Continuing confusion over what home inspectors can fix on the job
In a recent column I wrote about home inspectors “breaking” something they have to test. The best example is a GFCI outlet in a bathroom or kitchen. Inspectors are required by the Standards of Professional Practice for Arizona Home Inspectors to test GFCI outlets. My opinion was (is) that inspectors should not be liable for items they are required to test, especially if they just pushed a “test” button that homeowners should be pushing occasionally.
My last column was regarding why inspectors don’t fix the minor stuff they find wrong in a home they’re inspecting, e.g. why we don’t tighten loose light fixtures, faucet handles, etc. I gave my usual excellent, thorough and slightly humorous response to that question, too. Amazingly, some readers did not agree with me. One letter said that if an inspector could fix something with a screwdriver, he should be required by law to do so.
So I re-read my last two columns, and realized they are related. I don’t feel home inspectors should have to replace something that breaks if they are required to test/operate it. Keep in mind home inspectors are not required to do anything a homeowner can’t do. But if they go a step above and try to repair that item, now they are liable. If an inspector tightens a loose light fixture or faucet handle, and breaks it, the inspector is liable for that item.
I know this sounds unfair to home inspectors. They went above and beyond what is required and performed a free “service” to their client and/or the homeowner. But it backfired and now it cost them more than their inspection fee to replace something.
I had an email from someone who was upset because his inspector did not report on several things. The letter was from the buyer’s father, who did not see the house until his daughter had closed and move in. Unfortunately for him, the inspector was not required to report on any of those things. I always tell my clients they should read the Standards because they state what we must inspect, and what we don’t have to inspect.
The Arizona Standards (section 11.3) state an inspector is not required to report on A: paint, wallpaper and other finish treatments on the interior walls, ceilings, and floors. B: carpeting. C: draperies, blinds or other window treatments. D: household appliances. E: recreational facilities or another dwelling unit. Recreational facilities include swimming pools, spas, saunas, etc. The ASHI Standards (section 10.2) state inspectors do not have to report on all these, plus D: coatings on and the hermetic seals between panes of window glass.
If you think about it, all the items in the last paragraph are actually cosmetic concerns. The condition of the floors, walls, curtains, window seals/coatings do not prevent someone from moving in and living in the home. We have to report if a door or window doesn’t operate, or if the poor floor coverings are a trip hazard.
Damage to cosmetic items is very subjective. If an inspector has inspected thousands of homes, he/she expects cosmetic flaws in a 10- or 20-year-old home. Common cracks and nail pops in the drywall are found in in almost every home, as are scratches, minor damage or stains on doors, window sills, under sinks, etc.
Once I inspected an occupied home, and when my clients moved in there were numerous baseball size holes in the walls. Apparently every time the sellers made a hole, they covered it with a poster or picture. I felt bad for my clients, and even though I was technically not required to report on walls, I gave them some money toward repairs.
A month later I inspected a vacant home. My clients met me when I arrived, which is unusual but they had to leave for the airport. We entered together, and at the bottom of the steps there was a large family room. I said there’s damage to the wall behind that picture. Everyone looked at me funny until I removed the picture and there was a large hole. I assumed there was damage because that was the only picture in a 2,200 sf home.
Another month goes by and I get a call from a client regarding a bunch of holes in the walls. I’m thinking the sellers must have been relatives of the “indoor baseball” home I inspected a couple months ago. When I arrive, the buyer is upset over tiny nail holes in all the walls. There is no “damage,”from my perspective. I told him the holes are from nails or picture hangers. The home was 20 years old, did he think no one had ever hung a picture on a wall? He asked what to do about all these holes. My first reaction was to tell him to hang a picture at every one. But I said he can spackle them. He asked what spackle was, where he could find it, and how to install it. I told him, including about using a putty knife. He asked what a putty knife was, how to use it and where to buy it. I told him any place that sells spackling likely sells putty knives too.
By now I realized I was not dealing with Bob Villa here. So I told him my mother fills in nail holes with toothpaste and her finger. He said he couldn’t do that. I asked why, and he said “Because my toothpaste is green.”
Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 7,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit inspectprescott.com.