Since I have been professionally inspecting homes since 2002, I’ve run across a lot of misconceptions and myths about what a home inspection is, what a home inspector does, and just about everything in between. Many of these myths run rampant among the general public and sometimes even among Realtors. Such as 'the home inspector doesn't need to inspect the attic' or 'the home inspector doesn't need the utilities and appliances turned on to perform the inspection' (the answer is FALSE to both!). I’ve decided to correct or debunk some of the common myths.
1. A home inspector will find everything wrong with the home – FALSE. A home inspection is a non-invasive visual home inspection that typically lasts about 3 hours. Due to wall, ceiling, and floor coverings as well furniture, stove items, boxes, insulation, etc., there are parts of the home no inspector can access. Inaccessible areas (such as a locked room or a cluttered garage) should be documented in the inspection report.
2. The home inspector will move whatever is in his way or turn on gas/water valves or circuit breakers - FALSE. Home inspectors don’t move the seller's belongings (boxes, clothing, shelving, cabinetry, furniture, insulation, etc.) to perform the inspection. It is not our home nor our client's home yet so we must respect the privacy of the seller's home and their belongings. Also, moving the seller's belongings can greatly increase the liability of the home inspector and possibly even the home buyer's liability. I have also been to many homes that the water, gas, or electric or even appliances (water heater, refrigerator, gas fireplace's pilot light, etc.) or circuit breakers were turned off even though we always confirm with the listing agent or seller before the inspection that all utilities and included appliances are ready and operational. Several times over the years, I've had clients or Realtors take it upon themselves to turn on a gas or water valve or circuit breaker only to later find out why the valve or breaker was turned off. This can have serious consequences and may cause damage in the home. If something is not ready or operational for the inspection, to protect my own liability, I don't turn it on.
A home inspection is a non-invasive visual inspection of the accessible systems/components of the home. We can only inspect what we can safely physically and visually access. If there are areas that are not readily accessible (such as a bedroom, attic, garage, etc.) or systems/appliances aren't ready for the inspection, the inspector should take a photo showing the obstruction or a valve or breaker that is turned off, noting in the report what was not inspected, and recommend the area/system be inspected prior to closing when the item is ready for inspection.
3. The home inspection is pass/fail – FALSE. Unlike the Commonwealth of PA required annual automobile inspection, a home inspection report contains the inspector's findings to allow his client to make an informed home buying decision. There is no pass or fail for a home inspection. It’s up to the client to read the report fully and decide how to proceed based upon the reported findings.
4. Newly constructed homes don’t need a home inspection – FALSE. The buyer of any home can benefit from having a professional home inspector evaluate their new home. This is valid for a 200 year old home or a home that was completed last week. Issues sometimes found in brand new construction are often related a miscommunication amongst the various trades (electricians, plumbers, HVAC, etc.) or an item that was overlooked prior to completing the home.
5. A home inspection is a code compliance inspection – FALSE. Home inspectors use the Standard Of Practice of the national association that he belongs to (such as the American Society of Home Inspectors [ASHI]) for guidance as to what must be inspected. Building codes (such as the International Residential Code [IRC]), on the other hand, document specifically how a home should be designed and built and are considered minimum standards. While home inspectors aren’t inspecting for code compliance, a qualified home inspector should be well educated on the ever-changing building codes in their area to use as a basis for what they inspect and for their recommendations. Home inspectors have no code-compliance enforcement authority; that job is left to the township or city's code enforcement officer.
6. The more people attending the home inspection, the better – FALSE. Home inspectors prefer to have only the client(s) named on the sales contract as well as their Realtor, if so inclined, attend the home inspection. Due to the considerable amount of information and communication needed between the inspector and his client (the buyer in most cases), the fewer distractions the better. The client should follow the inspector through the home and ask questions. The inspection is not the time for the home buyer to show their home to friends and family. Inspection 'tag-alongs' often cause problems as the inspector’s job is to inspect the home, not to supervise the “goings on” elsewhere in the home.
The PA Agreement of Sale (PA real estate sales agreement) specifically states that only the home buyer, home buyer's Realtor, the inspector, the seller, and the listing Realtor may attend the home inspection. If the home buyer’s relatives and friends want to see the home, a separate private showing would be appropriate or, even better, throwing a house warming party after closing. For liability reasons of everyone involved, who’s inside the home during the home inspection should be limited. Remember, during the buyer’s inspection, the home is still owned by the seller and the seller’s home must be respected.
7. The seller must fix everything in the report – FALSE. The inspector is documenting his findings and making recommendations and is not privy to the sales contract’s details. He is not the person who decides what needs to be repaired and by whom. These decisions are made by the buyer with their Realtor’s guidance and may be negotiated between both sides. It is best if the Realtor educate their client, whether it’s the buyer or seller, as to the inspection process and how to proceed based upon the inspection report. Many home buyers and sellers, I find from experience, have no idea what a home inspection is and is not and assume the inspector decides what needs repair and who pays for the repair.
8. All home inspectors perform the same inspection – FALSE. Just like every home is different, every home inspector follows different methods of evaluating a home. Personally, being an engineer, I inspect the home’s exterior, then the attic, and I work my way down through each level ending in the basement; this is typically the direction that water travels so it allows for a more efficient, logic-based inspection, in my opinion. Some inspectors inspect in the reverse order. Inspection report types also vary by inspector; some provide hand-written checklist reports whereas others provide detailed computer generated narrative reports with photographs. The length of the onsite inspection also can vary widely especially taking into account the size and condition of the home and any add-on services that are also being performed beyond the home inspection itself.
9. A home inspection is the same as an appraisal – FALSE. An appraisal and a home inspection are two completely different things. An appraisal estimates a monetary value of a home, whereas a home inspection documents the condition of the home’s major systems. Although some appraisers call what they do “inspections”, this is a misnomer that confuses many home buyers and sellers. I find some home buyers unaware of the difference and think that if there is an appraisal being done, a home inspection is not needed.
10. Everything that the inspector finds is an expensive fix –FALSE. Many of the common issues found during a home inspection are relatively inexpensive to repair. Some of these commonly-found issues include minor plumbing and electrical issues, clogged gutters, uncaulked bathtub joints, and rotted wood trim.
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© 2017 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.