Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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Observe and Report? That's for Mall Cops, not Home Inspectors

Observe and ReportWhile reading a blog post from a good home inspector (a guy I've gotten to know and respect over the years), I discovered an interesting difference between home inspection Standards of Practice (SOP) - specifically, between the ASHI and InterNACHI SOP.

The good inspector was writing about finding what appeared to be mold growing on the trusses throughout an attic in a new construction house.  The good inspector was careful not to diagnose the material as 'mold', which I have no problem with, but in his post he says that his job is "To observe and report."  I've heard that phrase repeated by home inspectors many times, and I take issue with that phrase.  We do a lot more than observe and report.  

Observe?

If a home inspector's job were only to observe...

Home inspectors wouldn't remove electrical panel covers.

Home inspectors wouldn't test outlets.

Home inspectors wouldn't open attic access panels.

Home inspectors wouldn't walk on roofs.

Home inspectors wouldn't carry around any tools other than a flashlight.  Maybe a tape measure.

We'd just be a bunch of dummies with clipboards.

Report?

If a home inspector's job were only to report...

Home inspectors wouldn't include photos in their reports.

Home inspectors wouldn't need any special training, knowledge, or experience.

Home inspectors wouldn't make any kind of recommendations in their reports - why would they?

I'm pretty sure I could teach anyone with an 8th grade education to 'observe and report' in about a hour.  Anyone with a basic understanding of homes and some home inspection software can observe and report.

Maybe this is just an ASHI vs. InterNACHI thing.

I meant to call the good inspector up and tell him that home inspectors are actually required by our Standards of Practice to do a lot more than just observe and report.  Here's an excerpt from the ASHI SOP - I added the bold.

2.2   Inspectors shall:

  1. adhere to the Code of Ethics of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
  2. inspect readily accessible, visually observable, installed systems and components listed in these Standards of Practice.
  3. report :
    1. those systems and components inspected that, in the professional judgment of the inspector, are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives.
    2. recommendations to correct, or monitor for future correction, the deficiencies reported in 2.2.C.1, or items needing further evaluation. (Per Exclusion 13.2.A.5 inspectors are NOT required to determine methods, materials, or costs of corrections.)
    3. reasoning or explanation as to the nature of the deficiencies reported in 2.2.C.1, that are not self-evident.

This basically says that when a home inspector finds a problem, they need to report the problem, report why it's a problem, and make a recommendation.  There was an article on this topic in the latest issue of the ASHI Reporter, wherein Bruce Barker explains these three things as "Identify, Explain, and Advise".

Back to my story... so anyways, I meant to call the good inspector up and give him much crap for saying that home inspectors just "observe and report", but then I remembered that he's not an ASHI guy.  He's an InterNACHI guy.  InterNACHI has their own standards of practice, which their inspectors are required to "substantially follow".   I looked up the InterNACHI SOP so I could quote the good inspector the right section of SOP, but as it turns out, all he was required to do was observe and report.  The InterNACHI standards of practice only require the inspector to report problems - they don't require explanations or recommendations.  Here's an excerpt:

1.3.  A general home inspection report shall identify, in written format, defects within specific systems and components defined by these Standards that are both observed and deemed material by the inspector.  Inspection reports may include additional comments and recommendations.
Interesting.  I try to avoid any ASHI vs. InterNACHI discussions, but this is one major difference that I've never noticed before.  I don't mean to imply that an ASHI inspector will write a better report than an InterNACHI member, but their Standards of Practice certainly demand a higher minimum.  If you were hiring a home inspector, wouldn't you expect them to explain problems and tell you what to do?
 
The bottom line is that before you hire a home inspector, take a look at his or her sample inspection report to make sure you're hiring the right person for the job.  Reading sample home inspection reports is one of the best ways to compare home inspectors.
 
I still called the good inspector up and gave him a hard time about the whole 'observe and report' thing, but I had no book to throw at him.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 14 commentsReuben Saltzman • July 10 2012 06:35PM

Comments

Hi Reuben, now you have made life so complicated.  I have to read the footnotes of the report to determine if it is internachi or just nachi. lol

Posted by Bob Miller, The Ocala Dream Team (Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty) over 6 years ago

Don't blame me ;-).  Nachi made it complicated when they changed their name to 'InterNACHI'.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

I guess InterNACHI was previously NAHI? In Virginia, where Jay is located, inspectors that identify themselves as a " Certified Home Inspector" must complete the state certification program through DPOR. ( Dept of Professional and Occupational Regulation) which can be additional training that is combined with ASHI or NAHI training. I agree that home inspectors should provide buyers with a sample inspection report. That is good practice. " Observe and Report" can be interpreted different ways. I would assume it means Inspect, Observe, and Report. An inspector might "observe" that water pressure is low in a house, but since he is not a licensed plumber, he would "inspect" for possible causes, then "report" to the buyer that buyer might want to hire a licensed plumber to come in and determine the cause of the low water pressure.

Posted by Jeff Pearl, Full Service Full Time Realtor (RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA) over 6 years ago

Reuben, Ouch... I is a InterNachi guy ; )  But you are right about inspection process and reporting your findings.

Out here in the merry old Washington State we have State standards. I use a same methodology but just call it different.

We use FIR, Finding, Implication and recommendation.

Here is what is expected from Wash. St on Attic and crawlspaces-

(1) The inspector will:

     • Describe the type of building materials comprising the major structural components.

     • Enter and traverse attics and subfloor crawlspaces.

     • Inspect

     (a) The condition and serviceability of visible, exposed foundations and grade slabs, walls, posts, piers, beams, joists, trusses, subfloors, chimney foundations, stairs and the visible roof structure and attic components where readily and safely accessible.

     (b) Subfloor crawlspaces and basements for indications of flooding and moisture penetration.

     • Probe a representative number of structural components where deterioration is suspected or where clear indications of possible deterioration exist. Probing is not required when probing will damage any finished surface or where no deterioration is suspected.

     • Describe any deficiencies of these systems or components.

     • Report all wood rot and pest-conducive conditions discovered.

For Electrical we have this-  

The inspection of the electrical system includes the service drop through the main panel; subpanels including feeders; branch circuits, connected devices, and lighting fixtures.

     (1) The inspector will:

     (a) Describe in the report the type of primary service, whether overhead or underground, voltage, amperage, over-current protection devices (fuses or breakers) and the type of branch wiring used.

     (b) Report

     (i) The existence of a connected service-grounding conductor and service-grounding electrode when same can be determined.

     (ii) When no connection to a service grounding electrode can be confirmed.

     (c) Inspect the main and branch circuit conductors for proper over-current protection and condition by visual observation after removal of the readily accessible main and subelectric panel cover(s).

     (d) Report, if present, solid conductor aluminum branch circuits. Include a statement in the report that solid conductor aluminum wiring may be hazardous and a licensed electrician should inspect the system to ensure it's safe.

     (e) Verify

     (i) The operation of a representative number of accessible switches, receptacles and light fixtures.

     (ii) The grounding and polarity of a representative number of receptacles; particularly in close proximity to plumbing fixtures or at the exterior.

     (iii) Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection and arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) protection where required.

     (f) Report the location of any inoperative or missing GFCI and/or AFCI devices when they are recommended by industry standards.

     (g) Advise clients that homes without ground fault protection should have GFCI devices installed where recommended by industry standards.

     (h) Report on any circuit breaker panel or subpanel known within the home inspection profession to have safety concerns.

     (i) Describe any deficiencies of these systems or components.

 

As you can see we have to go in and open unless in the opinion of the home inspector it is unsafe.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Rebuen, it is these kinds of differences that make it hard for the consumer in some ways---or at least requires more time educating the consumer.  Fortunately WA State SOP's are more in sinc with ASHI than with iNACHI.  That said, I think it is impossible to generalize as to which association is better.  There are great and not so great inspectors in both and many inspectors will do the minimum their standards will allow---regardless of SOP's

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

Jeff - NAHI is a third home inspection organization, with standards and membership requirements very similar to ASHI's.  I agree, 'observe and report' isn't something to be taken literally.  

Donald -  Yeah, I know you're an InterNACHI guy... but their SOP apparently isn't the SOP you follow :).  I found one other interesting part of their SOP while writing this blog - the definition of 'accessible' - I added the underlined part.  I've gotta think that most InterNACHI inspectors really just read that and roll their eyes.

accessible: in the opinion of the inspector, can be approached or entered safely without difficulty, fear or danger.

Charles - but I thought that the SOP aren't supposed to be deviated from... as said by another ASHI inspector, "When you exceed the sop, you are no longer doing a Home Inspection, but rather some other arbitrary investigation as you see fit."

Ha!  Of course, you're right.


Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

I might know who the inspector is who inspired this post, and I know him to be "inspirational" in many ways!

The phrase "observe and report" is not SOP.  That is a catch-all phrase.  If you boil down the home inspection process, what's left in the pan is "observe and report!"

As to ASHI 2.2 and INACHI 1.3, to me 1.3 says it all and much, much, um, MUCH less bureaucratically! 

Plus, what's said there in 2.2 appears elsewhere in the INACHI procedural requirements.

Another thing, EVERYTHING IN YOUR LIST OF INSPECTION THINGS UP THERE IS COVERED BY AND CONTAINED IN THE PHRASE "OBSERVE AND REPORT."  That phrase has nothing to do with capping or limiting a home inspection's criteria - it is catch all.

Most "good" home inspectors I know, myself included, exceed SOPs anyway, so this is a moot point.  I'm not impressed by any organization's SOP anymore than I am impressed with "the code."

Once a buyer said to me that they couldn't believe all the stuff I carry with me and do during an inspection.  Their last inspector simply walked through the house, talking about stuff, not testing anything and it lasted 20 minutes.  There was no written report!  Stunned, I said, "Well, he simply could not have been the member of any home inspector association, because all of them I know have very specific criteria as to what should be done and how it should be reported on."  They were shocked to hear it.

As to changing from NACHI and INACHI, there was some legal wrangling some years back and the "NACHI" logo was said to encroach on a previous written logo from another organization and needed to be changed.  So, since NACHI is in many countries worldwide, they went with International-NACHI, or InterNACHI or INACHI, however you prefer to write it.  That solved the problem to the court's satisfaction.

Smooch good buddy...  um, agape smooch that is.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

P.s.  After my post about that horrid, hoarding house with a basement full of roaches and black widow spiders, an ASHI inspector I know, nameless for this moment I say with a wink, said to me that he wouldn't have gone down there!  Is that the "fear" factor you underline up there in #6?

Remember the county people, who did not know there was a basement, took one look and would not come down with me!  They don't have the INACHI cajones I do!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

P.P.s.  The diligent and faithful Paul Blart won in the end.

And he got the girl!  Doesn't get any better than that...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Reuben, I think with all rules (SOP's and codes) of this nature they are minimums to provide some level of protection for the public. That being said anyone that is riding the fine line of "achieving" the minimum is on shaky ground at best.

I am with you though the ASHI vs InterNachi stuff for the most part is just a waste of time to argue about.

OT- I will be in your neck of the woods next week, I think Tuesday. I have an adopted daughter (of sorts) living in Minneapolis and I will be stopping in there on my journey to Wisconsin. 

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

This topic is like talking about politics or religion. If you're in church or at a convention it might be okay :)

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Jay - I feel the same way that you do about minimum standards; they're minimum.  INACHI made everything confusing when they went with that change; they should have just gone with ICHI ;-p.   Smooches.

P.s. - touche'

P.P.s. - How many movies are there about mall cops?

Donald - totally agreed. 

If you have time when you're in town, give me a call.  Maybe we can meet up.  612-205-5600.

James - I know, I know...

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Great points for sure.  The statement sounds more like NATO troops.

A good inspector does a lotmore than that.  THANK GOODNESS!!!

Posted by William Feela, Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No. (WHISPERING PINES REALTY) over 6 years ago

ICHI sounds strange but it would have been simpler to drop the 'n'.

I'm with InterNACHI by the way and consider the SOPs to be a reference, a base line. Like building codes they all vary, are respected to varying degrees, but you want to do better than at least that.

I've not checked myself against the wording and I don't think that doing more is doing some 'other' kind of inspection.

The real limit is that it is a non-invasive visusal inspection that is completed in 3 to 6 hours, and except for some small hand tools and electrical testers, most testing is usually function obsevation of equipment and systems. You turn it on and see if it works, or examine if and how well it is working.

As as to reporting, as long as you don't bury your clients in useless technical jargon, you tell them everything you can, or what is usefull to them.

The State of Washington wording that Don posted does read very well, probably better than ASAHI or InterNACHI SOPs.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 6 years ago

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