Have you ever wondered how different home inspectors can look at the same issue, yet have completely different ways of describing the situation and different calls to action?
I’ve realized that I’m not even consistent about my own recommendations. I’ve given a lot of thought to why this is, and I think it comes down to two factors: cost effectiveness and risk management. I think those two factors affect just about every recommendation that I make during my home inspections.
Sometimes I’ll identify an issue with a house and I’ll tell my client what the problem is, but I’ll say it doesn’t make much sense to fix it. For example, insulation on a one-and-one-half story house. These houses usually have very little insulation at the upper level, but it’s not cost effective to gut the entire upper level to re-insulate. The amount of money you’ll spend gutting the upper level will far outweigh any potential savings in heating and cooling costs, so I usually say “This is what you’ve got. Live with it.”
Anyone buying property assumes some risk. We home inspectors help buyers by reporting issues, and making recommendations for repair based on how much risk is involved, along with the cost effectiveness of the repair. Think about any defect with a house, and think about what a home inspector would recommend; hopefully, it makes sense. I’ll give a few examples of how I make recommendations:
A missing handrail at a stairway: This is a potential fall hazard with a very low repair cost, so I always recommend repair.
A missing cover plate at an outlet: This is a potential shock or electrocution hazard, and it has a very low repair cost, so I always recommend repair.
Missing house wrap behind vinyl siding: This has a moderate potential for moisture damage to the house, but the cost to fix missing house wrap would be huge, so I never recommend repair of this condition. I do let my clients know that they are assuming some risk.
An improperly attached deck that’s one foot off the ground: This has a moderate potential for failure / collapse, but if it’s only a foot off the ground, there's a very low risk of injury. The cost to fix this would probably be just as much as it would cost to repair the deck if it collapsed, so I don’t recommend repair of this condition. I do let my clients know that they are assuming some risk.
An improperly attached second story deck: Again, this has a moderate potential for failure / collapse, but people could be seriously hurt or killed by a second story deck collapse. While the fix might be expensive, I recommend repair every time.
The next time you’re involved in a home inspection, whether you’re an inspector, a real estate agent, or a home buyer, think about cost effectiveness and risk management. I've realized this is something I do subconsciously during every inspection... well, at least I used to. Now I consciously do it.
Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections