This is the first of a series of articles that addresses the role of the home inspector in the real estate process and what is actually covered in a home inspection. Each facet of the inspection will be detailed and discussed in future articles. The purpose of these articles is to provide the home buyer and real estate professional a knowledge base so they can select qualified home inspectors and understand the function of the inspection in the due diligence process.
The role of the home inspector is often misunderstood by both the real estate agent and the home buyer. Sadly, some home inspectors also do not understand their role as an inspector and can do more harm to the process than good. An unqualified, uninformed or an alarmist inspector can cause enormous problems that many times can not be corrected. A clarification of the inspector’s role is essential in utilizing the inspection and inspection report in a proper and functional way. The inspector represents the buyer, his/her customer, in the inspection process and is only responsible to that customer. The inspector should be looked upon as part of the buyer’s team which can include the real estate agent, lender, the closing attorney and any other experts hired by the buyer. The home inspector may be the only team member that is not influenced by weather the deal closes or not. The inspector gets paid at time of the inspection. The information collected in the performance of the home inspection is the sole property of the client and cannot be revealed to anyone without the client’s permission. In most cases the client gives permission for the inspection report to also be made available to the buyer’s real estate agent. This is advisable and speeds the real estate process.
The inspector’s responsibility is to provide the client with a complete and thorough inspection and inspection report. The report is not an appraisal of value but represents the condition of the property at the time of the inspection. The report also has to be an informational tool to assist the buyer in understanding the condition of the property and any defects that will require attention to prevent further deterioration or cause safety issues. The inspection is also not a “pass or fail” test but an information gathering process. It is important to also mention that the home inspector has no authority in the real estate process. His or her role is entirely advisory. The sometime heard comment that “the home inspector made me repair or correct something” is completely incorrect. Only municipal inspectors can “make” a builder comply with things like building codes. This authority does not extend to the private home inspector.
In order to supply a consistent and quality home inspection, the inspector should adopt and follow a nationally accepted set of inspection standards. The American Society of Home Inspector’s (ASHI) Standards of Practice dates to 1976 and is used by many inspectors. Standards represent a minimum level of performance. Many inspectors perform inspections that exceed these standards. Future articles will use the ASHI Standards of Practice as the inspection standard and follow the inspection procedures of Edifice Inspections, Inc. which exceed the ASHI Standards. To down load a copy of the ASHI Standards of Practice, go to our website, edificeinspections.com under the “Resources” tab. This will bring you to the ASHI webpage.
The impact of an uninformed, inexperienced, over reaching inspector can irreparably damage the real estate transaction and the reputation of the home being inspected. A miscalled structural observation or “possible mold” statement can cause undue alarm for the buyer and cause the deal to fall through. Once the inspection error has occurred it is almost impossible to take it back or to correct the damage that has been caused. The buyer has had his/her confidence in the property damaged and in most cases this can’t be restored. To compound matters, the home inspection report can become part of the history of the house through the Disclosure Statement making the house all that more difficult to sell.
The inspector must also understand the comfort and experience level of the buyer and conduct the inspection accordingly. The home inspection must always be an educational experience so the information must be packaged to suit the client’s background and needs. Buyer experience can range from the first time home buyer to the corporate client that may have owned many homes. Some buyers are handy around the house and can repair many items that to them are minor. Others, because of age, culture or family history have absolutely no experience or skills in this area. The most typical home owner maintenance task can be a completely daunting experience to them. Some investors may be buying the property sight unseen and are relying on the inspector’s expertise and observations to convey the condition of the property. These kinds of inspections, when the client is not present, require a much more detailed inspection report to assure the proper and complete information is presented.
Inappropriately quoting building codes is another inspector approach to the inspection report that will almost always create problems if repairs are to be negotiated with the sellers of the property. If an inspector chooses to quote building codes, it should only be on new construction. Calling out a “code violation” on a fifteen year old house is problematic and ill-conceived. If a deck is unsafe because of the poor quality of workmanship or deferred maintenance, say so. Leave the code reference out of it.
As home owners we do not get notices from the County telling us to upgrade our homes because the building codes have been revised. Home sellers also do not have to bring their homes into current code compliance when they put them on the market.