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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There is a reason why they call it an “Inspection.”

It seems at times, home inspectors are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

noneutral1What should report write-ups about home defects look like? If you talk to 100 agents and 100 inspectors you will likely get 200 answers.

If you talk to clients, you will not likely get nearly so many answers.

Since obviously, we are not going to get the answer from home inspectors or agents, I will, for this exercise focus on consumers. After all, it is them the report is written for is it not?

If you asked agents this last question some would argue that it is for them to assist in negogiations. If you ask inspectors some would argue they are written to reduce their liability. Both would likely add that of course they are also written for the consumer. Sometimes who the report is written for gets lost in the nuances of other interests.

It is obviously more complicated than this.

Since I work for the client, I write my reports for the client. In that context I also know that the agent needs to be able to read it and understand it, repair persons will need to read it and understand it, but primarily, the client needs to read it and understand it.

As I get to see a large number of inspection reports in the course of a year, I am noticing a trend toward simplification of report writing to the point of them becoming almost useless. I won’t go into all the reasons for this but a major reason is “time.” There is a huge push to spend as little time on inspection reports so that the inspector can move along to the next inspection. To achieve this goal, the inspector relies on canned comments—canned comments that have a one-size-fits-all mentality.

For example the inspector takes the cover off the electrical panel and notices there are issues. The report reads something like this: “Inspector noted issues in the electrical panel. Recommend evaluation by electrician.”

This kind of report writing is not “informative,” or “useful,” in any way to ANY of the parties involved in the transaction—except to keep the inspector moving on down the road.

Keep in mind that not all inspections are even involved in a real estate transaction. This kind of reporting becomes even less useful when there is no agent involved to attempt to interpret whatever the report is trying to say.

More important—this is NOT INSPECTING!

To inspect something means, “to look at (something) carefully in order to learn more about it, to find problems, etc.”

What the report comment actually does is recommend that someone else do the inspection.

Without documenting what exactly the issues are, what is the client to think? They could think there is almost nothing wrong or the house is in imminent peril.

Home inspectors must provide enough information about what was observed to put the issues in some kind of context for the reader. The recommendation should discuss what the implications of the issues are; and, that would include some kind of indication as to the urgency of repairs. Can it wait until the electrician is at the home doing other things or does it need repairs yesterday?

A more appropriate write-up regarding the electrical panel would include all the noted issues in the panel, what each of the issues means (why it is wrong) and what the implications of the issue are. Is the issue a fire hazard, a shock hazard or a maintenance issue?

Most clients will have a knee-jerk reaction to “electrical issues” that is somewhat fearful or negative. Helping clients to understand the severity of issues can help them relax and have more room to deal with issues that might be of more consequence—electrical or otherwise.

Obviously it takes more knowledge, experience and time to inspect in this manner.

But that is why they call it an “Inspection.”

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Who pays for the unnecessary re-inspection?


There has been many discussions on the Internet about the duties of the home inspectors, the real estate agents, and how important it is for each to not do the other’s job.  There have even been discussions about the liability involved when either one crosses the line drawn in the sand.

There is one issue that occasionally comes up involving the inspection report that to me crosses this line—-where the real estate agent is crossing over into the inspector’s realm.

My beef involves “rewriting,” or “reinterpreting” the inspector’s written recommendations.

I have seen the Report Summary (or portions thereof) rewritten and used in negotiating the deal.  This rewritten list is then given to whoever is called to do the repairs.  Sometimes I am called to re-inspect those repairs.  When this happens the “adjusted” summary is barely recognizable from what I originally wrote and usually repairs are NOT satisfactory because the “interpretation” of what I have called out is so different from my original report.

When this happens I then have to call for proper repairs again—-and sometimes get called for a second re-inspect.  Who pays for this second re-inspection, and why should it be either the seller or the buyer?

It would seem that there would be incredible liability for changing even one word of what the inspector has written.  If the deal went south and lawyers got involved, I would have to think that the inspector would just be able to say, “Well that isn’t what I wrote.”

Why would any agent do this—-risk this?

One of the things quite commonly edited-out is who I have recommended to do the repairs.  Now, let me first say that I am very careful about whom I recommend to do repairs and do my best to leave as much leeway as possible so as to not create scenarios that would make the process difficult for anyone.  For example, some issues, I could care less who makes the repairs—-as long as they are done “properly” and by “qualified” persons.  Sometimes I specify that the work be done by a Licensed XYZ—-if I want to improve the likelihood that it will be done properly—-not a guarantee—just raise the odds.

Some things, such as electrical repairs, are generally required to be done by a Licensed Electrical Contractor and require permits.  (Sometimes homeowners can do the work if they draw the permits and get the work inspected.  This would not likely be applicable in relation to repairs involved with a real estate transaction because these permits are issued under the assumption that the owner is going to live in the home for two years before they can sell the home—-at least in Seattle—I have often wondered how they police this.)

Sometimes what I have written is “rewritten” to ask for repairs to be made by a “qualified repair person”—–even electrical issues.  Why would I, when called back to do a re-inspection of electrical repairs, not be expected to see the permit and the work order with the name of the licensed electrical contractor?  (Both of which would be required of a “qualified repair person.”)

Why not leave the recommendation as written?

Of course another reason the inspectors recommendations get rewritten is because the inspector can’t write—-and that is an issue that can only be addressed by better education of inspectors and specific training in Inspection Report writing.



Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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