Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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Why Are Home Inspectors So Inconsistent?

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.

Cost Effectiveness

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.”

Risk Management

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

        

Comment balloon 47 commentsReuben Saltzman • September 07 2010 06:08AM

Comments

Hi Reuben, very good post, we do have to be reasonable in repairs to a home.

Posted by Dan Edward Phillips, Realtor and Broker/Owner (Dan Edward Phillips) almost 8 years ago

Good points for home buyers when hearing the results of a home inspection. I like the reports that offer practical solutions and advice.

 Blooming for Maryland home buyers.

Posted by Roy Kelley, Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs (Realty Group Referrals) almost 8 years ago

As a buyer's agent looking at the home inspection report, I always take into account safety.  Many of the items you point out fall into that catagory.  There is no cost factor to someone's safety.  Great post.

 

Laurie

Posted by Laurie C. Bailey-Gates, ABR, SFR (Robert Paul Properties) almost 8 years ago

Dan - thanks.  I'm sure you've come across your share of unreasonable repair requests, and I'm sure I've made my share of them.  We live and learn.

Roy - that's my goal.  Those outrageous repair recommendations for low-risk problems just don't make sence.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Laurie - agreed.  Safety trumps cost just about every time - but of course, there has to be a limit.  I could always recommend upgrading all of the electric in an old home to 2008 standards in the name of 'safety'... but of course, it wouldn't be cost effective.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Hello Ruben:

Great post on a tricky problem.  Reasonableness should prevail, but that does not always happen.  Its challenging for a buyer to get a 15 -25 page report identifies every defect the inspector could find (because that's their job) a sort our what's important and what should be ignored.  I have suggested.

Posted by Brian Rugg, Sun City TX Real Estate - Georgetown, TX Real Est (Rugg Realty LLC Sun City Texas 512-966-3200) almost 8 years ago

Brian - thanks.  You're right, I'm sure it have to be difficult to sort through thirty recommendations for repair and try to figure out what needs to be done.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

My question is always, "what does the contract say".  The home inspection repairs requested must always fall within the limits of the "condition" paragraph of the contract. 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Giving good, practical advice to our clients is our job. I believe not every company understands that principle.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Lenn - the 'condition' paragraph of the contract?  If we have a 'condition' paragraph in our contracts here in Minnesota, I'm not familiar with it.

James - definitely not.  I think that's something that comes with experience.  When I look back on reports I wrote just five years, I sometimes think to myself "why the heck did I recommend that?"  I'll probably be saying the same thing five years from now too.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

I'm a broker and MD and VA.  The "condition" paragraph states that the mechanicals, appliances and structure will be in normal working order, subject, of couse to the home inspection contingency. 

It's important because it guides buyers (with their agent) to understand that, while systems, appliance, roof and structure have to be in operating condition, the house is, otherwise sold "as is". 

Far too many buyers believe that a home inspector will write cosmetics, etc. and that a resale home should be in new home condition. 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Thanks for the clarification.  Is this a standard for your area, or a standard that you've implemented?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Indeed.  It's the contract and what the contract says is the legal guide.  Otherwise, buyers could request cosmetic changes in resales that would make selling many homes impossible. 

For instance, as long as a furnace or A/C, etc., is operating normally, when a home inspector writes "have A/C serviced, he's gone too far unless he's recommending that the buyer have them inspected in future years.  Unless poor maintenance is evident, maintenance is NOT covered by our home inspection contingency addendum.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

How do you know about

"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."

????

 

Posted by Maureen McCabe, Columbus Ohio Real Estate (HER Realtors) almost 8 years ago

The subjective nature of what is recommended and in what form is always going to be a defining difference between home inspectors. 

Posted by Morgan Evans, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, we do always have to wrestle with how to language these things and "context" is always crucial.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Hi Reuben,

Good post good information

Proper communication is key, what may be identified as a minor issue tends to become bigger when inspectors only identify, but are not willing or able to attach a cost and or significance to the mentioned issue.

You seem like a great inspector, but I have admit that most inspectors could not find their own front door if they where standing on the porch. Her in BC Canada, licensing and bonding is required, but it means little if it takes less than a week to become a "licensed inspector, and they hide behind 5-6 pages of disclaimers and limited liability statements,

Happy Selling

Posted by Peter Pfann @ eXp Realty Pfanntastic Properties in Victoria, Since 1986., Talk To or Text Peter 250-213-9490 (eXp Realty, Victoria BC www.pfanntastic.com) almost 8 years ago

Good information here.  There is quite a difference in the different inspectors in our area.

Posted by Sajy Mathew, Making your real estate dreams become a reality! (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) almost 8 years ago

Interesting post and comments. Perhaps we at times allow the inspection contingency too much power and at times a "stick" the buyer can use on the seller.

Posted by Scott Baker, Realtor Homes for Sale in Cincinnati, West Chester, Mason, OH Area (www.eHomeReports.com Coldwell Banker West Shell) almost 8 years ago

I'm on the fence right now with Home Inspectors.  In Canada they are pushing for licensed & certified Home Inspectors.  (similar to what a Realtor must have) I hope it happens soon.

I've had deals go south due to an over zealous home inspector, freaking out a buyer over nothing. 

Once the damage is done - its hard to regain control over a stressed out buyer - regardless of the contract. 

They want to walk - the home inspector claims no responsibilityand walks away.  Nice - leave the Realtor to clean up the mess.

So I am very cautious, and let my buyers know about the limitations of a home inspection.  And go over very carefully all aspects of the contract and Home Inspection guidelines.

Just another day in the life of being a Realtor

Posted by Terri Stephens, REALTOR, Calgary & Airdrie 403-827-4663 (CIR REALTY ) almost 8 years ago

It's all in how you word it and how you communicate with your client. Satey is a number one priority to avoid future problems. Good post!

Posted by Chris Delaney almost 8 years ago

Appraisers, Inspectors & even Realtors- all inconsistent results. I just spent 6 hours at an inspection on Saturday. The inspector's returning today for more tests. A little overly ambitious? Pointing out things that could be problems down the road but not saying that they aren't currently a problem. Making assumptions but not stating that this is an assumption & not a fact. Thank God I was there & knew some of the facts so I could correct the multitude of false statements made. We call these people, simply - DEALBREAKERS.

Posted by Peter Testa, PETER TESTA (Nationwide Homes) almost 8 years ago

My (unqualified, I admit) suspicion is that they get as little training as most real estate agents...a few hours in the classroom, maybe a part time job OJT, then licensing and "off you go lad..." into our world. Do they ever get "audited" by their licensing agency? I doubt it. No oversight = lax standards. Might say the same about us agents, heh?

Posted by Curt Hess, Luxury Home Consultant, Team Leader & CEO (ExecuHome Realty) almost 8 years ago

Every property is different, as is every client. The information that an investor requires is different than the information a first time buyer would require. The information on the major components may be the same or similar, but the details will be different. It is  a matter of qualifying a client you have never met or seen and trying to inform them the best you can on a property that you spend a few hours inspecting,so they can be comfortable in their decision to purchase ,with no "surprises" down the road. I love this job, a genuine feeling of helping someone.

Posted by Brian Persons, Certified Master Inspector (Brian Persons Front Range Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Interesting that you also see the inconsistency of the home inspection process.   As a former residential real estate appraiser there were never any inconsistencies in the appraisal process since an appraiser in New York uses the same form as an appraiser in California.

When they licensed home inspectors in New York, we as brokers were finally releaved that there would be some consistency in the process.  Unfortunately since there are no standardized forms, or process in the inspection of a home, there will always be many gray areas.  Some inspectors have a million gadgets and tools and some merely walk around the home and take few notes.  I have found good points in both types of inspections, but the lack of a standard form for buyers to read has resulted in the same results we had prior to licensing.

In order to remain "neutral" I have not recommended a home inspector in many, many years.

Posted by Marty Sorrentino, Serving the Real Estate Industry since 1986 (Real Living - Innovations Realty Group) almost 8 years ago

Reuben--I think this is why it is so important for a buyer to walk around with the inspector during the inspection process so that they can be explained what the risks are if they don't choose to make a repair. Sometimes just reading a report on an older home will frighten a buyer away but many of the issues are normal for the construction of the house. A good inspector can explain as they go what repairs are critical for safety and what might be okay to wait on.

Posted by Teri Eckholm, REALTOR Serving Mpls/St Paul North & East Metro (Boardman Realty) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, thanks for the insight. I tell my clients to always look for the safety issues more than any thing else. Sellers will normally try and remedy those issues before any other requests.

Posted by Willie Dupleich (First Executive Team Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Yes, reports can vary. I know an agent who lost a sale because there was a cracked tile in the middle of the bathroom floor and the inspector reported that the entire floor should be replaced (which was a cosmetic versus a structural issue) which the seller refused to repair.

Posted by Mark Montross, Listing and Buyer Specialist (Catamount Realty Group) almost 8 years ago

You've asked the $64,000 question that I have always wanted the answer to but I doubt I will ever get it.  I figure some inspectors are going with their person preference rather than a professional one and that is the source of many issues that I have seen.  I agree with each scenario you've listed.  I really appreciate when inspectors educate their clients and let them know that some things are not a big deal.

Here's a question for you:  Why, in this day and age of so much wonderful technology are inspectors still hand writing reports that seem to be so hard to read and why are they not using digital photos to document the things they are finding?  This drives me crazy and if you don't do these things, you will never get my business.

Just wondering.

Posted by Russell Benson (Berkshire-Hathaway HomeServices/Anderson Properties) almost 8 years ago

Perhaps because there is no one set of standards in the industry?

Posted by Virginia OnullConnor, Realtor - Temecula, Anza, SoCal (Realtor®, Photographer, Artist) almost 8 years ago

Lenn - I can understand calling for service on something, but I can also understand how that wouldn't be part of the inspection contingency.

Maureen - how do I know about missing house wrap behind the vinyl siding?  I pull the siding back at one of the seams and look :).  It's actually quite simple.

Morgan - absolutely.  Even between the four of us at my company it's different.

Charles - yes, the same defect might should be written up different ways in different contexts.

Peter & Linda - I'm sorry you're not happy with the inspectors in your area.  One quote from another home inspector that I included in my last newsletter was that licensing in his state "created a well-publicized portal through which people could pass to become home inspectors."  It sounds like that's what happened in your area.

Sajy - there's a big difference in my area too.

Scott - I see that happen all the time.

Terri - see my comment to Peter & Linda.  I guarantee that licensing won't fix this for you.  I don't think there's a single line of work in which there aren't 'good' and 'poor' performers.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Great Post Reuben.  There is always a risk Vs. cost analysis when it comes to repairs.  Additionally, most building codes and standards specify the minimum acceptable level.  A repair can always be done in excess of code, but that may not make financial sense.  Great to see that you put some thought into your recommendations.  Not all inspectors do that.

Posted by Allen Shipman (Shipman Partners) almost 8 years ago

Good post Rueben.  Life safety issues should always be stressed with strong recommendations to repair should be made.  Other than that just a thorough report outlining the deficiencies should be more than adequate and then the buyer can can make a really informed decision about what's important to them.  Hopefully without nickle and dimeing the seller to death with the silly stuff.

Posted by Ralph Janisch ABR CRS Broker, Selling Northwest Houston to good people like you! (Janisch & Co.) almost 8 years ago

Chris - communication is huge, both verbal and written.

Peter - six hours, plus more today?  Wow.  That's a long time to be at a home inspection.

Curt - there is definitely a huge difference in the amount of knowledge and training that different home inspectors have.

Brian - don't you hate inspecting houses when the client isn't there?  I definitely tailor my reports to my clients needs.  If I never end up meeting my client, I end up having to write a generic report for 'anybody'.

Marty - you're right, licensing certainly doesn't bring consistency.  So you've never met a home inspector that you've felt comfortable recommending?  That's too bad.

Teri - I agree.  As I mentioned to Brian (above), it's tough doing a home inspection when the client isn't there.  I end up writing way more than I would have otherwise, because I feel like I really need to explain the context of things so they don't get worried about the little stuff, and so they take the serious stuff seriously.

Willie - I've found the same thing.  Safety hazards always seem to be a no-brainer.

Mark - I'd be pulling my hair out and screaming.  A cracked tile?  SO WHAT?  What effect could that possibly have on the functionality or safety of ANYTHING?

Russell - I regularly participate in an online discussion forum with other home inspectors, and I know of one that absolutely refuses to go digital.  He might be a great inspector, but I think any handwritten report has to be a piece of crap.  My company has been doing electronic reports for the last fourteen years now; this isn't new technology.  So, to answer your question: I have no idea.

Virginia - ten home inspectors using the same reporting method and the same set of standards could still produce ten very different reports.

Allen - thanks.  You're right, many repairs just don't make sense.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Jeanne and Ralph - thanks.  I hate those nickel and dime repairs.  "We want that little crack in the window fixed..."  It's a used house.  If you want a perfect house, buy a new one.  

It still won't be perfect though :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Well, I'll play the devils advocate here.  I don't like how you banty about the words 'assuming some risk'.  Do you really mean responsibility?  Adverse risk is a baseball bat coming at your head out of nowhere.  Not having house wrap on a house a risk?  You mean that the new buyers should take responsibility for the house just the way it is because it's not cost effective.  Maybe use a new word?

Risk has a shock value. Having a deck fall on your head or you falling off your deck because it pulls away from the house is a risk.  But, back to responsibility - if all the houses in the neighborhood were built the same way at the same time (code in other words) why not just mention that?  I think it's just a different use of verbal skills - one that gives the buyers a heart attack & others that don't. 

I'm 'risking' that you understand my point.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg IL Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) almost 8 years ago

Lyn - I definitely mean risk, not responsibility.  Any buyer is taking responsibility for a home when they buy it, period.  They don't need a home inspector to tell them that.  If there was no house wrap installed behind vinyl siding, there's a higher risk for water damage at the house.  

Your example of the deck falling on someone's head or falling off a deck makes me think that you're confusing 'risk' with 'danger'.

The cheesy dictionary on my Blackberry defines risk as "the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen."  That's exactly what I'm trying to convey.  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

I totally agree with your risk/benefit approach to recommendations!

Posted by Richard Strahm, Lansdale and North Penn Real Estate (American Foursquare Realty) almost 8 years ago

I see this all the time! We have many good inspectors in our area, but there are others that just make me scratch my head. One will nitpick on some strange little item yet MISS seemingly major things. Just FYI, that one is NOT on my list of recommended vendors.

Posted by Erica Ramus, MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate (Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA ) almost 8 years ago

Richard - thanks.

Erica - gee, I wonder why?  :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Nice post.  I have seen inspections that recommend fixing a defect and the "problem" has been there for as long as the house has, in some cases 100 years.  Yes it might be nice to remedy the defect but it my continue in it defective state for many more years.  So should it be replaced of lived with.  You made some recommendations to live with the issue.  I try to help buyers balance out the facts with practicality.

Posted by Frank Castaldini, Realtor - Homes for Sale in San Francisco (Coldwell Banker ) almost 8 years ago

Frank - sometimes things are worth fixing, like adding GFCI outlets.  Others times, it certainly makes no sense.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Grading around the exterior is the same thing around here. It doesn't rain much, so tearing out all the concrete walkways and landscaping to grade the property properly just doesn't make sense.

Posted by Not a real person almost 8 years ago

And if there's no signs of a water problem, what's the point?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Hi Reuben.  The MA Home Inspector Standards of Practice prohibits inspectors from providing cost estimates to clients.  Removing the cost factor puts the focus on risk.  I have used phrases similar to the current owner is able to maintain the occupancy permit with the house in its current condtion. I am not aware of any pending actions to rescind the occupancy permit or condem the house.  I will raise awareness to all the safety issues I can observe.  It is up to you to determine which issues need to be resolved/changed prior to your purchase or occupancy.

I can remember one seller telling me not to touch the stove while holding the door or else I will get a shock.  I was amazed that this situation was acceptable.  I made sure the potential buyer was aware of this issue.  I merely raise awareness to the safety hazard.  I leave it up to the client to decide if and when this hazard is eliminated.

Cost effectiveness is an interesting perspective, yet one that a MA home inspector (and some other States) must avoid.  I know other States that require home inspectors to include the cost perspective.

Hopefully all Real Estate Agents are aware of their home inspector State requirements/prohibitions and will expect the home inspector to perform accodingly.

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) almost 8 years ago

Jim - I don't know of any home inspectors that provide cost estimates.  I certainly don't :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Terminating a dwellings sewer line into a nearby creek will work for a hundred years but that doesn't mean that it is correct.

Posted by Mike Leahey (Precise Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

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