Dear Monty: Three most common home inspection misses
By Richard Montgomery
Reader Question: We are preparing to sell our home to downsize. We hear stories about what home inspectors miss. We will soon be dealing with two inspections. What items do home inspectors most often overlook? Harold W.
Monty’s Answer: This question requires some background to explain efficiently. There are three facts centered around home inspections often overlooked by home buyers and sellers alike:
- The inspection is not a guarantee.
- An inspection is a visual observation only.
- The examination covers a single point in time.
A true story
A month after taking possession of their new home, the buyer decided to make some changes to fit their lifestyle and tastes. One of the changes was to replace a wood floor in a lower level recreation room.
Immediately after commencing work, the contractor discovered mold under the wooden floor. The buyer’s inspection did not detect the fungi, and the buyer suspected the seller had hidden it under the flooring. The ensuing investigation revealed the seller, who had lived in the home for just over three years, inherited the wood floor from a prior owner. Further, the inspection at the time of the current seller’s purchase also did not discover the mold.
The moral of the story
This example demonstrates the importance of understanding all three of the inspection points above; visual, a single point in time, and no guarantee. Did both inspectors miss the mold because it was encapsulated under a floor and not visible? No matter what the inspection costs, there are risks even the most qualified home inspection cannot eliminate. The main point here is that some of the stories you may hear, while factual to some degree, may not fully recognize the limitations of a home inspection.
This example was not stated to absolve every inspector from responsibility to do a good job. While one assumes all inspectors do their best, even the best inspectors will miss an item that was not visible during the inspection. The fact of the matter is not all home inspectors are created equal. Buyers and sellers should be very diligent in selecting a home inspector and take the same steps they take in hiring any other service professional. There is an article at https://dearmonty.com/home-inspections/ with more information about home inspections.
What home inspectors most often miss
- When clues are rendered unobservable, we minimized the chances to discover defects. Be cautious when an inspector does not walk the roof, enter the attic, or enter a crawl space under a home. If a home is basement-less, determine if it has a crawl space or is on a concrete slab.
Also, when drafting an “offer to purchase,” require obstacles blocking a visual inspection, such as a basement wall not visible due to boxes stacked to the ceiling, be moved for an examination. Do not be shy about requiring the seller to make spaces accessible for inspection. Inspectors are not responsible for moving large boxes and furniture to inspect a home. Consider including a provision for testing or removing a paneled wall if the home inspector has any indication (such as water stains, pet odors or a negative exterior grade) the paneling or flooring could be hiding a defect. If you hire a contractor to look at a wall, you have an obligation to repair the intrusion to the original condition.
- Negative grades around a home’s foundation. It is not uncommon for contractor error, improper rain gutter installation or maintenance, or soil settlement around a foundation to create an environment for water penetration. Water can damage a home in many different ways. Some insects are attracted to water, certain materials will rot or discolor over time, mold develops and personal belongings can be damaged or destroyed. Fences, patios, shrubbery and bushes, particularly when overgrown, can hide settlement. Fallen leaves or snow during fall and winter months are also red flags to watch. The very best time to look at a home is after it has been raining steadily for a couple of hours.
- Heating and cooling equipment. When inspections occur in cold weather, the cooling condenser is not activated. In sweltering weather the effectiveness of the heating element may be difficult to judge or not activated. HVAC equipment also contains many elements and electronic components that are susceptible to wear and tear.
The understanding of a home’s condition is a fundamental part of determining value, and an inspection helps give you that important understanding.
“Richard Montgomery gives no nonsense real estate advice to readers most pressing questions. He is a real estate industry veteran who has championed industry reform for over a quarter century. Send him questions at DearMonty.com.”