. Professional home inspectors get what we call an “inspector’s instinct” for problems. That instinct takes extensive ongoing training and experience doing inspections everyday to develop. Many contractors, realtors and other trade professionals hire professional home inspectors to inspect their own homes when they themselves purchase a home!

What does a home inspection cost?

This is most often the first question asked but the least important. Fees are based according to the square footage of a home. Inspection fees from a certified professional home inspector generally start under $300. An average price for a 2,000 square foot home nationally is about $300-$350. What you should be paying attention to is not the inspection fee, but rather the qualifications of your home inspector. Are they nationally certified (passed the NHIE exam)? Are they state licensed? Do they carry insurance? Are they members of the Better Business Bureau and or Angie’s List? How many inspections have they performed? These things are FAR more important than what the inspection will cost. Think of it this way, you are looking for someone to inspect your potential new home, how much is THAT worth to you?

How long does the inspection take?

This mainly depends upon the size and condition of the home. You can usually figure 1 hour for every 1,000 square feet. For example, a 2,500 square foot house with a crawlspace would normally take about 2.5 hours, give or take.

Do all homes require a home inspection?

Yes and No. Although not required by law, we feel that any buyer not getting a home inspection is doing themselves a great disservice. They may find themselves with costly and unpleasant surprises after moving into the home and suffer financial headaches that could easily have been avoided by spending a few hundred bucks and obtaining a home inspection. Remember, a home inspection is the #1 consumer protection service available today!

Should I be at the inspection?

Yes, it’s a great idea for you to be present during the inspection – whether you are buyer, seller, or homeowner. With you there, the inspector can show you any defects and explain their importance as well as point out maintenance features that will be helpful in the future. If you can’t be there, it is not a problem since the report you receive will be very detailed and include digital photos of the entire inspection. If you are not present, be sure to ask your inspector to explain anything that might not be clear to you in the report.

Should the seller attend the home inspection that has been ordered by the buyer?

The seller is welcome at the inspection (it is still their home) although they should understand that the inspector is working for the buyer. The conversation that the inspector has with the buyer may be upsetting to the seller if the seller is unaware of the items being pointed out, or the seller may be overly emotional about any flaws. This is why many realtors ask that the seller not be present during the inspection. It just saves a great deal of emotional distress. This is also a good reason why the seller might want to consider getting their own inspection before listing the home.

Can a house fail a home inspection?

No. A home inspection is an examination of the current condition of your prospective home. It is not an appraisal, which determines market value, or a municipal inspection, which verifies local code compliance. A home inspector cannot not pass or fail a house. The inspector will objectively describe the home’s physical condition and indicate which items are in need of repair or replacement.

What is included in the inspection?

The following list is not exhaustive. Not all of these may be in the inspection you get, but most home inspectors follow a standardized checklist for the home that includes:

• Site drainage and grading

• Driveway

• Entry Steps, handrails

• Decks

• Masonry

• Landscape (as it relates to the home)

• Retaining walls

• Roofing, flashings, chimneys, and attic

• Eaves, soffits, and fascias

• Walls, doors, windows, patios, walkways

• Foundation, basement, and crawlspaces

• Garage, garage walls, floor, and door operation

• Kitchen appliances (dishwasher, range/oven/cooktop/hoods, microwave, disposal, trash compactor)

• Ceilings, walls, floors

• Kitchen counters, floors, and cabinets

• Windows and window gaskets

• Interior doors and hardware

• Plumbing systems and fixtures

• Electrical system, panels, entrance conductors

• Electrical grounding, GFCI, outlets

• Smoke (fire) detectors

• Ventilation systems and Insulation

• Heating equipment and controls

• Ducts and distribution systems

• Fireplaces

• Air Conditioning and controls

• Heat Pumps and controls

• Safety items such as means of egress, TPR valves, railings, etc.

Other items that are not a part of a standard home inspection but can usually be added for an additional fee:

• Radon Gas Test

• Water Quality Test

• Termite Inspection

• Mold Inspections and Testing

• Well and Septic System Inspection

What is not included in the inspection?

It is important to be realistic in your expectations of the home inspector. Most people assume that a home inspection will reveal every problem area in the home. This misunderstanding has caused many a homebuyer to be upset with their home inspector. The inspections we do are not exhaustive and there is a good reason for this. If you hired someone with licenses for heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing, engineering, etc. to inspect your house, it would take about 12 hours and cost you over $1,500! It is much more practical to hire a professional inspector who has generalist knowledge of home systems, knows what to look for, and can recommend further inspection by a specialist if needed. Your inspector is also following very specific guidelines as he/she inspects your home. These are either national guidelines ( InterNACHI – International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) or individual state guidelines. These guidelines are carefully written to protect both your home and the inspector. Here are some examples: We are directed to not turn systems on if they were off at the time of the inspection (safety reasons); we are not allowed to move furniture (might harm something); not allowed to turn on water if it is off (possible flooding), and not allowed to break through a sealed attic hatch (possible damage). The downside of this practice is that by not operating a control or not seeing under the furniture, appliances, stored items etc., we might miss identifying a problem. However, put into perspective, the chances of missing something serious because of this is quite low and the guidelines as it relates to safety and not harming anything in the home is a good one.

What if there are things you can’t inspect (like snow on the roof)?

It just so happens that some days weather elements interfere with a full home inspection! There isn’t much we can do about this either. We have no control over Mother Nature. If there is snow on the roof, we will tell you we were unable to inspect it. Of course, keep in mind, we will be looking at the eaves and the attic, and any other areas that are accessible to get an idea of condition, but we will write in the report that we could not inspect the roof. It would be impractical for us to return another day once the snow melts for free, because we do have full schedules. However, you can usually pay an inspector a small fee to return and inspect the one or two items they were unable to inspect when they were there the first time.

Will the inspector walk on the roof?

This is a very common question we as home inspectors get. The answer is yes and no. Home inspectors are not required by law to walk a roof. However, if there is a genuine need to get on the roof, such as to inspect the top of a brick chimney dome, or inspect the flue, then yes we will get on the roof, if it is safe to do so (4:12 pitch max). Truth be told, a person can do significant damage to a roof by walking on it. When someone walks on your roof, they are actually damaging your shingles and shortening their life span. The added weight and particularly the shoes of a person loosen the protective granules of the roof shingles, thus making the shingles less effective against shedding rain water. Other issues that can arise from walking on a roof include: falling off, cracking rafters, ridge beam and damage to the roof decking from excessive weight (especially in older homes with conventional framing). In most cases, walking the roof is completely unnecessary. A good experienced home inspector will evaluate the roof by a ladder against the edges of the home, and more importantly from underneath by inspecting the roof decking from the attic. If there is an issue with the roof, the story is always told by the roof decking. In short, the only time anyone should be walking on your roof is when it is being repaired.

What is the Inspection Agreement?

Most service professionals have a service agreement, and home inspection is no different. In fact, there is enough confusion about what a home inspection should deliver already, that the agreement is that much more important. Some homeowners who get a home inspection expect everything in the home to be perfect after the inspection and repairs. This is not always the case! Imagine getting a call from a homeowner a year later who says the toilet is not flushing – remember that the inspection is a moment in time snapshot. In the inspection agreement the inspector is clear about what the inspection delivers and the things that are not covered, as well as what you should do if you are not pleased with the services. We really think that by reviewing this before-hand you will understand much more about the inspection and be happier with the results. A home inspection does not guard against future problems, nor does it guarantee that all problems will be found.

What kind of report will I get following the inspection?

There are as many versions of a “report” as there are inspection companies. Guidelines dictate that the inspector deliver a written report to the client. This can range from a handwritten checklist that has multiple press copies without pictures and 4 pages long to a computer generated professionally produced report with digital pictures that is 35 pages long and can be converted to Adobe PDF for storage and emailing. Be sure to check with your inspector about the kind of report he or she uses. We always recommend the computer generated report, since the checklist is far more detailed and easier for the homeowner/buyer/seller to understand. In this modern age, we feel the reports must be web accessible and e-mailable to match the technologies most of us are using.

There are some great things you can use the report for:

•The most common use for the inspection report is that it is used as a bargaining tool. Many times home inspections reveal several issues with a home. The report can be used to renegotiate the purchase price of a home or be used to have the sellers make the necessary repairs due to their negligence. In many cases clients are pleasantly surprised to see that a $300.00 home inspection turns into hundreds if not thousands of dollars saved in either repairs or home price reduction.

•Use the report as a checklist and guide for the contractors to make repairs and improvements or get estimates and quotes from more than one contractor.

•Use the report as a budgeting tool using the inspector’s recommendations and the remaining expected life of components to keep the property in top shape.

•If you are a seller, use the report to make repairs and improvements, raising the value of the home and impressing the buyers. Then have a re-inspection and use this second report as a marketing tool for prospective buyers.

•Use the report as a “punch list” on a re-inspection and as a baseline for ongoing maintenance.

What if I think the inspector missed something?

Inspectors are human just like you, and yes, they can miss items. A home inspector will never be able to catch 100% of a home’s problems, that is just unrealistic thinking. However, studies show that if you practice due diligence and choose the right home inspector, approximately 95% of home issues can be found and reported on. These home inspectors use tools and techniques to reduce the possibility that they will miss something. This includes very detailed checklists, reference manuals, computer based lists, and a methodical always-done-the-same-way of physically moving around your home. The number one reason that an inspector misses an item is when they get interrupted or distracted from their normal routine. Always make sure to give your inspector some breathing room during the inspection. The less your inspector is distracted, the more thorough the inspection will be, resulting in a much happier you. Remember, the inspector is doing the very best job they can, and probably did not miss the item because they were lax in their technique or did not care.

What if the inspector tells me I should have a professional engineer or a licensed plumber or other professional contractor in to look at something they found? Isn’t this “passing the buck”?

You may be disappointed that further investigation is required, but, believe us, your inspector is doing exactly what they should be doing. The purpose of the inspection is to discover defects that affect your safety and the functioning of the home; the inspector is a generalist, not a specialist. Our code of ethics as well as national and state guidelines dictate that only contractors that are licensed in their specialty field should work on these systems and areas. When they tell you that a specialist is needed, there may be a bigger, more critical issue that you need to know about. If you move into the home without getting these areas checked by a qualified specialist, you could be in for some nasty and expensive surprises. The inspector does not want to cause you any more expense or worry either, so when they do recommend further evaluation they are being serious about protecting you and your investment.

Will the inspector provide a warranty on the inspected items?

Most inspectors do not give the homeowner a warranty on inspected items and for good reason, stuff happens! Remember, a home inspection is a visual examination on a certain day, and the inspector cannot predict what issues could arise over time after the inspection. Many realtors will suggest that you purchase a separate home warranty plan to be purchased at closing. This is yet one more way to protect yourself and your investment.

Do most inspection companies offer money back guarantees?

Most inspection companies do not offer a satisfaction guarantee nor do they mention it in their advertising. You usually have to call your inspection company right after the inspection and viewing of the report to tell them you are not satisfied. If you are not happy with the services, you should talk to your inspector first and let him/her decide if the reason is valid and falls within the scope of a typical home inspection. It is important to realize that a home inspector is trying to make an honest living just like the rest of us, and is not failing you on purpose.

What if my report comes back with nothing really defective in the home? Should I ask for my money back?

No, don’t ask for your money back – you just received great news! Now you can complete your home purchase with peace of mind about the condition of the property and all its equipment and systems. You will have valuable information about your new home from the inspector’s report, and will want to keep that information for future reference. Most importantly, you can feel assured that you are making a well-informed purchase decision. The inspection fee was money well spent.

What if the inspection reveals serious defects?

If the inspection reveals serious defects in the home then pat yourself on the back for getting an inspection. You just saved yourself a ton of money. Of course it is disappointing, even heart wrenching, to find out that your well researched house is now a money pit, but you now know the facts and can either negotiate with the seller, or move on. You may want the home so much that it will be worth it to negotiate the price and then perform the repairs. Imagine, though, if you had not gotten the inspection – you would have had some very unpleasant surprises.

Can I ask my home inspector to perform the repairs?

You can, but if your inspector is ethical, he/she will refuse, and correctly so; it is a conflict of interest for the home inspector to inspect your home and also repair it! Inspectors are specifically barred from this practice by licensing authorities, and it’s a good practice – an inspector must remain completely impartial when he or she inspects your home. This is one reason you should always have a professional home inspector inspect your home and not a contractor – a contractor will want the repair work and you are likely to not have an objective inspection from this person even though they mean well and are technically competent.

Does the Seller have to make the repairs?

The inspection report results do not place an obligation on the seller to repair anything mentioned in the report. Once the home condition is known, the buyer and the seller should sit down and discuss what is in the report. The report will be clear about what is a repair and what is a discretionary improvement. This area should be clearly negotiated between the parties. It’s important to know that the home inspector must stay out of this discussion because it is outside of their scope of work.

After the home inspection and consulting with the seller on the repairs, can I re-employ the inspector to come re-inspect the home to make sure everything got fixed?

You certainly can, and it’s a really good idea. For a small fee the inspector will return to determine if the repairs were completed, and if they were completed correctly.

What if I find problems after I move into my new home?

A home inspection is not a guarantee that problems won’t develop after you move in. However, if you believe that a problem was visible at the time of the inspection and should have been mentioned in the report, your first step should be to call the inspector. He or she will be fine with this, and does want you to call if you think there is a problem. If the issue is not resolved with a phone call, they will come to your home to look at it. They will want you to be satisfied and will do everything they can to do this. Remember this, a home inspection is a snapshot in time and many things can happen to a home between inspection day and move in day. The best way to protect yourself between this time period is to conduct a final walkthrough on closing day. Your realtor should be able to facilitate this for you. Use both the inspection report AND a Walkthrough Checklist to make sure everything in the home is as it should be. This will help to make for a much more comfortable and enjoyable closing…the way it should be.

Mike Chamberlain, Owner


MC2 Home Inspections LLC