Limitations of home inspections when buying a home
A home inspection is a crucial part of the home-buying process, providing buyers with valuable information about their prospective purchase. It protects the buyer from ending up with a money pit home or at a minimum makes them aware of any issues with the home and potentially room to negotiate with the seller.
However, it is important to note that there are limitations associated with these inspections, and understanding them can help ensure an informed decision when purchasing a property. This article will discuss some of the most common limitations of home buyer inspections so a buyer knows what they are, and are not getting when they sign up for a property inspection.
What is A Home Inspection?
A home inspection is a visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a house, from top to bottom. It is performed by a licensed inspector who will document any issues that require repair or replacement in an inspection report. A professional home inspector works independently and dispassionately, assessing the condition of the subject property without consideration for what repairs may cost.
The purpose of a home inspection is to identify major deficiencies in the home so that buyers can make an informed decision as to whether to continue with the purchase or not. The inspector should be able to pick up on any of the most common issues found during a property inspection.
The Inspection Contingency.
The inspection contingency is part of the home buyer's written offer and makes the buyer's offer contingent on completing an inspection of the home and the property it sits on.
In Washington State, the inspection addendum states that the inspection is contingent on the buyer's SUBJECTIVE SATISFACTION with the property. This means that the buyer can walk on the sale based on what they discover during the inspection. They can walk even if the home is perfect. The buyer gets their earnest money back and can continue to look for a different home. They are not required to give the seller a reason as to why they are not continuing with the sale.
The inspection has to be completed within an agreed-to number of days, however, the buyer can request additional specialized inspections such as bringing a geotech engineer, a roofing, or an electrical contractor to the home if the inspector recommends follow-up inspections.
What is usually Covered In a Home Inspection?
When a buyer books a home inspection the home inspector will usually send them a contract to sign in advance and within that contract, it will list the areas that are covered in the inspection.
Different contractors will cover different items but the main critical components should be covered by every inspector. For example, some inspectors will not test the home appliances like the washer and dryer, and stove but every home inspector is required to go in the attic and the crawl space otherwise they're not doing their job and you should not hire them.
The items covered in a home inspection will also depend on the type of home. For example, the inspection for a condo will be a lot different than that for a standalone house.
Taking the example of a house, at a minimum home inspectors should be examining the following items:
- The exterior of the home including the siding, the roof, the gutters & downspouts, the foundation, any walls, and retaining walls, and the condition of the driveway.
- The attic space
- The crawlspace
- Plumbing systems
- Electrical systems
- Heating and cooling systems (HVAC)
- The garage area including if the doors are functional
- Any pest infestations
- Code violations
All the inspector's observations will be written up in the inspection report which the buyer receives within a day or two of the inspection. Good inspection reports will include photos of any issues with a home and detailed descriptions of those issues.
What's Not Covered In The Inspection?
It is important to note that home inspections do not guarantee that all major issues will be found. The scope of a home inspection typically includes assessments of the structure, systems, and components visible at the time of inspection. While this can provide insight into numerous aspects of the property’s condition, it does not provide complete coverage for all areas or uncover certain issues that may be present but remain undetected during the evaluation period.
Items that the inspector will state upfront that they do not cover:
Appliances (sometimes): some inspectors will not inspect the home's appliances including all the kitchen appliances and the washer and dryer. And some inspectors will but might charge extra for that service. The inspection contract the buyer signs should specify that upfront.
Sewer line: Home inspectors typically do not inspect the home's sewer system. Generally, this is done by a separate company that specializes in sewer scopes and is an extra charge for the buyer. Even if the home inspector does do sewer scopes, in my opinion, you are better off using a company that specializes solely in doing sewer inspections because they have a lot more experience and you will likely get better advice from them. If the home inspector does include sewer scope you will pay extra for that.
Septic systems: for homes on septic systems the home inspector will not inspect this part of the property. In general, in Washington State, the homeowner is the one who is responsible and required to have the septic system inspected before the sale closes.
Water wells: if the home's water supply comes from a well, that will have to be inspected by a specialist, not the home inspector, and is an extra fee for the buyer.
Soil and foundation issues: if the home sits on a steep slope or shows signs of structural issues in the foundation, the inspector is not qualified to give you an opinion as to the structural integrity of the home. They should recommend that you have a Geotech engineer look at the property in a separate inspection.
Many home inspectors are members of the American Association of Home Inspectors (ASHI) whose code of practice lists numerous General Exclusions that the home inspector is not required to determine: Some of these include:
- The condition of systems and components that are not readily accessible.
- The remaining life expectancy of systems and components including the roof.
- The adequacy, effectiveness, and efficiency of systems and components such as the HVAC system.
- The causes of conditions and deficiencies.
- Estimates for the costs and materials to repair an issue.
- The suitability of the property for specialized uses.
- Advice on whether the buyer should purchase the home or walk on the sale.
- Operating costs of systems and components.
- Soil conditions relating to geotechnical or hydrologic specialties.
- Whether items, materials, conditions, and components are subject to recall, controversy, litigation, product liability, and other adverse claims and conditions.
For a full list of ASHI's requirements, please click here.
Having said that, many home inspectors will still provide opinions on items that theoretically they are not supposed to do because they want to help the buyers and some inspectors are super protective of the buyers.
Potential limitations during the inspection that is specific to the home being inspected.
Every home is different and some homes are harder to inspect than others.
- Home inspectors don't have X-Ray vision. They cannot see through walls or determine if there are any hidden problems with wiring or plumbing.
- Sometimes the inspector will not be able to get access to the roof because the home is too tall or has a very steep-pitched roof which will often be the case for three-story townhomes. Some inspectors get around this using a drone with a camera but it is not as ideal as actually getting up on the roof to inspect it.
- Sometimes the electrical panel can be inaccessible because the homeowner has put some walling material around it or there's just too much stuff in the garage that cannot be moved.
- Access to the attic can be restricted because it's located in a closet in a bedroom that is full of the seller's possessions or has shelving in the way that cannot be removed.
- For crawl spaces, although the inspector may be able to get in at the access point, many times all the plumbing and HVAC events can restrict access to other parts crawl space.
- Home inspectors are not allowed to move big pieces of furniture to get access to stuff behind them.
- There could potentially be mold issues in the wall which are not visible at the time of the inspection. Some home inspectors have moisture and heat sensor detectors which can hint at potential problems but are not definitive.
- The time of year can make a difference on what the home inspector discovers. The buyer could purchase the home in August and then in November discovers that the basement has water issues.
- The time of year can also impact whether pest infestations are detected. For example, mice and rats are more likely to be found in crawl spaces and attics during the winter months but not during the dry summer months.
The inspector may recommend additional specialized inspections:
Many times home inspectors will recommend that you have follow-up inspections by specialized contractors because the issue is outside the inspector's expertise. Also, they are covering themselves legally by not providing you with advice on an issue that they are not qualified or allowed to advise you on.
Different inspectors have different opinions and levels of competency.
Although home inspectors may be trained to the same levels of practice, they are all human and all have different opinions, personal histories, and personal biases.
Six different inspectors could inspect the same home and they would come up with six different inspection reports and opinions. A good example of this is when the seller is providing a copy of their pre-listing inspection report and the buyer still does their own inspection with their own inspector. There will be some overlap in the two reports but there will definitely be differences. For example, I recently represented a buyer who did their own inspection and their inspector found and inspected a crawl space. The settler's report didn't even mention the fact that there was a crawl space, never mind inspect it.
Some home inspectors will climb up on the roof via a ladder and others will try to impress you by releasing their drone from the ground when it would be a lot easier and more informative to just get up on the roof.
Some inspectors are just better and more experienced than others. The best ones tend to come from the construction industry where they have seen homes built from the ground up.
Some home inspectors will be chatty and educate the buyer on the home as they go through the inspection process while other inspectors will want to be left alone and only chat once they have completed the inspection.
Should You Rely On A Seller-Procured Home Inspection?
The short answer is, ideally NO.
But in reality, they can be hard to resist.
It's becoming a lot more common for sellers to inspect their home before they put it on the market and then share that report with potential buyers. It's a marketing tactic to attract more buyers and increase the number of offers on the home.
Homebuyers should exercise caution when relying on a seller-procured home inspection. Sellers, or rather the listing agent who represents them, may be more likely to hire an inspector with whom they have a good rapport and let's say, might lean toward not making mountains out of molehills.
Also, the condition of the property might not be the same as when the seller did their inspection and new major issues could have cropped up in that time. As mentioned previously, different inspectors will have different opinions and some are more competent than others.
Therefore, it is recommended that homebuyers do their own independent professional inspection regardless of whether there has been one done for the seller. This allows them to obtain detailed information from an unbiased source so they can make informed decisions before purchasing a new home.
In summary regarding the limitations of home inspections, a home will be the biggest purchase you ever make, so for the sake of a few hundred dollars, it's not a good idea to skip the home inspection. At the same time, it is good to understand that home inspections are not infallible and have some limitations. The more information you can extract about the integrity of the home the more comfortable you will feel with continuing with the purchase... or walking away.
This article was written by Seattle and Eastside Realtor Conor MacEvilly who has been in the business since 2008. I hope you enjoyed the post and thanks for visiting my website. If you have any questions about Puget Sounds area residential real estate feel free to contact me. I'm happy to help. My direct line (cell) is 206-349-8477.