Inspecting your home inspector, Part 2
Recently I was quoted in a Courier column titled Inspecting Your Home Inspector. The reporter asked me for advice on choosing a home inspector. I gave him my usual excellent advice, such as asking about experience, what type of report you'll receive, professional affiliations, etc.
The article referred to a home inspection report that missed some defects. I received phone calls and e-mails from some inspectors regarding this article. Some said I "condemned" an inspector that may have been in compliance with the Standards of Professional Practice for Arizona Home Inspectors (the Standards). They know that I serve on the Enforcement Advisory Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration (BTR). This committee reviews complaints against certified home inspectors, decides if the complaints are substantiated, and makes recommendations for disciplinary action. Some inspectors feel we are too quick to substantiate complaints.
This is a great topic for discussion. I don't know any more about this case than what was in the article. This is much less information that I would have in a real complaint with the BTR, where I would have the written complaint, the inspector's written reply,
There were three items mentioned. First - the clients noted that one double-hung window would not open and two would not stay open. A home inspector is only required to operate a sample of windows, meaning at least one in each room. It's possible the inspector did test one window in each room and therefore complied with the Standards.
The second item was a flexible gas line on a metal edge near the furnace. UniSource Energy does not allow flex gas lines to penetrate a metal furnace cabinet, and this is visible and should have been discovered by the inspector.
The third item was cracks in the masonry chimney cap. With the limited information available, I would say an inspector should have seen this.
Of course, the inspector may have done a thorough inspection and completed a great report. He may have reported that some windows were not accessible due to furniture. Perhaps there was no access to the furnace during the inspection. The home was purchased in "early 2006," so it's possible that the roof was covered with snow and the inspector was unable to walk on it and see the cracks in the chimney cap. If it's an older home, it's possible the chimney was very tall and could not be accessed easily - the article stated the cracked chimney cap was discovered by a chimney professional.
I'll try to review these items as I would for a real complaint filed with the BTR. This is for discussion purposes only - remember that I have very little information regarding this case.
The first thing I do when reviewing a complaint is make a timeline: when was the home inspected, and when were the defects discovered?
According to the article, the home was inspected in "early 2006" and the windows that would not open or stay open were discovered "last summer". I assume this means the summer of 2006. Homeowners may not operate windows until summer, so they may not discover inoperable windows until the first summer after the inspection. If the non-functioning windows were not discovered until the summer of 2007, I would not substantiate the complaint. It is unlikely that people would live in a house for over a year before trying to open windows, and it's possible the windows were working normally at the time of the inspection.
Regarding the flex gas line routed through a metal opening, I would substantiate this unless the inspection report stated that this area was not accessible. Similarly, I would also substantiate missing a damaged chimney cap unless it was reported that the chimney (or roof) was not accessible during the inspection.
I do not feel the Enforcement Advisory Committee members unfairly substantiate complaints against home inspectors. I've read of other professions that police themselves and rarely substantiate a complaint. We try to be very fair. The first thing we check is did the report meet the Standards? The Standards are the absolute minimum requirements, and there's no excuse not to comply with them. I reviewed a report once that was only 8 pages long and didn't tell the client much at all, but complied with the Standards. When I hear an Inspector defending a poor report by stating, "it met the Standards" (or a builder that says "it met code"), I assume I'm dealing with someone that did the absolute minimum he had to. He didn't do it 'right', or the best way, or the way he would for his mother, he did just enough to get by.
We also consider Industry Standards - what would most home inspectors do in this situation?
Here's an extreme example. Our Standards state we must enter a crawlspace, or give the reason why we did not. So what if an inspector states he didn't enter a crawlspace because he didn't want to get his new uniform dirty? An attorney could argue he complied with the Standards because he reported why he didn't enter the crawlspace. However, most inspectors would have entered that crawlspace, so the inspector was not inspecting to Industry Standards.
Most home inspectors far exceed our Standards. For example, I always check every window and door, or clearly describe which ones I could not access (and why). It takes a long time to do a thorough inspection and prepare a professional report. However, it takes a lot longer to prepare for and go through a complaint or lawsuit. I recommend that all home inspectors thoroughly document items or areas that could not be inspected. It only takes a few seconds to type "I did not enter the furnace room because the owner's pet boa constrictor was in this room." It takes much longer to defend a report that did not clearly describe inaccessible areas.
Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is a state-certified home inspector, and has performed more than 4,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West is president of the Arizona Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), and currently serves on the Enforcement Advisory Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.