What is a home inspection and how to get the most from one?
That is an excellent question we often hear, and most people have differing opinions. A home inspection has been defined as a limited evaluation of the building and its major systems, as observed on the day of the inspection.
Well, what does that mean? So many things can affect the inspection on any specific day. Some factors beyond our control include the weather, occupancy, and timing of the inspection. The weather can impact the inspection such as snow, overcast skies, and low light conditions can adversely affect inspection conditions due to limiting visibility and the lack of shadows. The sun can cast shadows inside and out, enhancing certain irregularities in the structure. Rain and snow can impede access and evaluation. However, it may show areas of potential leaks in the home such as the basement, roof, and windows. A day with wind-driven rains can significantly improve the opportunity to observe certain leaks. Access can be limited by storage, and clutter can impede access to evaluated certain conditions such as leaks, damage to the surface, and access to major systems and areas such as electrical panels, sump pumps, and attics. So, when possible, have all areas made accessible for the inspector. Timing can be the day of the inspection when the water heater leaks, the roof of the foundation leaks due to rain, or the furnace dies. Unfortunately, there are situations when the seller intentionally hides, conceals, or misrepresents areas of known defects. We do recommend conducting a final walk-through of what may have been hidden with storage, carpets, or furnishings, we also recommend asking the seller if there are any known issues that you should be aware of. You should also be aware of the state standards of practice or some of the national associations of inspectors’ standards of practice and code of ethics that outline the scope of the inspection. The inspector should have a pre-inspection agreement as well that outlines the scope of the home inspection.
A good inspector will observe and report on the condition of the grounds, exterior, roof, HVAC, plumbing, and electrical, and complete a room-by-room survey. Good inspectors don’t have to rely on specialty tools and equipment that go beyond the standards of practice however they can enhance the inspection process and findings. Some of the specialty equipment can include the use of drones, thermal imaging cameras, moisture meters, and air quality testing equipment such as for mold and radon.
The most important aspect of the home inspection is the inspector. We hear so many people price shopping for one of the most important, and expensive purchases based on price. The most important question should be, what are the inspector’s qualifications? Even when you have a referral it is advisable to interview the inspector to ensure you are getting one that has your best interests, is knowledgeable, and is experienced.
Some of the considerations should be:
- How long has the inspector been conducting home inspections?
- How many home inspections have they performed?
- How long does their average inspection take?
- Does the inspector access the roof or just view it from the ground?
- What are the home inspector's experience and background for being a home inspector?
- Can the client accompany the inspector during the inspection?
- What credentials do they currently hold?
- Are they full members of ASHI or NACHI?
From the years of being an inspector, instructor, and former owner of a multi-inspector firm, it was our experience that inspectors with a strong structural background make great inspectors as they have the instinct and experience. This is not to say someone with little construction or even an engineering background can’t be a great inspector, but they have a challenge to get caught up on construction practices, terms, and areas of concern, especially with specialty homes and historic homes. You can’t teach instinct as a friend of mine once said.
In my opinion and experience for the client to get the most from the inspection, they should be present for the inspection, walk with the inspector as much as possible to get a step-by-step explanation, and ask questions. They should limit distractions and focus on the inspection at hand and limit other people present. When possible, try not to have the seller present, I could write a book on this alone. At best it’s a distraction, limits free interaction between the inspector and you the client and in some situations, the seller can become irate, and confrontational. They may also think they are responsible for all the issues being conveyed during the inspection.
So, let’s talk pricing if someone is price shopping do you really want to go with the inexperienced inspector that may save you $100, $50, $25 and that may cost you thousands of dollars later for unexpected repairs? Your inspection is only as good as your inspector’s experience, knowledge, and background. Pricing will vary greatly not only throughout the country but county to county within the states.
Should you get a referral from your realtor? A great question, we work with a lot of professional agents that truly are incredible and put their clients first, front, and center in every way as they should. I am fortunate to work with some of the best agents out there. Ask your realtor whom they would use if they or their children were buying a home. However, there are some listing agents that shop the offer based on who’s doing the inspection and even try to talk the buyer’s agent out of using certain inspectors. Some offices even blacklist inspectors because they are “too picky, alarmists, and deal killers”. I find that incredible and sad as our job is to protect the client and work in their best interests. One of the most ethical realtors I ever worked with said the agent is supposed to walk in the shoes of their client. I don’t know of any other job where being thorough is something you are penalized for instead of rewarded. Good referrals can come from online community forums, co-workers, relatives, attorneys, lenders, and others that have had personal experiences with the inspectors.
Stephen Lee Showalter, NACHI® CMI, ASHI ACI
Home Inspector, Environmental Consultant
Maryland State Home Inspector License #29634
ASHI ACI Certified Membership
NACHI® CMI Certified Master Inspector
InterNACHI® CPI Certified Membership
Certified Commercial Property Inspector Association
FAA Certified UAS Pilot #3987636
CRT Certified Residential Thermographer