How should a home inspector document his findings? Does he need proof for everything he finds, and what form should that proof take?
“This property inspection is not an exhaustive inspection of the structure, systems, or components. The inspection may not reveal all deficiencies.”
“When a deficiency is reported, it is the client’s responsibility to obtain further evaluations and/or cost estimates from qualified service professionals.”
These are two statements pulled from the property inspection report form required by Texas when a home inspection is being performed for the purpose of buying or selling of a property. I am always reflecting upon my service in order to improve my performance, but I am undergoing a more extensive examination at this time of my service. One problem that came up this year can be studied in the idea of evidence. Should a home inspection report contain specific evidence for each finding? What should the evidence be? How detailed should a home inspection report be?
I had a real estate agent and a real estate investor question my reports. Both should have been familiar with home inspection reports. Both should have known what a home inspection entails, but both seemed to be unaware. Looking at the first quote, you will see that phrase “not an exhaustive inspection”. There are two reasons for this wording: time for discovery; and ability to analyze. A home inspection lasts for three to four hours on average, and the entire home is being examined. I can find that the air conditioning’s cooling system is not working. I may have an idea at the cause. However, if I need to pinpoint the reason, I may be spending two to three hours on that alone. If I had to do this with each component, the cost for the home inspection will greatly increase. The next problem is that no matter what tool I use to examine the home, I cannot clearly see every detail under the ground or behind a wall covering. Because of this factor, I may not discover all deficiencies. That does not stop me from trying though.
Going back to the air conditioning example, what evidence can I present? I use tools to examine the unit. I write the results down in my report. What proof do I have that my findings are real? I ask this, because this was in part an issue. I was asked: do I have any proof that I saw what I saw? Taking a picture of the meter’s interface seems silly.Moreover, does a photograph of the unit show it not working? Again, silliness ensues. At this point, I can only tell the questioner that I stand by the report.
This does lead me to the idea of photographs as evidence Taking photographs is not required by the state. A home inspection report can benefit from photographs, but then again, photographs do not necessarily clarify. My policy is to take photographs when requested, or when I feel that a photograph enhances understanding. (I have updated my practice to take photographs with every inspection, but again, not everything can be photographed). I do not include these pictures in the main body of the report. My reasoning for this habit is that I do not want to influence the reader of the report into believing that one issue is more important than another.Think about the situation that most people read my reports. They are coming to the end of the process of buying a home. They have a lot to handle. When looking through the report, they will have a tendency to scan the report. A picture causes them to stop to focus on that one issue, which may or may not be the most problematic. Another issue with photographs deals with how clear can they be? Look at the following picture. What do you see?
The real estate agent called into question my finding that there are stains on the ceilings of this home. She claimed that she could not find them where I stated. She used that as a springboard to call into question other findings, although she was not able to deny them directly. Does this photograph prove that there was a stain? Can you tell me in which house this photograph was taken? Yes, that is a stupid question, but I want to make the point that taking a picture of a stain that was painted over does not make great evidence. The stain is still there. There was an arrangement to meet the Realtor, but she never showed, and never responded to phone calls. I showed my client the stain, leaving the evidence to that moment.
Should I provide evidence to verify my suspicions? Scenario 1: I see a termite tube leading into a weephole. There is no access to look behind the wall. After mentioning this finding on my report, the termite tube is removed by someone. My suspicion is that the termites would have caused damaged behind that wall. Scenario 2: Homes built before 1979 may contain sources of lead, such as in the paint. There is the possibility that the lead had been removed during a renovation. To test for all possible lead sources can add time and money to the inspection. Knowing that the law requires homeowners to use a qualified company to do renovations in situations with lead contamination, and that contaminated material needs to be disposed of properly, I will inform the buyer of these facts. I do not know for certain (in other words, I do not have the evidence) that there is lead or termite damage. In this type of situations, I had a real estate investor and a Realtor argue that I should not incorporate my observations like these into the reports. I was told that this was illegal, so I needed to change my report. This is where I refer to the second quote. Stating a possible problem that can be resolved with further testing or evaluation is acceptable. I leave it up to you dear reader, but I think that I should inform my client of concerns. Then they can decide on a course of action which suits them.
The second quote deserves further investigation. A Realtor informed once that my report was not complete without offering estimates on repairs. Yet here in the report format required by the state, we have it clearly written that this is not the case. I bring this topic up, since this idea was brought up in a discussion of evidence. I will create a sheet listing repair estimates for my clients when requested, but I try to make it clear that I can only give a rough idea of the cost, and this refers back to the first quote. However, we then have to understand the extent of damage, and what may need to be done to make the repair. The question posed to me was where was the evidence to the extent of needed repairs. Did my report explain in exhaustive detail the facts to make this estimation? The report does not need to accomplish this task. I think we come into a situation of trust at this point. I have been trained to do my job. I am required to keep going through training to maintain my license. If I am making a statement which can legal hold me responsible, such as a property inspection report, maybe you should trust that I am reporting facts. If you are the person who convinces the buyer that my report is false, and then we discover that my findings were accurate, you can then be held liable. Realtors should be careful in this instance.
A home inspection is a visual inspection of a house at a given point in time. Items can be repaired or hidden. Sometimes more investigation is needed. The home inspection report cannot be the most exhaustive analysis of your home, but it can be the starting point for further investigations, while letting you know of problem areas. As for evidence, a home inspector should not make wild claims, so maybe you should trust the findings. If I do make wild claims, those statements can bring me legal trouble, but they also leave a bad impression with my client, so that hurts my business. I have to be reasonable.
Note: I know that the photgraph is fuzzy, I was really trying to capture the stain, but I kept having problems. This photo best captured the fact that there was a stain