The Ugly Truth About Home Inspections: Part 1
The Ugly Truth About Home Inspections Part 1
When buying a home, the process can be both exciting and overwhelming, for homeowners and real estate agents. Home buyers have likely spent hours scouring listings, attending open houses, and envisioning their future in these potential new spaces. Agents work hard to avoid potential problems and have a satisfactory closing. However, one critical step in the home-buying process, that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves, is the home inspection process. In this four-part series, we’re going to delve into the “ugly” truth about home inspections. We shed light on their importance, limitations, inadequacies, and what you can expect.
Home inspections are typically conducted by a qualified, professional home inspector, who meticulously assesses the visible components of a home. The average home inspection checklist includes things such as its structure, electrical systems, HVAC Systems, plumbing systems, and appliances. Some optional systems that can be inspected, but not all inspectors include, are irrigation systems, swimming pools, septic systems, water heaters, and private water wells.
What’s often overlooked though, are the many issues hidden from plain sight. This includes problems behind walls, concealed by furniture and personal items, or insulation, like water damage. These issues can be challenging, or impossible, to detect during a standard inspection. To ensure your potential dream home doesn’t turn into a nightmare, you need to understand the scope and limitations of the home inspection and be informed of the appropriate action(s) accordingly.
Read Also: A Guide to Home Inspections: What to Expect
The Limited Scope of Work
The minimum standards set forth by states that regulate professional home inspections and as set forth by industry associations, including The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNachi) and The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), do not provide adequate value to the consumer in my opinion. These standards require an inspector to look at the house and note in the home inspection report any obvious defects that might indicate a major problem and then refer the client to a specialist.
Additionally, the inspector is required by these set minimum standards to operate equipment and appliances in normal modes and determine if they appear to be working or not. For instance, an inspector will turn on the central air conditioning system from the thermostat and check if cold air is coming from the vents and check for an adequate differential between the return air and the supply air temperature. If cold air is blowing and differentials are adequate, the inspector would report “the system appeared to be working as intended at the time of the inspection.” This type of cursory inspection often fails to uncover major defects and because of the limitations of the inspection, the inspector is not likely to be held liable for undetected defects.
If consumers were to read the entire home inspection standards of practice set forth by states and associations, they might conclude that the inspector who adheres to the minimum standards and does not go above what is required, doesn’t get an accurate picture of the property and is not responsible for much. Most state regulations and association standards allow the inspector to go above the minimum standards and provide a higher-level inspection. Inspectors who go above the minimum standards typically experience more success than those who adhere strictly to minimum standards.
Cracks in the Foundation
It can be argued, the training required by the standards of practice does not adequately prepare a license holder to perform basic home inspections competently. Much of the education surrounding home inspections is geared toward helping the inspector pass the state exam or the association exam. The exams are geared toward facts associated with building codes and basic understanding of building system components. They do not require enough training around recognizing defects, reporting defects, understanding the implications of defects, and providing recommendations that go beyond referring the customer to a specialist. Many inspectors will stay away from explanations of implications and recommendations and simply refer the client to hire a professional in the field. This is typically the result of fear of liability. This often leaves the client confused and with more work after the inspections.
The Difference is Crystal Clear?
The home inspection industry, like many others, is not immune to variations in standards and practices. While there are reputable, highly skilled inspectors who provide thorough evaluations, there are also instances where low standards of practice can create challenges for both homebuyers and the industry. Some of the challenges plaguing the industry are:
- Inconsistency: One of the most significant issues in the home inspection industry is the lack of consistent standards and regulations. Different regions, states, and countries may have varying requirements and expectations for home inspectors. This inconsistency can lead to disparities in the quality and thoroughness of inspections.
- Minimal Training and Licensing Requirements: In some areas, the barrier to entry for becoming a home inspector is relatively low. This means that individuals with limited training or experience can start offering inspection services. Low requirements for licensing or certification can result in a wide spectrum of skills and expertise within the industry, with a great skew towards the lower end.
- Limited Oversight: The oversight and regulation of home inspectors can be inadequate in certain areas. This can allow for unscrupulous or underqualified individuals to operate without much accountability, potentially putting homebuyers and agents at risk.
- Minimal Continuing Education: The field of home inspection is continually evolving, with new technologies and building practices emerging. However, not all inspectors stay up to date with these changes through quality ongoing education and training. This can result in inspectors who may not be adequately equipped to identify modern construction or safety issues.
- Inadequate Reporting: Some inspectors provide vague or incomplete inspection reports that lack necessary details. A subpar report can leave homebuyers without the comprehensive information they need to make informed decisions about a property.
- Incomplete Inspections: In some cases, because of time constraints, a lack of thoroughness, or perceived limitations, home inspectors may perform incomplete inspections, missing significant issues that can be costly or even dangerous.
- Neglect of Environmental Concerns: With the increasing focus on environmental issues, including pests, mold, lead based paint, asbestos, radon, energy efficiency and sustainability, some inspectors may not adequately address these aspects in their assessments. This omission can be a disservice to clients who are concerned about the environmental impact of their prospective homes.
If you are looking to purchase a home or property, it is important to be aware of these potential pitfalls and actively seek out qualified, reputable inspectors who adhere to high standards of practice. This can include verifying an inspector’s credentials, asking for references, and ensuring they have adequate insurance and a track record of delivering comprehensive and unbiased reports. Additionally, advocating for stricter regulations and standardization in the home inspection industry can help improve the quality and reliability of inspection services. By addressing these issues, homebuyers can make more informed decisions about their potential homes, worry less about home inspection cost, and the industry can work toward better standards of practice and greater professionalism.
In the next part of this series, we will discuss the limitations that home inspectors have, including the ever-growing DIY home buyers and the fallibility of home inspectors. We will also address how to bridge the gap between the customers’ expectations and the home inspection industry standards.
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