Everything I am about to say assumes a normal market which we do not have now in 2023. Things are still far from normal in the housing market. After over 30 years as a home inspector, I still ask myself this question (when I’m not so busy that I don’t even have time to eat lunch). Attempting to enjoy my vacation in Florida in a rented Airbnb, it strikes me again. Why get a home inspection? This is for peace of mind. You might also think to yourself, when to walk away after home inspection? If the report has a lot of major issues or its not safe for you and your family.
Why A Home Inspection is Recommended
I awoke around 7:30 this morning to the footsteps of little kids running back and forth on the floor above me. As I am listening to them, I thought to myself, what if I had bought this unit sight unseen like so many people are doing these days? Or what if I looked at it with a high-pressure realtor for 30 minutes and then had to make a buying decision?
Even though a home inspection is not required to purchase a property, it is highly recommended. A home inspection is a valuable tool as part of the home-buying process. It allows the buyer to gain valuable information about the property, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Additionally, it also gives a buyer a chance to walk away after the home inspection if there are major issues.
Now, a bad home inspection doesn’t mean that the deal is done. It will depend on what needs fixing. However, often if it is a house being flipped, the roof and other major issues have not been looked at. This also goes for sellers who say something is a recent fix, in which it was 15 years ago. Lastly, buyers often want a house that is perfect and unfortunately, those don’t always exist and can also kill a deal.
The Role of the Home Inspector
As a home inspector, I have seen the whole spectrum of buyers – from people who want every dead tree branch and every ding on the wall fixed to those who are upset with me that I am finding issues with their dream home. Yes, sometimes people get mad at me for finding defects in their potential purchase. However, it is important to not be blinded by excitement and to see the whole picture. If I wasn’t pointing out the problems, I wouldn’t be doing my job.
A home inspector is similar to a judge. We find issues with the house and it costs people money when they have to fix the issues that we find. The inspector has to be very fair (just like a judge) to all parties involved. The home inspection is a thorough, objective evaluation. I tell people, “Well you looked at the house with your agent, now you are here with me and we are going to take a couple of hours to go through and look at things more in-depth.”
Home Buyer Role vs. Home Inspector Role
As a home buyer, you often focus on the exciting things: Open or closed layout, whether it is a good neighborhood, where would I put my dog’s favorite chair or seven cat trees, etc. My focus, on the other hand, is on the boring stuff which is the materials, systems, and workings of the house. Additionally, the detailed building inspection follows the standard operating procedures of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
A good realtor will match their clients up with a house that is suitable, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. For example, I have done inspections for people who are repair and renovation averse. Then, the home they are buying needs a lot of repairs. This is a poor match-up and would have a higher chance of the deal being terminated by the buyer after they find out the extent of repairs needed. I can help close the gap. However, ultimately my purpose is to give my client a fair and accurate assessment of the object of their purchase.
Home Inspector is Also a Solution Provider
My job is not only to find potential issues with the house but also to point to potential solutions. To get an idea of how I can help a client understand and utilize the information I am collecting, here are some things I like to say during an inspection:
– “Everything can be fixed, it just takes money. It’s just a choice if it’s going to be your money or the seller’s money.”
– With regard to bad electric panels, “There’s a very small chance of a fire, but you don’t want that in your house.”
– “While not all codes require a clearly labeled main electrical shutoff in the main service panel, it is the safest option. If there is a problem where someone is being shocked, it will be appreciated; especially by the person being shocked!”
– “A home inspection is designed to reduce the chance of a major defect being missed. We also comment on many small defects along the way.”
A home inspector is like a detective. Oftentimes a defect can be detected in multiple ways. For example, the inspector sees a damaged roof boot while inspecting the roof. Then while in the attic, the inspector sees a stain on the insulation and light coming through a hole in the roof boot. Next, on the interior, the inspector sees a stain on the ceiling below the roof boot. These are three different ways the defect could be traced back. An important part of most inspections is just rote documentation. An example of this is getting serial numbers off appliances and documenting them. The probability of appliance failure could be determined simply by the age.
Phase 1 Environmental Audits
I learned a lot about home inspections from doing Phase 1 Environmental Audits at a previous job. During an Environmental Audit, Phase 1 is the investigation stage. This stage is collecting information and observations and asking questions such as, What was the property used for? What is the history? Then when you know what the property was used for, you can use your observations to form hypotheses to test. Lastly, you can use the results to determine any necessary action.
For example, let’s say it was once a dry cleaner and there are some chemical drums. Next, you find stains on the ground near the drums. You can develop a hypothesis that it was a dry cleaner chemical spill. For Phase 2, you can then test for the chemicals commonly used in dry cleaning. This is to prove or disprove the hypothesis that the stains are from chemicals spilled during the time the building was used for dry cleaning. Phase 3 would be a clean-up if the hypothesis proves correct. Similarly to Phase 1, a home inspection is a collection of information and observations. Here there is no predefined Phase 2 or Phase 3, so what do you do with this information?
Multiple Stages of the Home Inspection
One of the biggest failures during the home inspection process is the failure to recognize that the home inspection is a multi-stage process. When a potential issue is found, the home inspector will recommend further evaluation by a specialist. For example, when I am doing an inspection, if I start finding multiple electrical outlets that are not wired correctly I will recommend further evaluation by an electrician.
Then, like Phase 2, it’s a closer look at where the issue is coming from to verify what could be causing it. The electrician will take a look at the entire system per my recommendation. Then, the electrician will give an assessment and repair estimate. It may take the electrician as long as it takes me to do the entire inspection just to look at the electrical system.
One may say, couldn’t I just start out by getting a specialist for each trade to come out? Well, good luck with that. Contractor rates and schedules are unpredictable, and the time you get to investigate is short. The ASHI standards are designed so that your home inspector goes into enough depth to minimize the chance that a major defect will go undetected.
When you are armed with reports and repair estimates, the conversation goes back to the buyer and seller. In this conversation, it will be decided when the repair will be done and who gets to write the check. Without an inspection, there is no negotiating. This is the critical chance to solve a major issue before the deal is done. Also, if there is a lot to be fixed on the report or major issues, the buyer can walk away.
Maybe you get another chance down the line when you investigate why things aren’t working quite right in your new home. Perhaps you don’t get another chance and something catastrophic happens. I don’t know about you, but I would want to minimize that risk and put myself in the best position possible. Reach out to Enviroquest Home Inspections for a complete home inspection in Harrisburg, PA.