Without exception – whether purchasing a resale home or new construction – a professional, licensed home inspector should be employed by the buyer(s) of residential property. New or used, a good home inspection can prove invaluable in deciding whether to proceed with the purchase at all, or whether to ask for repairs, or to ask for some other concession from the seller – perhaps a lower sale price or a credit at closing, so the buyer can have repairs or replacement done later at their discretion, or to have repair money to be held in escrow for later payment to a selected vendor.
The seller(s) of a house should also consider obtaining a full home inspection prior to, or at the time of listing their property for sale. The sellers can then use the results of the inspection report to help guide them in preparing the house for sale and possibly making some repairs or upgrading components to make the house more salable. The information may also be useful in arriving at the proper listing price, or in disclosing material defects, or possibly offering an incentive to buyers by advertising a credit to be given at closing – to allow the buyer to make choices on repairing or replacing something found deficient. Make the inspection report available to prospective buyers. Have it on display in the home. Attach it to the Sellers’ Property Disclosure Statement. If nothing more, this is certainly a demonstration of good faith and full disclosure.
Choosing a Home Inspector
Selecting the inspection company/inspector can be a significant challenge in itself. Fortunately, there are some minimum standards to look for.
For example, the State of Maryland does require that home inspectors be licensed:
A home inspector is an individual who provides home inspection services for compensation. A licensed home inspector means an individual who is licensed by the Commission to provide home inspection services. Home inspection means a written evaluation of one or more of the components of an existing residential building, including the heating system, cooling system, plumbing system, electrical system, structural components, foundation, roof, masonry structure, exterior and interior components, or any other related residential housing component (see the Minimum Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics).
An applicant for a home inspector license must complete a 72-hour on-site home inspector training course approved by the Commission and pass the National Home Inspector Examination.
It might be a good idea to confirm that the inspector chosen does have adequate and current professional insurance coverage. It will also be good to know what type of “warranty” is provided with their service.
Another measure of competence may be that the inspector is certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI certification can be determined on their website: https://www.ashi.org/.
There is also the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors to check: https://www.nachi.org/.
And yet another certification organization, the National Institute of Building Inspectors: https://www.nibi.com/.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power and usefulness of word-of-mouth reputation. Ask around. Consider what your real estate agent may have to say about various inspectors.
Some of the home inspection companies will allow the buyer of the property to take advantage of the inspection that may have already been completed on a property by the seller. Usually, with permission from the seller and, for an additional fee (less than the cost of the inspection already paid for by the seller) the home inspector will meet the buyer at the property, give them a copy of the inspection report that has already been completed, walk through the property and go over the findings in the report and offer guidance and answer questions. They will then typically extend their full warranty regarding the inspection to that buyer.
Understand that even though your real estate agent may have been the one to recommend the inspector, maybe even made the phone call to schedule the appointment, the inspector is working for you. You are the one retaining the service and paying for it. You should absolutely be present during the inspection. You have every right to ask questions and monitor the inspection procedures. However, be respectful of the fact that the inspector has much to do and needs to pay attention and think about what they are doing. Avoid asking so many questions and hovering so closely as to adversely affect the quality of work that can be done. A good inspector will point important things out to you as they go along. Or, they may wait until they are done to go back over those findings. The inspector should always provide you with a complete written report. Some will have the option of emailing it to you if you prefer.
Naturally, though every inspector is going to follow an established procedure for conducting the inspection, they are each going to have their own personality and manner of conduct and interaction with the sellers and buyers. Some inspectors develop reputations as “deal killers” in the real estate community because they have a way of making mountains out of molehills and scaring buyers away from properties unnecessarily. Other inspectors seem so cavalier that you wonder whether they really care or know what they are doing. It may be well worth the effort to try to speak with several inspectors to find one with a personality and style that’s compatible.
One peculiar difference among inspectors seems to be their position on evaluating the heating ventilating and cooling (HVAC) system. This somewhat controversial issue that has surrounded home inspections is over the advisability of operating the air conditioning unit in cool weather. Many home inspectors advise against, or refuse doing this evaluation unless warmer temperatures prevail – and they each seem to have their own “critical temperature”. Other home inspectors don’t seem to think it is a problem and go ahead and run the AC unit regardless of outside temperature.
The following information was found in the National Institute of Building Inspectors Training Manual, in Section 1121.1 Cold Weather and Air Conditioning Systems:
1121.1 COLD WEATHER AND AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEMS
It is commonly known that central air conditioning systems should not be operated in cold weather. The fact that cold weather operation limits the inspector’s ability to readily assess the unit’s operating condition is usually understood. But why the unit shouldn’t be operated from a mechanical standpoint may not be as clear.
First, the compressor shell of residential air conditioners serves several purposes. It serves as an oil sump for the entire system and normally has a couple of inches of oil at the bottom. Second, it also serves as the suction manifold for the compressor. When the compressor starts up, the first place the pressure drops is in the compressor shell.
Second, the refrigerant has an affinity for cold and for oil. In cold weather, it migrates to the coldest spot in system – which is the compressor/condenser area. Once in the compressor it becomes absorbed in the oil. As a result, in a typical residential compressor in mid-winter, the oil level may be 4 inches instead of 2 inches – but the added 2 inches is actually the refrigerant dissolved in the oil.
Under these conditions, if the compressor is started and the pressure within the compressor shell drops, the dissolved refrigerant literally “explodes” up out of the oil, causing the oil to froth and foam much as Coke does when it is vigorously shaken. The entire compressor shell is filled with big droplets of oil flying about in all directions. If one of these big droplets gets sucked into the compressor, nearly filling a cylinder, it cannot be compressed
Also, Carrier , another major air conditioning equipment manufacturer, has
the following precaution in their Owner’s Information Manual:
Do Not Operate Below 55o F
Your outdoor unit is not designed operate when outdoor temperatures are lower than 55o F without modification. If operation below this temperature is required, consult your Carrier dealer.
A complete Infinity System with low ambient temperature cooling capability can operate down to 0o F outside temperature when properly set up.
And, from Robertshaw® – a large manufacturer of thermostatic controls used on many HVAC systems – the following admonition from one of their User Manuals:
CAUTION: DO NOT SWITCH SYSTEM TO COOL IF THE TEMPERATURE IS BELOW 50o F (10o C). THIS CAN DAMAGE THE AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEM AND CAUSE PERSONAL INJURY.
So, it will be important to discuss this subject with the chosen home inspector to ascertain what their practice will be – and who will be responsible for any damage that may result from operating an air conditioner in cooler weather.
Home inspectors may include a cursory inspection of the roof – depending on what type of roof and the inspector’s policy. Some home inspectors only look at roofs through a set of binoculars. Many inspectors lack the confidence to walk on a tile roof because of the risk of breaking tiles. It may be advisable to bring in a licensed roofer for a closer examination in those cases.
Normally not included in the standard home inspection – but usually available at additional cost: swimming spas, radon sampling, and water quality testing and evaluation. If there is a water well and a septic system, it’s probably good to have them evaluated as well. You may also want to consider testing for lead-based paint if the home was built prior to 1980. A property survey may also be a wise thing to do. And, naturally, you will want a pest inspection conducted – especially to check for evidence of termites. Some home inspectors include this – some do not.
Any and all investigation, inspection, testing, questioning, etc. needs to be accomplished during the prescribed inspection period. Period. The buyer gets one bite at the apple – one opportunity to expect the seller to respond to requests for repairs or abatement.
Home Inspectors Code of Ethics
By the way, home inspectors in Maryland are held to a behavioral standard known as their Code of Ethics:
Title 09 DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, LICENSING, AND REGULATION
Subtitle 36 COMMISSION OF REAL ESTATE APPRAISERS, APPRAISAL MANAGEMENT COMPANIES AND HOME INSPECTORS — HOME INSPECTORS
Chapter 06 Code of Ethics .01 Responsibilities to the Public.
A home inspector shall:
A. Act as an impartial third party;
B. Discharge the home inspector’s duties:
(1) With integrity and fidelity to the public;
(2) With fairness and objectivity to all parties; and
(3) Without bias to any party;
C. Always act in good faith towards a client;
D. Express an opinion only if it is based on practical experience and personal knowledge;
E. Promptly inform a client of any business association, interest, or circumstance that may influence the home inspector’s judgment or the quality of the home inspector’s inspection service to the client; and
F. Make every effort to uphold, maintain, and improve the professional practice, integrity, and reputation of the home inspection industry.
A. A home inspector may not:
(1) Except under circumstances in which the safety, health, property, or welfare of the public is endangered, disclose any information concerning the results of an inspection without the approval of the client for whom the inspection was performed;
(2) Accept compensation, financial or otherwise, from more than one interested party for the same service on the same property unless the home inspector makes full disclosure to all interested parties and obtains the consent of all interested parties; or
(3) Accept or offer a commission or allowance, directly or indirectly, to or from another party dealing with the client in connection with home inspection services for which the home inspector is responsible.
B. A home inspector may not:
(1) Sell or offer to sell products for the repair of defects or the correction of deficiencies disclosed during an inspection to the client for a period of 1 year from the date of the inspection;
(2) Provide or offer to provide services to repair defects or correct deficiencies disclosed during an inspection for a period of 1 year from the date of the inspection; or
(3) Express an appraisal or opinion of the market value of the inspected property within the context of the inspection.
.03 Additional Services.
A home inspector may provide additional inspection services to the client if the home inspector discloses to the client that the additional inspection services are not part of the home inspection.
.04 Conflicts of Interest.
A. A home inspector shall avoid conflicts of interest with a client or an owner of property that is subject to an inspection by the home inspector.
B. If a conflict appears unavoidable, the home inspector shall disclose promptly and fully all circumstances of the conflict to the client.
Final Walkthrough Inspection
And finally, after all is said and done, but just before settlement, a final walkthrough inspection should be performed as provided for in the contract.
Some people decide to waive this opportunity. That often proves to be a mistake. Once settlement has taken place, there is no recourse for the mountains of trash left in the basement, or the damage done during the seller’s move out, or any number of issues that can and do arise. This final walkthrough inspection is best done at the very last minute – just prior to settlement. It should be done with your REALTOR® and it might be good to have the home inspector present as well if appropriate – based on their findings and subsequent repairs that were agreed to. If the polarity of the electric lines in the house were found to be reversed and that was to have been corrected by a licensed electrician at the seller’s expense, will you be able to determine if it was done? Your home inspector can.
Be prepared to document / photograph any findings or concerns discovered. If everything looks good, and you are ready to proceed to settlement, then complete the following form and be on your way to your new home. Congratulations!