Nearly two in five existing homes suffer from some type of major defect. According to the Realty Times, these types of defects can cost as much as $15,000 to repair. Protect yourself from unexpected repair costs by investing in a home inspection before you buy a house. Not only can a qualified home inspector save you money in the long run, but many banks and other lending institutions require an inspection as part of the home buying process.
As you choose a home inspector, keep in mind that skill and experience may vary, and not all candidates have your best interests at heart. Take a look at these top 10 things home inspectors don't want you to know to learn how to get the most out of your next home inspection.
We're Not Responsible If We Miss Something
Even the best home inspectors can make mistakes, and the things they miss can wind up causing you major headaches. Surprisingly, not all states require home inspectors to carry insurance, and even those with insurance requirements in place may not do enough to protect homeowners.
Typically, a home inspector's liability tops out at the cost of the inspection. That means that if your inspector misses a major issue, you could be out thousands. To make sure you'll be protected by a home inspection oversight, choose an inspector who carries "Errors and Omissions" coverage. These policies go beyond the basic liability insurance, and offer some level of protection if the inspector overlooks a damaged roof, or a furnace on its last legs [source: Rothfeder].
We Probably Shouldn't Tackle Your Repair Work
It may seem more convenient to hire a single person to handle both home inspections and related repairs, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily in your best interest. A home inspector who's been hired to repair defects is likely to find more potential flaws then one who's simply performing an inspection. While the majority of home inspectors can tackle both of these tasks while maintaining a high ethical standard, there's always the risk of running into one who's less than scrupulous. In fact, the American Society of Home Inspectors forbids its members from soliciting repair work based on the results of an inspection they performed [source: Dawson].
To protect your pocket book, keep inspection and repair work separate, and beware of inspectors who offer their services for other tasks.
We're Focused On the House, Not the Grounds
As his or her title suggests, your home inspector is looking at the condition of your house, not the grounds or surrounding features. This means he's unlikely to spot problems beyond those on the interior or exterior of the house itself, leaving the buyer vulnerable to issues with outbuildings or fences. Unfortunately, these elements often represent a fairly major expense, and can create big headaches if they're damaged or unstable.
In addition to sheds and fencing, home inspectors typically don't inspect underground pipes, septic tanks or wells, all of which are particularly expensive to repair or replace [source: Scherzer and Andrews]. If you're buying a home that includes a large number of outbuildings or other outdoor features, be sure to negotiate these items into the inspection checklist. If your inspector isn't willing to cooperate, or feels ill-equipped to handle these types of structures, consider hiring a second inspector who's more experienced in this type of work.
We Probably Won't Be Climbing On Your Roof
With the high cost of roof repairs and the key role a roof plays in protecting the home, you may be surprised to learn that home inspectors have no obligation to actually climb up and inspect the roof. Even the American Society of Home Inspectors, which serves as the industry leader in home inspections, does not specify how roof inspections should be performed. It requires only that members "observe" the roof, but leaves individual inspectors to determine the best method for each house [source: Solomon].
An unwillingness to climb up and inspect the roof doesn't mean your inspector isn't up for the job. It may be due to a lack of roof access, or slippery conditions. On very steep or hard to reach roofs, it's hard to fault inspectors for avoiding the climb.
To ensure the roof is thoroughly inspected, confirm with the inspector ahead of time how he'll check out the roof. You can also offer to supply a ladder and assist as much as possible with providing safe and effective access to different sections of the roof.
Thorough? Define Thorough.
In most U.S. States, there are very few standards in place to determine which items should be covered during a home inspection. In fact, only about half of the states offer specific guidelines to govern home inspections, and to ensure that critical systems like heating, plumbing and foundations get the attention they should. Rather than leave the scope of your home inspection up to the inspector, take the time to hammer out an agreement ahead of time so both parties know exactly what's covered. If you need ideas, look for free checklists provided by the American Society of Home Inspectors or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.
In addition to settling on specific items ahead of time, you can also evaluate the thoroughness of an inspection by calculating how long it takes the inspector to work his way through your home. The average home inspection should take three to four hours, and anything less may indicate a less-than-thorough job [source: Rothfeder].
Your Real Estate Agent is My Best Source for Clients
Real estate agents often provide recommendations to help clients choose a home inspector. However, with many home inspectors relying on real estate agents for referrals, it may not be in your best interest to blindly follow your agent's advice [source: Solomon]. These home inspectors know that pointing out flaws in a home can result in a price reduction, or may even kill the deal. To stay on the good side of a real estate agent, some unscrupulous home inspectors might be tempted to ignore or minimize potential problems, which can cost you big bucks down the road.
Protect yourself by choosing a home inspector who's completely independent from your real estate agent. This way, you're guaranteed that these two professionals will have your best interests at heart, instead of each others'.
Of course, if you trust your real estate agent, feel free to give his or her recommendations a shot. Just make sure to vet each potential inspector on your own before agreeing to a deal.
We Don't Know What's Behind Your Walls
The biggest and most expensive home repair issues are often those hidden away behind your walls or floor coverings. Rotted wood or old wiring can cost big bucks to replace, yet even the best home inspectors probably won't notice these problems.
This is because most home inspections are largely non-invasive, which means they don't extend beyond the finished surface. An inspector may peel up the edge of a carpet to check the subfloor below, but he won't be able to do the same for ceramic tile, or for items hidden in walls or ceilings. To make his job even harder, unethical homeowners may use paint or other materials to cover up water damage just long enough to get through the inspection and selling process. While there's little you can do to protect yourself from these risks, a trusted home inspector can help you gather as much information as possible as you decide on your purchase.
We May Not Have Much More Training Than You Do
Nearly one third of all U.S. states have no certification or training programs in place for housing inspectors. Those that do often have very lax requirements for home inspectors, and often require only a basic application and written exam [source: Solomon]. This means that a so-called home inspector may have just about as much experience as you do at evaluating the condition of a house.
Steer clear of these inexperienced inspectors and look for professionals certified by a trusted organization within the home inspection industry. The American Society of Home Inspectors requires applicants to inspect at least 250 houses in order to earn membership, while the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors has similarly stringent requirements [source: Solomon] .
Even inspectors who don't belong to these organizations may be highly qualified. To weed out the inexperienced candidates, ask each inspector about his or her previous experience with residential home inspections.
Your House May Not Be Up To Code
Generally, home inspectors are not responsible for checking the home for code compliance [source: Scherzer and Andrews]. This means that old, out-of-date conditions or renovations done by the previous owner may not meet modern building code standards for your area.
Buying a home that's not up to code leaves you vulnerable to both safety and financial risks. It means that your family won't benefit from all the latest safety standards and technologies, including things like modern wiring or home sprinklers. It also leaves you footing the bill for code compliance on renovation or repair work. For example, if you decide to add a home addition in the future, you'll likely be required to bring the house up to code first. For big issues like wiring and plumbing, these costs could easily run into the thousands.
Inspections May Not Reveal the Biggest Dangers in Your Home
The majority of home inspectors do a great job sniffing out problems with a home's basic structure or systems. In some cases, however, more serious issues can easily slip through the cracks. Asbestos, lead, mold and other dangers are typically not covered by home inspections [source: Herman]. In many states, inspectors require special licensing and training to deal with these types of problems. Even in states where no special certifications are required, the average home inspector is simply not equipped to detect asbestos or lead. Others may purposely exclude these high-risk elements because of the extreme liability associated with them.
If you're concerned about lead paint or asbestos tile, find a home inspector who is willing and able to handle these elements. Depending on where you live, you may have to hire a specialist to focus on these dangerous conditions, which frees up your home inspector to focus on the rest of the house.
Most homeowners insurance won't cover your home if you're renting it via sites like Airbnb. HowStuffWorks looks at insurance policies that will.
- Andrews, Michelle and Scherzer, Lisa. "10 Things Home Inspectors Won't Say." Smart Money. 2010. (March 25, 2011)http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/rip-offs/10-things-home-inspectors-wont-tell-you/
- Dawson, Michelle. "Finding a Good Home Inspector--What You Should Ask." Realty Times. March 10, 2003. (March 25, 2011)http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20030310_inspector.htm
- Herman, Glenda M. "Selecting Home Buying Professionals." North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. May 1994. (March 25, 2011)http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/pdfs/fcs434.pdf
- Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "Frequently Asked Questions About Board of Registration of Home Inspectors." 2011. (March 25, 2011)http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=ocaterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Licensee&L2=Division+of+Professional+Licensure+Boards&L3=Board+of+Registration+of+Home+Inspectors&sid=Eoca&b=terminalcontent&f=dpl_boards_hi_faq&csid=Eoca
- Rothfeder, Jeffrey. "7 Steps to a Home Inspection." CNN Money. Jan. 19, 2005. (March 25, 2011)http://money.cnn.com/2005/01/07/real_estate/improvement/toh_inspection/index.htm
- Sichelman, Lew. "Independent Home Inspections Are Crucial For Would-Be Buyers." LA Times. April 18, 2009. (March 25, 2011)http://www.latimes.com/classified/realestate/news/la-fi-lew19-2009apr19,0,5367178.story
- Solomon, Christopher. "4 Tips for Finding the Best Home Inspector." MSN Money. 2010. (March 25, 2011)http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=13107859