Home Inspections – Two Views

Intending home-buyers often ask about pre-purchase home inspections. Usually the questions relate to whether the cost of the inspection can be justified, and whether a purchaser has any recourse against a building inspection company if they “get it wrong”.

Are building inspections worthwhile?The following two articles may assist consumers in assessing the value of the pre-purchase inspection. While they are written from the American/Canadian perspective, the issues they raise are universal.

In “Hidden Glitches, Future Trouble; Suprise! Home Inspections May Overlook Serious Problems” Anne M. Makilton describes the experience of Michelle and Kelly Tierney: “The Tierneys’ experience should be a warning to home buyers: Know what you get, and what you don’t, from a home inspection…”

And in “Home inspections a wise investment”Shelly Sanders Greer explains that: “…a reputable inspector can help you understand your house from the ground up; will closely examine plumbing, electrical, foundation, roof, interior and exterior; show you how to avoid future problems; and alert you to issues that need to be addressed.”

See what the two authors have to say, and you be the judge.

This article comes from The Hartford Courant Company:

ANNE M. HAMILTON; Special to The Courant

Hartford Courant (Connecticut) December 18, 2005

“Hidden Glitches, Future Trouble; Suprise! Home Inspections May Overlook Serious Problems”

When Michelle and Kelly Tierney were house-hunting two years ago, they thought they had found the perfect home: three bedrooms, room for a home office and — after hiring a home inspector — no major problems.

In fact, they felt assured that the $295 they paid for the home inspection was the same as buying an insurance policy that would protect them against problems they couldn’t detect themselves.

They were wrong.

They found out that a home inspection, which takes place in just a few hours, is no guarantee that a house is problem-free. More often than not, new owners find surprises after they move in.

And they learned the hard way that if there is a problem — such as the sagging kitchen floor they say the home inspection missed — there is little recourse short of suing, and even that alternative is a long shot.

The Tierneys’ experience should be a warning to home buyers: Know what you get, and what you don’t, from a home inspection. <

“Home buyers have to be educated because there are many areas a home inspection does not cover,” said Richard Maloney Jr., director of the trade practices division of the state Department of Consumer Protection.

He also said some home inspection reports are merely “best guess estimates. But I think bringing in a professional is a good thing … a bona fide protection, even with the limitations.”

In the Tierneys’ case, a home inspector recommended by their real estate agent spent three hours looking over the house they planned to purchase in Portland.

His report outlined some problems — it said the house, built in 1966, needed electrical work and a column to hold up the enclosed porch. But the inspector found no serious problems.

Relying in part on his report, the Tierneys bought the house, only to learn of a serious structural problem in the basement ceiling after they moved in. The Tierneys said the main supporting beam on the first floor needed more support. Without it, the floor dipped. To fix it, the Tierneys had to hire a contractor to jack the house up, remove the failed beam and replace it with a stronger one. The work cost just under $8,000.

The Tierneys contacted their inspector, who said he had seen nothing wrong when he visited and suggested that the problem had arisen later. An effort to resolve the problem through the Department of Consumer Protection, which licenses inspectors, brought the Tierneys no relief.

“I thought I had a qualified person who would look out for our interests, meaning no major issues which would be a financial burden,” Michelle Tierney said. “But there are things he could have seen. After going through this, I’ve got a pretty bad taste in my mouth.”

It is impossible to know whether the Tierneys or their inspector was correct in the assessment of the sag in the basement ceiling. But the couple have agreed to talk about their case so that other home buyers won’t make the same mistakes.

It’s important to understand, they said, what a home inspection does and does not cover.

“What is included is far greater than what is excluded,” said Rob Paterkiewicz, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors, the industry’s largest trade association.

“But the inspector is not Superman. They won’t be able to see things they can’t see through. But to go without an inspection would not only be a gamble, but it would be downright foolish,” Paterkiewicz said.

Inspectors are required to report on items that are “significantly deficient” or “near the end of their service lives.” (There is no guarantee, of course, that the heating or plumbing system won’t stop working the following month. In that case, the buyer has no recourse.)

Buyers need to know that inspectors are not required to examine anything that is not visible. State regulations do not require inspectors to move anything — a bureau, a bed or a box. However, hidden behind a piece of furniture could be a hole in the wall, a faulty electrical outlet or evidence of a water leak.

If the problem can’t be seen, the inspector is not obligated to find it.

Inspectors are also not required to do anything that is potentially dangerous or that might damage the property. So although a roof must be examined, the inspector is not required to climb onto it.

Weather can create problems for a home inspection. If it is cold, the air conditioning should not be turned on because the condenser might be damaged. If there is snow on the roof, the inspector will not be able to evaluate its condition.

Inspectors are supposed to identify the equipment or items that are not checked — and buyers should pay special attention to what has been left out.

“Look at omissions and see which are critical, and have them checked,” Maloney said. “If the inspector won’t do it, go to another home inspector that will turn on the heat in the middle of the summer.”

There are other things home inspections do not include:

Although the furnace must be turned on, there is no requirement that the radiators be tested to see whether they work or how well they heat the room.

If a crawl space is too narrow, or the attic isn’t readily accessible, the inspector need not go in.

If the chimney doesn’t draw, it’s not the inspector’s problem. A stuck window or broken sash cord? He’s only required to inspect a “representative number” of windows and doors, perhaps one in each room. The carpet hides a hole in the floor? Too bad. The inspector is not obligated to find it.

Also excluded from inspection are washers, dryers, dishwashers and other household appliances; central vacuum systems; underground storage tanks, the interiors of chimney flues, television antennas, window screens, shutters, fences and private wells.

Neither mold nor termites must be reported unless they are covered under a separate contract. Indoor air quality is not tested.

Some home inspectors’ contracts specify that the inspector is obligated to address only items that would cost more than $1,000 to repair. Other contracts state that inspectors are not required to report the presence of carbon monoxide or the accuracy of thermostats.

In Connecticut, home inspectors must be licensed by the Department of Consumer Protection, and seven pages of regulations spell out the minimum standards that inspectors are required to observe. (Individual inspectors may, under their own contracts with home buyers, include more services and protections, but they are not required to do so.)

The state has about 350 licensed inspectors, who are required to have had 40 hours of training and pass a state exam to be licensed. Prices for an inspection vary, but they range from about $275 to $1,000.

Despite the many areas that inspectors are not required to investigate, there seems to be overall satisfaction with the work done by most home inspectors. Maloney said 26 complaints were made against inspectors during the year that ended July 30, 2005. Of these, two were reviewed by the Home Inspection Licensing Board, which oversees home inspections. Of those two cases, one was dismissed and one inspector’s license was suspended indefinitely.

“If consumers can get an inspector to look at one of the most important financial decisions in their lives, I think it is helpful,” Maloney said. “Inspection does afford the consumer at least an independent review of difficulties they may face. Like any respondent group, there are good ones and bad ones.”

With all these exclusions, is a home inspection really necessary?

Absolutely, said Mallory Anderson, executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors. Inspections can identify many potential problem areas so home buyers can conduct further investigations and make an educated decision about whether to buy.

“But people need to be realistic,” Anderson said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect house.”

Anne M. Hamilton is a free-lance writer who lives in West Hartford.

The following article is from the Toronto Star:

“Home inspections a wise investment”

Shelly Sanders Greer, Special to the Star

The Toronto Star January 14, 2006

For more than eight years Lee DeDauw, a home inspector with AmeriSpec, has been carefully examining the bones of houses.

From the foundation to the plumbing to the electrical to the roof, DeDauw sees what works well and what needs fixing. He’s seen it all but what he has trouble understanding is why so many people shop for inspectors by price alone.

“I answer the phones a lot and there are a lot of people who shop by price only, not experience,” he says. “This doesn’t seem logical when you’re paying so much for a house.”

To set the record straight, DeDauw says a thorough home inspection should take two to three hours, depending on the size and condition of the house, and will cost around $350.

But what people don’t understand, he adds, is that a reputable inspector can help you understand your house from the ground up; will closely examine plumbing, electrical, foundation, roof, interior and exterior; show you how to avoid future problems; and alert you to issues that need to be addressed.

“The number one problem we see is in the electrical panel,” he says. “It’s double lugging where two wires go to the same breaker, which is a fire hazard. Three-quarters of the homes we see have this.” Even if a home doesn’t have double lugging, it will likely have other problems since no house is perfect. The inspector helps the buyer understand how to make the home as safe and strong as it can be.

“Our real estate agent made me aware that the home inspector he recommended was expensive but we wanted a through inspection of the home we were buying, which was 50 years old with three additions,” says Oakville resident Chris Doyle, who used Carson Dunlop and Associates for an inspection that cost around $400. “There were two oil tanks and we had never had oil before. One tank was only two years old but the other was old and had to be removed right away.

“The inspector was very thorough about the fireplaces because of their age. He was worried about carbon monoxide. He told us the roof had to be replaced, the furnace was not as new as we thought, and the vines growing on the cedar siding could mould and rot the wood. The siding would be a huge cost to replace so we removed the vines.”

The Doyles were also told the lot sloped toward their house so they had a landscaper come in to change the grading. “The inspector spent time with us – three to four hours – and we were able to talk to him about future renovations,” Doyle says. “Now, we’ve been in the house a year and have had no unpleasant surprises.”

For older homes like Doyle’s, and for homes where multiple listings are expected, agents and home inspectors recommend pre-listing inspections.

“Pre-listing inspections have become more popular in the last few years,” says DeDauw. “This way there are no surprises for either side and sellers can tell buyers exactly what they’re looking at.”

Carol Marquis, a real estate agent with Sutton Group Bayview, says she definitely sees more pre-inspections these days. But for some buyers this is not enough. “There are people who want their own inspector,” she says. “If they weren’t there when the inspection was done they don’t know how thorough it was. Some inspectors will come back to the home for a small fee and walk through, pointing out significant findings.”

Marquis, like all agents, recommends inspection firms to clients and in the 22 years she’s been an agent, has seen good and bad inspectors.

“Some inspectors talk down to clients or use the wrong approach and wording,” she says. “There are a few inspectors who take something that’s very normal and make it alarmist. I remember one inspector who told the client the basement fan was just terrible. The wife told me she didn’t think her husband would go through with the sale. I asked the inspector how much it would cost to fix the fan and he said $20.

“It depends on how inspectors put things into context. A good inspector will say something like this is the problem and this is how we can fix it. Some even provide a list of contractors for buyers.”

DeDauw adds that you should make sure the inspector has errors and omissions insurance so that if something is missed, and a problem occurs due to this, you’ll be compensated.

The best way to prepare for an inspection is to keep up the maintenance on your home.

“Maintenance is very important, and not just for older homes,” says Eve Patterson, Ontario regional manager for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “Things deteriorate over time.”

To make inspection as smooth as possible, DeDauw says sellers should make sure access to the electrical panel, furnace and attic is clear.

He also likes to see maintenance records, including heating and cooling.

For more information about home inspections visit www.amerispec.ca or www.carsondunlop.com.

Red Flags for Older Homes

Obviously older homes can have more potential issues than newer homes, especially those built before World War II.

Marquis says she has seen home inspections uncover three areas over the last couple of years that can lead to home insurance problems for potential buyers. “Within the last couple of years knob and tube wiring has been a problem,” she says.

“Insurance providers want you to get rid of it within a certain time if you want insurance and if you aren’t prepared to do this, you will be charged a higher premium.”

Patterson explains that some companies do underwrite knob and tube wiring, but it has to have a safety inspection. And she adds that the same goes for aluminum wiring and 60 amp service. “The underwriting guidelines vary from company to company.”

Another recent and growing problem seen by Marquis are oil tanks more than 20 years old.

“These should be replaced before a house comes on the market,” Marquis says.

Patterson agrees. They can have a major environmental impact if they leak, she says. “Once they get old they have to be replaced.”

The third issue is one that people may not even be aware of, such as buried oil tanks in the yard.

“If a home inspector finds a tube on the site and it’s a buried tank, you have to pay to remove it, have a soil assessment and then remedy the situation,” Marquis says. “If there is any contamination in the soil it will be a huge cost.”

“There have been some very serious environmental claims in the Maritimes where oil got into the water table,” Patterson says. “We’re talking thousands of dollars in cleanup.”

For more information about home insurance check out www.ibc.ca.


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