home inspection services
A home inspection is an unbiased examination of a home typically performed on behalf of a perspective buyer, with the goal of providing information about the physical condition of the property. The home inspection is a professional opinion, based on a visual inspection and operational test of the current condition of readily accessible features of the home.
The following descriptive terms all apply to a home inspection:
- Field performance review
- Not technically exhaustive
- Sampling type inspection
A home inspection is intended to determine whether the essential components of a house are present and doing their job, as evidenced by a visual inspection.
Form versus Function. A home inspection concentrates on the function of the home, rather than the form. Architectural and decorating considerations are not included.
Not an Appraisal. Some people confuse home inspection and appraisal. An appraisal may involve an inspection of a property, but the goal of an appraisal is to determine the fair market value of a property, rather than establish the physical condition. Appraisers sometimes find house problems and will call on home inspectors to do further investigations. Home inspectors never comment on the value of a home.
Not a Design Review. A home inspection does not include engineering calculations, or a review of the design of the building from a structural or mechanical standpoint. This kind of analysis would be difficult and in some respects, impossible once a house is built. Rather than reengineer what is there, home inspectors evaluate the performance of the house and its systems. The yard stick for success if whether the system is performing its intended function.
Inspectors are General Practitioners. Home inspection looks deceivingly simple, but it is extremely complex. A good analogy would be doctors who are general practitioners. While they don’t have any area of specialization, they need to have a broad knowledge across a large number of issues. The medical analogy is good because doctors can diagnose many conditions, but they sometimes need to send patients to specialists. Home inspectors can analyze many issues, but sometimes recommend further investigation by specialists.
The Reality. Home inspection is challenging work. It requires comprehensive technical knowledge, a keen eye, good powers of deductive reasoning, an ability to focus and think quickly, and good communication skills to successfully transfer the home inspectors observations and conclusions to the client. There is pressure to perform, little time to think, and considerable responsibility.
How Long Does a Home Inspection Take? A typically home inspection takes 2 to 4 hours on an average size home. Larger homes, older homes, and homes in poor condition may take longer to inspect. Some clients have lots of questions, resulting in a longer inspection.
Could Inspections be Longer? Would inspections be able to tell people more about the house if they had longer to do the inspection? Of course. What is magic about 2 to 4 hours? There is nothing magic but few factors have led to this magic number.
- There is a law of diminishing returns in a home inspection. A great deal can be learned about house in 2 to 4 hours. For every additional hour spent, there will be less information picked up. While home inspectors would discover more things if they stayed longer, the rate of importance of discovery drops and the return on investment for home buyers diminishes.
- The amount that consumers are willing to pay for this information is limited. Some inspectors offer more technically exhaustive inspections for higher prices. Most consumers will not pay for these.
- There is a limit on the disruption that sellers will tolerate, the real estate transactions are time sensitive and cannot be held off indefinitely.
Is a Written Report Necessary? Most Standards of Practice for home inspectors require a written report. Written reports should be provided as a practical matter as well because it is extremely unlikely that the average home buyer would be able to remember all the things discussed in a home inspection over 2 to 4 hours.
Fees. Typical home inspection fees range from 400 to 600 dollars for an averaged size home. For very large and complex homes the fees can be substantially more.
Home Inspection is Great Value. Home inspections are very inexpensive, relative to the value they add. The amount of information provided to clients is amazing. A typical home inspection involves the evaluation of hundreds of components looking for thousands of potential problems. When considered against the cost of the real estate itself, a home inspection is an excellent investment. A well performed home inspection usually generates feedback like this:
- That’s the best money I ever spent!
- I have learned more about this house in the past 3 hours then what I have known about the house I have lived in for the past 10 years!
Poorly Understood Profession. Home inspectors provide so much good information that inspectors sometimes get into trouble. Some people rely too heavily on a home inspection report. While a home inspection reveals many things about a home, not every issue will be found in every home. Some things are concealed, others are seasonal, and some appear only under certain circumstances (heavy wind-driven rains from east for example). Clients should be aware that a home inspection reduces a number of risks in home buying, but does not eliminate them.
Unrealistic Expectations. Unrealistic expectations are sometimes fueled by glowing recommendations from real estate sales people about a wonderful home inspector who will tell the buyer everything about the home. Home inspectors marketing efforts sometimes foster this complete peace of mind perception. The home inspection can be a very risky process if unrealistic expectations are not adjusted. The home inspection profession has a responsibility to educate the consumer concerning the scope and limitations of a professional home inspection.
what’s included in a home inspection
There are very well defined criteria for what should be included in a home inspection in North America. The most broadly accepted Standards of Practice can be viewed at https://hiabc.ca/
Notes on the Standards:
Definition of Inspector. Let’s look at how the Standards of Practice define an inspector: A person hired to examine any system or component of a building in accordance with these Standards of Practice. This definition is a little vague, but it does make clear that inspectors are looking at things rather than doing a comprehensive testing or design analysis.
Observed Property Conditions. The Standards say that the purpose of an inspection is to provide the client with information regarding the condition of the systems and components of the home as inspected at the time of the home inspection. Again, this makes clear that inspectors are only performing a visual examination and are not trying to predict the future.
Readily Accessible. The Standards also say that home inspectors are going to look at things that are readily accessible. This means that they don’t more storage, lift carpets or dismantle things.
Installed Systems and Components. Home inspectors only look at things that are part of the house. They don’t inspect things like window air conditioners or free standing humidifiers, dehumidifiers, or portable heaters.
Written Report. The Standards require home inspectors to provide a written report that describes the components as required in Sections 4 to 12 of the Standards. In each of these sections, there are certain things that have to be described. This means they have to be included in the report. Examples of things that have to be described include the floor, wall and roof structure, the heating type, and the size of the electrical service.
What was Inspected? The report also has to include what systems were inspected. Sometimes there are some things that can’t be inspected. These also need to be noted in the report. For example, we have to inspect the fire place, but we cannot do that if it is in use during the inspection.
Immediate Major Repair. The report has to indicate things that in need of immediate major repair. This phrase is not defined in the Standards and, as a result, is somewhat subjective. Everyone would agree that a collapsing foundation is in need of immediate major repair. Most home inspectors look at it from the perspective of whether the component is doing its job or not. Home inspectors will report on all functional items that are not performing their intended function, but will often help home owners by prioritizing major expenses or safety issues.
Can It Do the Job? Roofs are supposed to shed water, gutters are supposed to collect water, chimneys are supposed to vent exhaust products, furnaces are supposed to heat homes, plumbing systems are supposed to carry supply and waste water, etc. The inspector has some room to interpret what is included in immediate major repair, but the interpretation has to be reasonable and defendable.
Can Go Further. The Standards allow inspectors to deal with other systems and conditions beyond those covered by the Standards. For example they may want to include inspections of water quality septic systems, radon, and termites.
Can Do Less. The Standards also suggest that inspectors do not have to inspect everything that is included in the Standards if requested by the client. Clients can hire a home inspector to simply look at the roof, for example. However, an inspector can’t choose to omit the electrical system on his own. Clients sometimes ask the inspector not to look at the furnace, for example, because their brother-in-law is going to replace it for them. This is fine, but must be documented in the report.
Not Technically Exhaustive. The Standards indicate that home inspections are not technically exhaustive. This means that inspectors are not taking measurements, using instruments, doing testing, performing calculations or doing design analysis. Another way to think of it is to say home inspectors are doing a visual field performance evaluation. Home inspectors are looking at things that are installed in homes and determining whether they are doing their jobs, to the extent that they can by looking at them.
- They do not measure framing lumber size, spans or spacing.
- They don’t measure heating or cooling duct size and runs.
- They don’t test the quality of the grounding electrodes on electrical systems.
- They don’t do smoke tests on furnaces to look for cracked heat exchangers.
- They don’t use anemometers to measure airflow through duct systems.
- They don’t use pilot tubes or pressure gauges to analyze water supplies.
- They don’t trip circuit breakers or measure the current flow through individual electrical branch circuits.
- They don’t evaluate the design of roof trusses.
- They don’t perform heat loss calculations. You get the idea!
Life Expectancy. Standards say that you do not have to report on life expectancy. But the Standards say we do have to let the home owners know if a system is near the end of its life. There is a substantial difference between two adjacent houses; one has a brand new roof and another with a 17 year old roof at the end of its life. Both roofs may be performing their intended function of shedding water and neither roof may be leaking. However, perspective buyers of this home want to know if they are going to have to spend a few thousand dollars in the next year replacing the roof on one house, but not the other.
The Causes of Problems. Inspectors don’t have to indicate the cause of a problem. In many cases, it won’t matter. If the window is broken we don’t have to speculate what the cause was.
Don’t Say How to Fix. Home inspectors should not be writing repair specifications. The Standards say that they don’t have to report on the methods, materials and costs of corrections.
Costs. The Standards don’t require home inspectors to give ballpark costs for improvements. They don’t have to be cost estimators, although the market reality in many areas is that home inspectors do typically give ballpark costs for improvements. Real estate professionals will want to become familiar with what is typically done in their market.
Special Use. Home inspectors don’t have to tell clients whether the basement can be set up as a hairdressing salon for example.
Code Compliance. Home inspection is not a code compliance inspection. Nor is it a bylaw inspection. Most existing homes will not meet all current codes. There are several codes that apply to each house, including a building code, electrical code, gas code and plumbing code.
Performance-Based Inspection. Since they are not doing code inspections, what are home inspectors using as a yard stick? All codes are written for specific reasons-to encourage and enforce good construction practices. The goals include safety, performance, comfort, durability, and efficiency. A good home inspector has a strong general background in codes and knows what constitutes good construction practice. The focus is on the performance of the building and its systems.
Describe the Implications. It is much better to tell someone to fix a loose railing because someone might fall down the stairs then to simply tell him or her to do it. People will only take recommendations seriously if they understand the implications of making the improvement. “What will happen if I don’t?” is a fair question from a client about any recommendation. Simply, it may be ineffective to tell someone to do something because it is code.
Market Value. Home inspectors should not offer any comment on the price or value of a home.
What You Can’t See. The Standards say in several different ways that if inspectors can’t see it they don’t have to inspect it.
Insects, Rodents or Wood Destroying Organisms. Home inspectors don’t have to identify termites, rats, or even rot causing fungi. However, they do have to report any damage to the structure or other components.
Cosmetics. Inspectors don’t have to comment on anything subjective. Home inspectors should not comment on architectural or decorating issues. Again, they should not work outside their scope.
Warranties or Guaranties. The Standards say that inspectors do not have to offer warranties or guaranties. Most home inspectors do not. There are warranty programs that people can purchase on homes. These are, in effect, insurance policies. The home inspection fee cannot be considered an insurance premium, especially one with no limits, no deductible and no expiry date.
Danger and Damage. Home inspection professionals do not have to go anywhere that is dangerous. They should not walk on steeply sloped roofs for example. They should also not do anything that may damage the property. You don’t want to see a home inspector use a crowbar to force open an access hatch.
Don’t Turn Utilities On. The inspector does not have to inspect components that have been shut off. If the gas, water or electricity is not on at the time of the inspection, home inspectors are not required to turn them on. As a matter of fact, they should avoid turning them on. Things are usually turn off for a reason. There may be a safety issue. In most cases, the inspector won’t know and may risk causing serious damage or injury by activating systems that are shut down.
Disturbing Things. Home inspectors don’t have to move insulation, furniture, storage, tree branches, earth, snow or ice to get a better look. This can be an important point. Home inspectors sometimes have a problem when a client calls 6 months after the inspection to complain that he or she didn’t identify a crack in a foundation wall. If a stack of boxes covered the crack, no home inspector would find it. Many complaints about home inspectors’ work are the result of things that only became obvious after the inspection.
Hazardous Substance. Home inspectors don’t have to look for poisons, cancer causing agents or noise contamination. Indoor air quality and environmental inspections have become a separate industry. Home inspectors are building scientists. These other people are health scientists with different and specialized training.
Crystal Ball Gazing. Inspectors are not required to predict future conditions. If the roof is keeping the water out now, they don’t have to tell clients how long it will continue to perform successfully. As we mentioned earlier, some inspectors forecast life expectancy.
Operating Costs. Inspectors are often asked how much it will cost to heat the house or what the electrical bills will be. Home inspectors do not predict these. There are so many variables to these questions it is almost impossible to project accurately. In some cases, historical information is available that will help inform people of these projected costs.
Summary. The Standards are very useful in helping people understand the scope of a home inspection.
* adapted with permission from Carson Dunlop