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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Day In The Life (Of A Home Inspector)

Most of the home inspections that I perform for my clients go smoothly and are incident-free. My clients usually attend the inspection, and for about three hours, they get an opportunity to become very well-acquainted with the property that they want to purchase.

Occasionally, things don't always go smoothly. And almost every time they don't, it's because the homeowner is present during the inspection. Usually, this is a recipe for disaster, especially if the homeowner is not well-acquainted with the home inspection process.

"Why are you inspecting the (insert one of the following: attic, plumbing, furnace, wiring, foundation), are you a licensed (insert one of the following: carpenter, plumber, HVAC technician, electrician, structural engineer) ?"

Essentially, what they are really saying is "Who are you to come into my home and pass judgement on it? My house is perfect, there's nothing wrong with it, and this home inspection is a waste of time."

Of course, taking the time to explain the role of a home inspector to the homeowner is the real waste of time, because all the homeowner is trying to do is reduce your credibility with your clients. For my client's benefit, I will take the time to explain how costly it would be to hire a specialist to inspect for each area of their expertise as opposed to a general practitioner (like myself) who has been trained to spot problems in a wide range of areas.

Typically, the rest of the inspection is spent in an adversarial joust with the homeowner as they try to defend the conditions that may be found:
  • "That foundation crack only leaks in the spring."
  • "That stain on the ceiling was from the one time that an ice dam formed on the roof."
  • "There's nothing wrong with the attic ventilation." (same house with the ice dam above)
  • "The chimney flashing only leaks when the wind blows from the north at 20 mph or more."
  • "Nobody ever told us we needed a railing on those stairs."
  • "Polarity, shlamarity, that outlet has always worked just fine."
  • "We've been using the garbage disposal with our septic system for 20 years."
  • "The leach field is fine, we just had a new one put in 5 years ago." (same house with garbage disposal above)
  • And so on.....

For home buyers, my advice is to ask your real estate agent to contact the seller's agent and request that the homeowner not be present during the inspection. This will give you the time to look around freely, ask any questions of the inspector and not feel inhibited by the presence of the homeowner.

For homeowners, my advice is to vacate the premises during a home inspection. What you don't know won't upset you, and you'll have ample opportunity to challenge any findings, if they are even brought to your attention. At worst, you might find out about some conditions of which you weren't even aware.