Sometimes the inspector must be wishy-washy

Most of the time, in report writing, it is advisable to be as clear and to the point as possible.

leaking around toiletWhen reporting on issues discovered in the home, we want to describe what the issue is, what the consequences will be if nothing is done, and what repairs should be made and who should make the repairs. Most of the time this is not difficult for an inspector, and the more experienced the inspector is, the number of times this is not the case goes down.

Sometimes however, it simply is not possible to “know” with any degree of certainty what is “actually” going on, or what the “actual” consequences will be.

An all too common example of this is moisture around toilets.

How can the inspector determine this? Well obviously if the area is visible from a crawl space and the floor is all wet, the written narrative is pretty easy and straightforward. But let’s say it is a second floor bathroom with no access under the toilet. If the inspector checks around the toilet with a moisture meter, and they notice what appears to be moisture under the floor covering, can the inspector categorically state there is moisture under the floor covering?  If there is in fact moisture under the floor covering can the inspector tell how much damage there is or is not?

They certainly should not conclude there is moisture under the floor without other forms of confirmation. Some types of floor coverings will allow moisture meters to indicate either “false positive” or “false negative” readings.  A lack of temperature differential will even result in thermal imaging to be of little use–or at least to a high level of confidence.

If salts are present around the toilet, this could confuse the moisture meter. Houses with boys can often have this issue. Cleaning the floor can often eliminate this variable.

I routinely hear of home inspectors stating something like: Moisture was noted around the toilet as indicated by moisture meter. I recommend repairs by a licensed plumber.” The plumber subsequently shows up and finds nothing wrong with the toilet seal when the toilet is removed and no indication of moisture under the toilet.

There are two big problems with the inspector’s statement. Just because the moisture meter says there is moisture does not mean there is moisture, and repairs may not be necessary.

So the inspector has a problem.

How do we communicate this finding to the client?

All we can do is comment something like this: “A moisture meter was used to check for moisture in the floor around the toilet and it indicated the possibility of moisture. The only way to know for sure is to remove the toilet and check. False positives are possible and common. I recommend further evaluation by a licensed plumber and if any leaking is found I recommend that proper repairs be made as deemed necessary. Damage discovered may also involve other parties that might need to make repairs to the structures under the toilet. Hidden damage is common, but often times there is no damage. This is especially true when the toilet is in fact leaking, but moisture is confined between layers of floor coverings.”

How is that for wishy-washy?  However, this is what is necessary to communicate an issue that cannot be “positively” confirmed in the context of the home inspection. Stating that there “is” moisture is not adequate and stating there “is not” moisture is not adequate.

Sometimes the inspector MUST be wishy-washy.

Black and White has little place in the lives of home inspectors, and sometimes we must live in the greys and is part of establishing inspection expectations.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Going above and beyond

As home inspectors we hear over and over that if we go outside the standards of practice we open ourselves up to more liability. 

Let’s put liability aside for a moment (or at least come at it from a different angle) and discuss another good reason for going beyond the standards of practice.  To the degree that we provide a level of detail beyond the sop’s we can have a pool of information to better support what we did or did not do during the inspection. 

This can be accomplished not only by providing more detailed information in the report itself but also by having a large number of pictures that support both the written report and also provide a resource that one can go back to if questions arise.  With excessive pictures (350 to 450 for the “average” home) the inspector can essentially repeat the inspection from their computer.

greatbeyondWe all hate those calls that begin with: “A couple of months ago you inspected my home……..” 

Ninety-nine percent of the time the rest of the sentence goes something like, “…..and now we would like you to inspect another one for us.” 

We keep our fingers crossed about the sentence not continuing with, “…..and you missed XY & Z and we want to know what you are going to do about it.”

I can argue that the number of calls like this goes way down as the level of detail in the report goes up. 

I witness this in the discussions I have with other inspectors that strictly adhere to the sop’s and who routinely surrender the cost of the inspection back to their clients, or pay even larger amounts in claims for things actually missed or that they had no way of “proving” that they did not miss. 

I have even known inspectors that just consider some amount of reverse flow of money a “normal” cost of doing business.  I think it is important to keep this reverse flow of money to a minimum.  I have always been able to support either in the written report or in photos what the “truth” of the matter was.  Given that in 13+ years I have only had two such incidents, I jump to the conclusion that I am doing something right.  In the first of these incidents there were four items that were claimed to have been missed and all were sufficiently covered in the report–and in redundant fashion–and were even in the summary.  Sometimes it is helpful to read the report.

In this case, the client simply did not sufficiently read the report, but instead relied too heavily on what was discussed during the inspection.  While tons of stuff will be discussed during the inspection, it is fairly typical for issues that are not deal breakers to either not be fully discussed or possibly not be discussed at all during the inspection and only fully revealed in the context of the completed report.

In this one instance I should have perhaps made it clearer that the report was paramount to the most complete understanding of the house’s condition.  In any court of law, it is the written report that will largely be relied upon to either support or refute either party’s claims.  I for one would rather know in my heart that in fact the consumer was actually taken care of, even if at first they were not aware of it, than to fall back on a SOP that allowed me to not say anything about something, or did not specify a higher level of detail. With this detailed approach, all parties of the process, agents, buyers and inspectors, are best protected.

In the second incident, the glare of the sun prevented me, or allowed me, to miss the gutter was hanging off the fascia at one end, and I had the washed out picture to show for it.  Unfortunately, the cover picture of the report itself showed the hanging gutter quite clearly.  That cost me $75.00 for client to hire a handyman to reattach the gutter, but was not enough to clean the egg off my face.

While some Home Inspectors will choose to use the SOP as an “out,” I would much rather rely on my report–and of course the minimum Standards of Practice are easily covered by the report anyway. 

Just like the Building Codes are the worst house we are allowed to build, so to the Standards of Practice define the worst inspection we are allowed to do.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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I think I will skip the home inspection—but thanks for asking!

Having a home inspection done in the context of a home purchase is pretty common now.

This was not always the case.  There is still some resistance to getting them done and the perception they are not necessary is still strong in some cases.

noinspection1For example, some people see new construction as less risky and forego a home inspection.  While this may certainly be truer than it would be for a 100 year old home, the reality is that in the newly constructed homes that I have inspected, I have never not found at least the cost of the inspection in defects. 

With new construction the buyer actually has a ghost of a chance of having these defects fixed by the seller/builder.  They might just be pissing into the wind when making the same requests on an older home–especially if the home is bank owned or the seller is seriously under water.  Even cosmetic issues will usually get fixed on new construction.

Another example of where home inspections are not done is when everyone knows there is going to be multiple offers made on the home. 

Sometimes buyers are coached that if they waive inspection they might be held in a more favorable light than the offer that comes in contingent on inspection.

Makes perfect sense!

It makes perfect sense at least on paper.  But as is so common with so many things in life, if one is not careful one gets what one wants.  I did a “walk-through” inspection the other day for a buyer that wanted me to give the house a quick look-see prior to making an actual offer on the home.  The problem is that after the walk-through there were some expensive issues that would need to be addressed and the buyer would not have considered making an offer without an inspection contingency.

In my market there are people willing to just run naked and blind into a deal by waving the inspection.  In this case the prevailing buyer was willing to wave inspection.  It was a pretty good example of “not knowing what you do not know.”  Based on the very superficial walk-through (actually crawl through too–as I still had to take a look at the crawl space), here are a few of the things that a buyer would have to deal with–sooner or later.

1. The listing stated the house was built in 1950:  Actually, the first part, was constructed in the early 40’s and completely remodeled at least twice–the latest in the early 60’s.  In the context of this remodeling two additions were made to the house resulting in not one but three crawl spaces.

2. No vapor barrier in any of the crawl spaces:  The largest crawl space, approximately 16’x30,’ had NO access at all, due to inadequate clearances.  None of the crawl spaces had a plastic ground cover.

3. Heating ducts lying on the ground:  This was true of all of the crawl space with no access.

4. High moisture levels in the woodwork of accessible crawl spaces:  This condition would likely be even worse in the crawl space with no access that also had no foundation vents.

5. A current leak in the corner of the inaccessible crawl space:  This leak will not be going away on its own.  From the opening I could see where the leak was, but could not get to it due to lack of access.  Vegetation growing in the area and obvious decay/rot in the rim joist and sill plate in the area was testament to this leak being long standing. In the following picture–taken by sticking my camera over the ductwork that made the crawl space inaccessible–one can see the wet ground and the wet foundation covered with vegetation in the far right corner.


6. Missing crawl space vents:  the original house foundation had two vents open and two covered over.  The other two crawl spaces had none.

7. Wood roof needed significant repairs:  Not a deal killer but certainly something that needed to be addressed.

8. The flat roof over the attached carport was leaking:  Of course the fact that the downspout location had been covered over with roofing materials and forced the roof to drain over the edge was a bit of a problem.

9. Zinsco electric panel:  Again not a deal killer but something that needed to be addressed.  The fact that all the wiring from the panel to the home was run underground through 12’ of 2″ conduit from the attached carport closet into the crawl space of the home was a significant problem.  None of the wiring run through the conduit was rated for installation underground—and of course that many wires should not be bundled together regardless.


10. Rodent infestation in the crawl space:  This was a no-brainer given the number of access points noted.

11. Leaking at Master Bath Shower:  Somewhere, buried in the shower wall, there was a leak.  When the water to the shower was turned on, water poured into the crawl space around the pipe running to the shower.  It had been doing this for a LONG time given the amount of “washing” of the crawl space floor.

I am sure there was an even dozen, but I think you can get the picture

This house had GREAT curb appeal, awesome interior, killer yard and overall pretty well built.

Don’t be tempted by the lure of waiving inspection.

It is likely to be a false economy.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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