What are the main questions consumers ask about home inspectors?

February 28, 2017

The questions we get from buyers, sellers, and homeowners about home inspectors include everything from what exactly a home inspector does to how they should pick an inspector. Here are eight examples below..

A Home Inspector Asks: What are the main questions you get from consumers, or real estate agents, about home inspectors?

Monty’s Answer: Most of the questions come from customers so here are seven types of frequent questions and a question (number 2) I have seen only once.

Typical consumer questions

1. What does a home inspection cover?
Many consumers have never experienced a home inspection. First time buyers, home sellers that have lived in their homes for many years, and folks that have bought or sold more recently that for one reason or another, did not have an inspection.

People considering an inspection for the first time are trying to evaluate the cost versus the benefits. If they have never owned a home, they may not realize that home ownership involves wear and tear, mechanical failures and the effects of nature’s elements. While the inspection is second nature to the inspector, some consumers have no conception of what happens during an inspection. They also may be receiving conflicting advice. Between real estate agents, relatives and co-workers, contrasting ideas about home inspection are common.

The inspector’s role at this point is that of an educator. Through a website, advertisements, on the phone or in person, explaining the inspection of certain components and a sample of your work product provides assurance of the value of the examination, and the competency of the inspector. Examples or real stories of your experiences can help a customer envision the value. Here is a link to a typical homebuyer question about what the inspection covers.

2. What should we be watching for when building a home?
My real estate experience suggests that new construction, both speculative and custom, creates an assumption on the part of the consumer that a home inspection is not required because the home is brand new. It may be a combination of the automobile purchase with extended warranties and a builder rep scoffing at the idea. The truth is a new home purchase is nothing like a new car purchase.

While most builders are honest, they experience mistakes. I once built a home for a customer, and the insulation contractor missed an out-of-the-way section of the ceiling. The owner’s complaint of high heating bills two years later led to the discovery.

Unfortunately, there are also incompetent and dishonest home builders. From small indiscretions in cutting corners to more severe or costly transgressions that are hard to spot, such as shorting the concrete pour in the basement floor, improper foundation compaction to save dollars on fill and labor, or a 20-year roof when a 40-year roof was specified.

If you live in an area of new construction, it would be no shock to learn that very few new homes undergo an independent home inspection. Could this mean an opportunity for an inspector? Here is a question from a sharp customer, to demonstrate the point.  

3. Should we use an inspector on an agent’s team?
Monty neither endorses nor discourages a relationship between a home inspector and an agent. Anecdotally, being suspicious of such relationships may be well founded. On the other hand, we are confident there are inspector/agent relationships that are entirely above board. Monty’s opinion is that three service providers in all categories should be vetted by the consumer unless they have worked with them in the past. Category examples are real estate agents, mortgage lenders, home inspectors, contractors and title companies.

4. Do I need an inspector on an “as is” purchase?
In many states “As Is” purchases can be confusing. One must remember that the main reason for an inspection is to discover ‘material defects” that adversely affect a property’s value. A tear-down is a rare example where a home inspection will not be helpful. “As is” commonly means the seller is stating they are not making any repairs because they have taken condition issues into consideration in pricing. Pricing aside, no buyer wants to find an expensive defect they were not aware of after closing. In most states, the seller is still required to complete a condition report. Sometimes, “ As Is” turns into just another negotiation. Here is an example.

5. Should we buy a pre-offer inspection?
There are advantages and disadvantages with a pre-offer inspection. Consider a pre-offer inspection even though they make many real estate agents uncomfortable. Various circumstances in every transaction impact the direction one takes in making a decision on a pre-offer inspection. Monty believes a seller buying the home inspection with a “recheck clause” at a lower price on a sale would eliminate a lot of angst from real estate transactions. It does not matter which party pays for the inspection; it just has to be accurate. Here are the primary advantages and disadvantages of having a home inspection before making an offer.

6. How to pick a quality inspector.
The purpose of the home inspection is to examine and disclose the condition of the principal structural and mechanical components of the home. The reason for this is simple. The understanding of a home’s condition is a fundamental part of determining the value; an inspection helps give the buyer that critical understanding. Here is what an investigation entails, and its limitations. No home is perfect. Here are tips for comparing inspectors in making a determination on which vendor to choose. Author’s note: It is the same article as in Question 1. 

7. Questions about an inspection miss on inspected items.
Here is a typical question: “ I bought a house a year ago with some permitted room additions. However, the seller replaced the electrical box from 100 amp to 200 amp non-permitted. This work was not disclosed or caught in the home inspection. So now I have been experiencing electrical issues in my house. Utility company got involved which is when we found out about the amps going to the house is not enough power, hence the electrical issues. The electrical box is underground, not on a pole. So now I am faced with rewiring as well as permit fees. Can I hold the seller, home inspector, and my real estate agent responsible?

Author’s note: This type of question is the most common of all. The writer did not reveal the location of the home nor did his question contain any cost estimate to upgrade the power to the house. With so little information, answering these questions then require qualification and choices of potential solutions. The options vary from chalking the problem up experience, seeking relief directly from the parties, and seeking legal advice.”

8. How can the customer avoid losses from missed defects?
There will be times even the most experienced inspector can miss a defect. Here is a theory describing an actual situation. It is important because there are likely other homes around the country that also contain as yet undiscovered issues.  Because construction of the house took place before building codes existed, it is more likely there will be defects, and because of additions and improvements, they may be harder to find.

Readers seeking homes in old neighborhoods or rural locations may benefit reading this article for the future. Inspectors will often recommend additional investigation when they are uncertain about cracks in unusual places, water stains, uneven floors, and other clues, such as 100 + year old homes, that raise suspicions, but sometimes, there are no clues.

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