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Fri, Feb. 21

Column: Unofficial inspections cost in long run

Last time I wrote about whether home inspectors have to turn on circuit breakers or light gas appliances when they inspect a vacant home (they are not required to, but may if they choose to). This is a statewide concern. Since my last column, I attended a Board of Technical Registration (BTR) Rules and Standards committee meeting. A home inspector attended as a public member and asked about having to light gas appliances. The committee is not allowed to discuss items that are not on the agenda, so this is now on the agenda for our May 20 meeting. I will give you an update after that.

There is another statewide concern that the committee discussed regarding bank-owned homes. There are inspectors who are performing very limited inspections. They call these "surveys," "audits" or "walk-through inspections." Often the utilities are not on. Sometimes there is no written report, and some inspectors do not even have a written inspection agreement. If they do provide a written report, they state, "This is not a home inspection" in bold letters.

As usual, I have strong opinions about these inspections, and as usual I am more than willing to share my opinions. First, the inspectors who do these are taking a big risk. If they think the BTR will not review a complaint because they called it a "survey," they are mistaken. Nor will writing "This is not a home inspection" on a written report protect them. This is a fee-paid inspection by a state-certified home inspector for a real estate transaction. If it smells like an inspection and tastes like an inspection ...

If a complaint is filed with the BTR, these inspectors may find they have significant violations of the Standards of Professional Practice for Arizona Home Inspectors. Of course, they will also likely get sued out of business by a disgruntled client when the inspectors find their "errors and omissions" insurance won't cover them because "this is not a home inspection."

I have a word of caution to Realtors, as well. Your buyers may thank you for saving them a couple hundred dollars on the inspection. But what about after they move in and find out the furnace and air conditioner don't work and the roof leaks? If they have no written agreement or report from a home inspector, who's next on their list to complain to?

Enough of that. I had my first question on swimming pools. Mark wrote:

"I've been reading your column in the Courier with interest and would like to ask your advice regarding pool-safety device requirements in Arizona. For the condition where "a residence or living area constitutes part of the enclosure required," I have a question. For ground-level doors with direct access to the pool, one document says a "self-latching device above 54 inches" will satisfy the requirement (Residential Pool Safety Notice). The other document seems to say the device needs to be both self-latching and self-closing (ARS 36-1681). Lastly, some pool safety equipment manufacturers and some Arizona cities say that an audible alarm, again above 54", will satisfy the requirement.

"May I please have your advice on this point? The property in question is in Peoria, not Prescott. I am trying to understand and apply correctly the state requirements."

Mark has obviously done some homework on this matter. I have to admit that I only see swimming pools once every 3.7 years in Prescott, so I do not consider myself an expert (or even an apprentice) when it comes to inspecting pools. When I do see a pool I make a comment like, "there's a big concrete hole in the back yard full of water. This was not inspected ..." However, the one thing I do report on is if the pool is "kiddie-proof." We have had quite a few classes in Arizona on swimming pools, including one this past February at Paddock Pools in Mesa. Inspectors in Arizona have a hard time with the kiddie-proofing part of pool inspections because every jurisdiction has its own rules. If I don't see self-closing doors and gates into the pool area with the latch at least 54 inches off the floor, I write it up as a major safety concern.

I asked a couple of Phoenix home inspectors about your questions, since they see pools every day. They said they want to see doors or gates self-closing and self-latching. And even if a jurisdiction allows audible alarms, they write them up. Most are battery- operated alarms on the gate or door, and often the batteries are removed about the time the city inspector's truck reaches the end of the driveway. Even if the batteries aren't removed, they will eventually need replacing. You could literally be betting some child's life on these alarms working. I have not seen such an alarm up here, but if I do I will recommend a more secure system.

So I didn't really answer your question, other than what home inspectors say about the alarms. In a way private home inspectors are blessed because we're not doing code inspections. Something may not quite meet code, but we think it's OK. Or something may meet code but we don't think it's OK. And we wonder why some contractors are frustrated with us.

Some contractors are more than frustrated. A contractor this past week gave me a quiz. "What do you call a bunch of birds?" I answered, "A flock." A bunch of cows? A herd. A bunch of fish? A school. "A bunch of home inspectors?" "Don't know." His answer: "A plague."

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is a state-certified home inspector and has performed almost 5,000 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 Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at editorial@prescottaz.com.

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