Understanding home inspection and choosing the right home inspector can be a difficult task, especially if you don’t know what questions to ask. I hope this guide is helpful if you are a first time buyer and need to know what home inspections are all about or have purchased many homes, you will probably find information here that you may not have thought of. Whether you hire me as your inspector or not, you owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about the most expensive purchase you will ever make….your home.
The History of Home Inspection The home inspection industry is still relatively new. To the home buyers of the early 1900s, property inspections were non-existent. In this simpler era, the purchase of a home was a simple bank transaction and a handshake. The thought of suing someone over a home purchase problem was not on anyone’s mind. As long as the roof didn’t leak and the house was basically sound, everyone was happy. By the 1960s, the home purchase process became more complicated and included attorneys, appraisers, escrow officers and other legal issues and paperwork, but the cost of an average house was barely two years income of a single working person. Interest rates were very low and homes were so affordable, people accepted flaws of a house as part of the deal. Although the home inspection industry was still not introduced yet, the “home inspector” of this era was your uncle Bob that knew something about construction that gave his opinion of the house. Then came the 1970’s and societal changes went crazy affecting all aspects of business and finance. House prices escalated to unimaginable levels. With high down payments and monthly installments, more and more people were now unwilling to accept the “as is” home conditions. Real estate agents were growing increasingly tired of being the one blamed when home defects were discovered after the sale. Then came the second generation of home inspectors….contractors. Contractors and handymen saw an opportunity to look over a home and give an opinion to the buyer as to what needs to be fixed and made a good living performing the repairs as well. Of course, this is a direct conflict of interest since someone who does inspections should not perform the repairs as well. They didn’t have to be licensed as inspectors since there was no such license, carry insurance and were not regulated, so their services to the public were not always honest or reliable and in most cases, these services weren’t even known to exist by many. By the early 1980s, the demand for disclosure caused the formation of the first home inspectors as a recognized true profession. Also emerged was the need for regulation, continued education and standards of practice to the newly formed profession with the formation of associations such as ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors), NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors) and TAREI (Texas Association of Real Estate Inspectors) and others. Texas then led the nation as the first state to license home inspectors and many states followed suit, while some states even to this date, still don’t license home inspectors, eventually probably will. As the home inspection profession is still evolving, continual changes are always being made to make sure the home buyers are protected and ensure the inspectors are top notch. As of 2008, Texas is has mandated the requirement of Error and Omission Insurance for inspectors to carry and later in the year will introduce a new report form and standards of Practice (SOP).
The Home Inspection Process First of all, what exactly is a home inspector? Actually that can be a good question. If I were to sum it up, I would say that we are consumer advocates. We work for the customer to use our knowledge of houses to help you gain as much information about the home as possible so that you know what you are buying and maybe negotiate for repairs, upgrades or money off the price of the house. I can tell you what we are not. We are not:
Code Inspectors We do not enforce building codes on existing homes, although we do if we inspect new homes and homes outside city jurisdiction. But in a typical existing home purchase transaction, we do not inspect for code compliance or be confused with city building inspectors that oversee the construction permits by the city. These inspectors work for the city and spend little time at the house during construction or a remodel job only to ensure building codes are met. As a professional inspector in a purchase transaction, we go over the entire home to look for defects and spend hours at a home, not minutes. Used existing homes never meet current codes, but it may be useful to know what these new codes are in case you choose to keep the house updated. Sometimes I refer to current codes for safety items such as smoke detectors so that I have justification to alert the buyers to have these items corrected.
Specialists We are general inspectors, not specialists in any particular field. We are not licensed plumbers, electricians or engineers. If we find that a particular item in a home is found to be in need of repair, we then advise you to have a specialist in that field to evaluate it. We don’t take apart air conditioners or dishwashers to tell you what is wrong with it, we just report that it does not work or is incorrectly installed.
Psychics We can’t tell you how long something will last. We can however tell you how long an item such as a water heater or furnace should last, but you need to remember that an item can work perfectly at the time of the inspection and blow up the next day!
A Home Warranty Company We do not warranty items in a house or give guarantees. You are always encouraged to purchase a home warranty and your Realtor should also advise you to.
Estimators I may be speaking for myself on this issue, but I don’t give estimates for repairs. I think any inspector that does is asking for a lot of trouble. I get asked by many customers, how much will it cost for a repair or upgrade. Some upgrades are pretty standard but I don’t know what materials and labor rates are for most, so I would only be throwing out a number off the top of my head…..and you would be calling me when I’m way off! As far as repairs, how can I give an estimate when I don’t know what exactly is causing the problem? An air conditioner that won’t come on could have a bad breaker that may cost $6.00 or may need a complete replacement with the costs in the thousands.
When should I schedule the inspection? As soon as you have a contract on the house. Most contracts give you want is called and “opt out period”. The opt out time can vary and in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, 10 day seems to be the norm. During this time, you will need to have the home inspection performed and any estimates for repairs gathered so that you may either pass on the purchase or negotiate the home’s price. DO NOT wait until the last few days on the opt out period to get the home inspected. The good inspectors are usually booked ahead and you may have to settle on an inspector that is available with less experience. It is also advised have your inspector already picked out when you are still in the shopping phase so you aren’t rushed, home buying is stressful enough.
The scope and limitations of a home inspection There is risk in purchasing anything including a home. Having a home professionally inspected does not eliminate the risk, but a thorough inspection does reduce that risk. I am asked frequently when a potential client calls as to what items are covered with the home inspection. Basically most all the home’s components from the roof, on down to the foundation are inspected. The roof, electrical, plumbing, attic area, interior, AC and furnace and the appliances are inspected. You need to understand that only the accessible and visible components can be expected, since we can’t open walls and floors or move furniture. The attic can be covered with insulation and many items can’t be seen. Here are the current standards of practice for the state of Texas. You should carefully read the standards so you won’t be confused or disappointed.
The home inspection contingency In most cases with existing home purchases, you have within the opt out period a contingency to buy the home “as is” based on the inspection report. Or if you decline the acceptance, then you have the following options. 1. Ask the sellers to make some of the needed repairs. You should be sure to address safety issues. 2. Ask the sellers to make all the needed repairs. 3. Ask the sellers to adjust the home’s price based on the needed repairs. 4. Ask the sellers to credit you the cost of the repairs. 5. Decline to purchase the property altogether.
If you choose to have the sellers to reduce the price or make repairs, the sellers have choices themselves. 1. Agree to make some of the repairs. 2. Agree to make all the repairs. 3. Agree to reduce the home’s price or give credit. 4. Tell you to take it or leave it.
Many buyers, especially first time buyers think that just because we have repair items in our reports, that the sellers must make repairs. This just isn’t true. The sellers are not under any obligation whatsoever to make any repairs. It just boils down to how bad to the sellers want to sell the house and or be fair in the sale. It also depends on whether it is a buyers market or a sellers market in the area. I an buyers market, most sellers will turn back flips to sell their house.
How long should an inspection take to perform? It depends on many factors such as how large a house is. For example, if the house has a pier & beam foundation, it takes longer to crawl under the house and inspect. If the home has a swimming pool and sprinkler system, that takes time also. It also depends on how thorough and fast the inspector is. A typical home inspection on an average size house should take about three house and spend at least 30 minutes with you going over the findings. If an inspector is in and out in 1 – 2 hours, in my opinion, you did not get a thorough inspection. Some inspectors want to make as much money as they can by flying through the inspection and on to the next one. I would ask how long the inspection will take when interviewing the inspector to see how thorough the inspector is.
Why you should attend the inspection I perform many home inspections for people that are out of town and are moving to the area, so I write my inspection reports to be as detailed as possible with many photos for clarification. However, you should try your best to be present for the inspection and ask as many questions as you can. Some inspectors do not like you to stay with them throughout the inspection, but personally I love showing and teaching the customer about the house. This may also be one the pre-screening questions you may want to ask.
How to choose the right home inspector Choosing the right home inspector can be daunting, especially if you have never needed to hire one before. By reading this guide, you should have a good idea of what questions to ask when interviewing an inspector. Many people have the impression that all professional home inspectors are all that same since we all go by the same standards. Nothing could be further from the truth. If two inspectors were to inspect the same house, the inspection reports and findings could be quite different. Some inspectors try harder, are more experienced and are more thorough that others. Even some of the veteran inspectors that have decades of experience are too lazy to get on the roof, climb in the attic and crawl under the house on pier & beam homes….another reason why you should attend the inspection, to make sure the inspector is doing their job. Here are more factors you should consider in choosing the right home inspector.
Home inspectors licensing Verify that the inspector is properly licensed if the state requires licensing. Texas home inspectors are required to be licensed.
Home Inspector Experience It may surprise you to learn that anyone can become a Texas professional home inspector in no time. While experience in the construction industry is very helpful, it is not required. This may change in the future, but as of now, a person just has to attend the required hours at an approved home inspection school and pass the state home inspection test and they are considered a professional home inspector, although they have never inspected a single home in their life. The inspector you hire may be performing their first inspection ever.
Professional Affiliations Most home inspectors join a home inspector professional organization to take advantage of benefits and sharpen their skills since these organizations also require continued education hours for membership. Inspectors can also learn from each other at meetings and conventions. Texas home inspectors by state law are required to complete 16 hours of approved continued education. The most prominent of these associations are ASHI, NAHI, InterNACHI and TPREIA.
Insurance Texas has recently adopted a new law requiring home inspectors to carry a minimum of $100,000 of professional liability insurance. This is required at license renewal, so at this time, some Texas home inspectors may not carry it yet.
Is the company a multi-inspector firm or are you an independent inspector? The majority of home inspectors are full time independent inspectors but there are some inspection companies that have multiple inspectors. Remember this, when you hire an independent inspector, you know who will show up to inspect your house. When you use an multi-inspector company, you may not know anything about the inspector's qualifications or experience. These inspectors only get a cut of the inspection fee and some may not put forth the extra effort to do a great job for you.
Ask to see a sample report Ask to see a sample of the inspector’s report. This should give you an idea of how thorough and if the inspector includes pictures of defects. Most all inspectors use computer generated reports and some post them on their website to view or can email you a copy.
Should I choose an inspector my sales agent is referring? That really depends on how much trust you place in your agent. Some agents may want you to use an inspector that does a quick inspection and writes basically nothing in the reports so the transaction goes through fast and easy. If your agent is one of the more professional agents he or she will want you to have the best inspection possible, after all it’s their reputation on the line when they make referrals. If you are not sure if you should let the agent pick the home inspector, then seek out your own. You have every right to chose your own inspector and don’t ever let a sales agent tell you otherwise.
Don’t choose the cheapest inspector Please believe me when I make that statement. When I get calls from potential clients that is usually the first question that is asked. I don’t think it’s because people are just cheap, they just don’t know that else to ask. While I understand that no one wants to pay more than they have to, you get what you pay for. You aren’t buying a bottle of soda pop at the store where all of them are the same, you are buying a professional service. The cheapest inspectors are usually the new ones that have trouble getting work or perform inspections as a sideline. I know of a lady that was determined to hire the cheapest inspector she could find and after the sale, found out the insurance company would not insure her roof because the shingles were installed over the old wooden shingles, which were clearly visible from the attic. She wound up having to pay for the whole roof at about $6000 in trying to save a mere $25.00 in inspection fees.
To help you to ask the right questions, I have made a list of questions I would ask a potential home inspector. 1. How long have you had your license and have been inspection homes? 2. Are you a full time independent inspector or is this a multi-inspector company? 3. How long does it take to perform a typical home inspection? 4. How long does it take for me to get my inspection report? 5. Are you a member of a professional association? 6. Do you be willing to perform a re-inspection on repaired items? 7. Do you mind if I follow along while you inspect? 8. What is your inspection fee? 10. Do you have any references I can speak to?
The Consumer's Guide To Home Inspectors and Home Inspections
By Kent Keith
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