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Reasonable Expectations Regarding A Professional Home Inspection

There may come a time when you discover something wrong with the house, and you may be upset or disappointed with your home inspection. There are some things we’d like you to keep in mind.

(A portion reprinted from American Society of Home Inspectors, By Permission of Alan Carson, Carson Dunlop & Assoc.)

Intermittent or concealed problems:

Some problems can only be discovered by living in a house. They cannot be discovered during the few hours of a home inspection. For example, some shower stalls leak when people are in the shower, but do not leak when you simply turn on the tap. Some roofs may leak when certain weather conditions arise (such as wind driven rain). Some problems will only be discovered when carpets are lifted, furniture is moved or finishes are removed.

No Clues:

These problems may have existed at the time of the inspection, but there were no clues as to their existence. Our inspections are based on the past performance of the house. If there are no clues of a past problem, it is unfair to assume we should foresee a future problem.

We always miss some minor things:

Some say we are inconsistent because our reports identify some minor problems but not others. The minor problems that are identified were discovered while looking for more significant problems. We note them simply as a courtesy. The intent of the inspection is not to find the $200 problems; it is to find the $1000 problems. These are the things that affect people’s decisions to purchase.

Contractor's advice:

A common source of dissatisfaction with home inspectors comes from comments made by contractors. Contractors’ opinions often differ from ours. Don’t be surprised when three roofers all say the roof needs replacement, when we said that the roof would last a few more years with some minor repairs.

"Last man in" theory:

While our advice represents the most prudent thing to do, many contractors are reluctant to undertake these repairs. This is because of the “last man in” theory. The contractor fears that if he is the last person to work on the roof, he will get blamed if the roof leaks, regardless of whether or not the roof leak is his fault. Consequently, he won’t want to do a minor repair with high liability, when he could re-roof the entire house for more money and reduce the likelihood of a callback. This is understandable.

Most recent advice is best:

There is more to the “last man in” theory. It suggests that it is human nature for homeowners to believe the last bit of “expert” advice they receive, even if it is contrary to previous advice. As home inspectors, we unfortunately find ourselves in the position of “first man in” and consequently it is our advice that is often disbelieved.

Why didn't we see it?: Contractors may say,

“I can’t believe you had this house inspected, and they didn’t find this problem.”

There are several reasons for these apparent oversights:

  1. Conditions during inspection: It is difficult for homeowners to remember the conditions at the time of the inspection. There may have been stored personal items blocking access to parts of the house, or other circumstances that made it impossible to fully inspect every component. It’s impossible for contractors to know what the circumstances were when the inspection was performed.
  2. This wisdom of hindsight: When the problem manifests itself, it is very easy to have 20/20 hindsight. Predicting the problem is a different story.
  3. A long look: If we spent half an hour under the kitchen sink or 45 minutes disassembling the furnace, we’d find more problems, too. Unfortunately, the inspection would take several days and would cost considerably more.
  4. We’re generalists: We are generalists; we are not specialists.That’s why we may recommend further evaluation by qualified/licensed contractor.
  5. An invasive look: Problems often become apparent when carpets or drywall are removed, when fixtures or cabinets are pulled out, and so on. A home inspection is a visual examination. We can’t perform invasive or destructive tests because, at the time of the inspection, it is not your house.

Not insurance:

In conclusion, a home inspection is designed to better your odds. It is not designed to eliminate all risk. For that reason, a home inspection should not be considered an insurance policy. The premium that an insurance company would have to charge for a policy with no deductible, no limit and an indefinite policy period would be considerably more than the fee we charge. It would also not include the value added by the inspection.