Home inspections are now considered so routine that an estimated 77 percent of all home buyers invest in one. HGTV even devotes an entire program to the service, called "House Detectives." But television does not always paint a true portrait of the home inspection process, suggests Mike Kuhn, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Home Inspections and technical director of HouseMaster, the most experienced name in home inspections.
"Watching 'House Detectives' is a terrific way to educate home buyers on the value of a home inspection. But many of those inspectors don't follow standard industry protocol," says Kuhn, who notes that it is as important to understand what a home inspection is NOT, as well as what a buyer should expect from their inspection, in order to make an informed home purchase decision.
What a Home Inspection is not
A home inspection is not a to-do list for the seller. Over the past quarter-century two of the most common questions asked of HouseMaster inspectors are "Who should make the repairs?" and "Should I buy this house?" The role of the home inspector is to provide the buyer with their opinion of the home's condition at the time of inspection.
Because each real estate sales contract and transaction is different, a buyer's real estate sales professional or lawyer is better qualified to answer these type of questions. A home inspection is not a pass/fail test. "It is up to the buyer to determine whether or not the home passes his own test," says Kuhn. "A couple looking to totally renovate a home may realize that the need for lots of repairs to the mechanical systems doesn't matter to them.
Conversely, a young couple buying a 'starter home' in which they plan to live only a few years may find a home with many problems is just not for them." It does not make a home purchase risk-free. Most home inspection companies follow HouseMaster's lead and utilize an inspection contract that outlines the specifics of the home inspection, as well as its limitations. But it's important to remember that while a home inspection is designed to reduce the risk in buying a home, it cannot eliminate that risk.
What to Look for in a Home Inspector
Choose wisely when it comes to selecting a home inspector. Even in areas where there is mandatory licensing, credentials among inspectors can vary dramatically. Price should not be the reason to select a home inspector. HouseMaster requires that all inspectors carry E&O insurance and provides access to ongoing training programs from the National Institute of Building Inspectors. It is also important to make sure that an inspector provides a written inspection report that includes pertinent details on the condition of major elements of the home.
Look for a home inspector that encourages you to go along on the inspection. The inspection is a terrific introduction to a home. A professional inspector can answer questions, demonstrate how to operate various systems in the home, and provide helpful maintenance suggestions. Heed the inspector's advice. Deficiencies found on an inspection will continue to deteriorate through usage and age. Plan on addressing any outstanding concerns as soon as possible.
A professional home inspection is the best investment a home buyer can make. HouseMaster's trained professionals have access to the most experienced technical support staff in the industry as well as to extensive reference materials, regular technical updates, and an annual testing program.
This story appeared on The Standard-Times on June 4, 2005.