Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Houston Home Inspection Services

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What do you need to know about the services of Houston home inspection companies? Doing a comparison analysis of data on their website may not be enough.

Every home inspector in the state of Texas has to perform a property inspection to meet the minimum standard of practice. I point this out, because you my find inspectors trying to convince you that their services are vastly different. This can be a true statement, but sometimes this may come across as misleading. I had a phone call a few weeks ago from a potential client who wanted to hire me. She already had an inspector look at the home, but there was a problem. Her inspector was too detailed, she felt, and this was causing problems with the sale. She thought that another inspector would produce a report that was not so detailed. Here was my problem: the details could very well be items that the state tells every home inspector to report according to the standards of practice. My report may not be that different. Considering this fact, if you are trying to compare Houston home inspection services, what do you need to examine?

Houston home inspection services

What should be examined by the inspector? An inspection is an examination of the accessible parts, systems, and components of a home that results in a report of observed deficiencies. Accessible in this case relies upon the reasonable judgment of the inspector that he or she can approach, enter or view an item without undue hazard, without having to move large, heavy, or fragile objects, or without using specialized tools. The intention of the report is to let you know the condition of the home, while informing you of issues that might effect the home. The report is broken down into five general sections: Structural (including foundation, grading, drainage, roof covering, roof structure, attic, walls, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, stairways, fireplace, chimney, porches, decks, carports, and possibly other components attached to the home); Electrical (including service entrance, panels, branch circuits, connected devices, and fixtures); Plumbing (including water supply system, fixtures, drains, wastes , vents, water heating equipment, and hydro-therapy equipment); Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (including heating equipment, cooling equipment, duct system, chases, and vents); and Built-in Appliances (including dishwasher, food waste disposer, range hood, ranges, ovens, cooktops, microwave cooking equipment, trash compactor, mechanical exhaust vents, bathroom heaters, garage door operators; dor bell chimes, and dryer vents). Added to these five standard sections could be an Optional section, including lawn sprinkler systems, swimming pools, hot tubs, outbuildings, outdoor cooing equipment, gas supply systems, private water wells, private sewage disposal systems, whole-house vacuums, and other built-in appliances. All of these items are described in further detail on other parts of this site. This paragraph is giving you the clue as to what distinguishes one home inspection service from another, so let us delve deeper in order for you to know what to ask when looking for a home inspector.

Are there differences in what the service will examine? If you read the websites, you might be lead to believe that there could be differences. I did find a problem here that the consumer will have to investigate further. When I refer to a standard home inspection, I am referring to a home inspection which includes the five general sections mentioned. This may not always be the case with other home inspectors. First some background: when I first became an inspector, I was told by a few real estate agents that another firm was doing their home inspections much faster. Another inspector familiar with this firm told me that these inspectors would only investigate three systems: structural; electrical; and plumbing. In this way, they offered a much lower price, while also performing a quicker inspection. I was told this company called this their standard home inspection. Were they deceiving their clients? I do not know. The client enters into an agreement with the home inspector as to what he inspects. If the client wants the air conditioning system to be examined by a qualified professional, the home inspector could reduce his price not to include that system. Here is the problem: did you not want him to inspect that system, or did he tell you that it is not part of the report?  With this idea in mind, I checked what would be a standard part of the inspection. I found websites that did not include the five standard sections; other websites trying to make a big deal that they examine the five standard sections; and there were other sites that simply referenced a standard home inspection. There are also home inspectors who include optional systems as part of their standard home inspection. As for the sites that did not include all five sections as standard, other information on their site indicated that they did inspect all five standard sections and maybe more. This might be due to the fact that a person was hired to write the content for the site, and the company did not check what was written.  My advice: ask what is included in the inspection to check against the five standard sections.

Are you going to inspect that?  This paragraph is dealing with the concept of “accessible” as already defined. A few years ago, I saw a report that stated that it was unsafe to go up on the roof. There was a picture of the home, and my thought was that was not a dangerous roof. Later, I was asked to study another report, where a similar statement was made about a roof examination. This roof was one that I had climbed. Lastly, I was called into inspect another roof that an inspector had deemed unsafe, and I climbed to the top. Do I go on every roof? No.  There are times when I say that a roof is unsafe. A home inspector will go into different situations in each home, so he needs to determine what is accessible.The roofs may have been unsafe for those inspectors. Furthermore, if the kitchen sink is filled with cleaning products, would you consider this accessible or not? You could find reports that state this is both accessible and not accessible. Here is the problem: any home inspector called is going to state that he does a full examination, but they will also not know what they will encounter at the home, so they will use the term accessible to state where they will go. Considering my experience with other inspectors, I highlight that I go no the roof of a building, where they might not go onto the roof surface. Is this a false claim? I know that I will, and I know there is a chance that they may not, so the claim is not false, but this may not be a difference between me and another inspector. This is a difficult topic for the consumer to discover differences. My advice: 1) see if the website has sample reports to see what the home inspector has done on other jobs; and 2) ask questions to see how the inspector defines accessible.

Does a special tool mean a better job? You may have noticed that part of the definition of accessible is “without using specialized tools”. If you go through various home inspection websites, you will see references to the tools used. One site pictured standard tools for a home inspection, but they highlighted these tools as if this was special by including this picture on their home page. Other inspectors will tell you that you are missing out if the inspection does not include the use of an infrared camera. Let me relate this story to explain my feelings on the topic. I was asked to inspect a home, and an infrared camera had already been used to inspect this property. I noticed something strange with one of the air conditioning vents. Something did not look right, but nothing had been mentioned by the person who had done the infrared thermal inspection. In the attic, I found that there was no duct attached to this vent. There was no insulation around this vent either. This should have been caught by the thermal inspection. My point is that specialized tools are only as good as the operator.  My next point is that you may not need an inspection conducted by a person using a specialized tool. This is why the definition of accessible from the state makes that provision. In my example, the thermal inspection could reveal details that a normal home inspection cannot access. There is a twist for the consumer: is there an extra cost connected with using a special tool? I found that inspections using specialized tools either cost much more, or an extra charge was included for using that tool. My advice: if you as the consumer feels that a specialized tool will provide better information, then hire that inspector, but I would ask questions to see if you feel that the use of that tool will add value to the information provided by the inspector (in other words, is the idea of using a specialized tool simply a marketing ploy to charge more, or is it helping you understand your future home?).

Can a report be significantly different to effect your decision? In the end, the most important part of the inspection is the report. The consumer may be there for the inspection, but the report is the item used in negotiations. Because of its importance, the quality of the report becomes part of the home inspector advertising. What you will find when searching websites is commentary meant to encourage you to consider one report more valuable than another report. One difference mentioned is report length. One inspector touts that his reports are ten pages long, and he is focusing on the information that you need. Another inspector points out that his report is over thirty pages long, giving you detailed findings. The secret is that number of pages does not matter. It is the amount of information in the report and the quality of the content. I found that many inspectors use software to produce their reports. I am not against this practice, but I made a business decision to write my own reports. These software assisted reports are typically longer due to how the information is presented. If my fifteen page report and the over thirty page report were stripped of formatting techniques, such as font size and white spaces, our reports are around the same length. The question then becomes twofold. Does the one report contain more usable information over the other report? Is the report presented in a format that is easy for me to comprehend? That is a decision for each consumer to make. Before we continue, there is another advertised aspect of the report the consumer should consider: photographs. In my career, I have gone from not using photographs to including them. This was done because of decisions made about my own business. There are arguments against using photographs and for using them. For the consumer, you have to consider will the photograph help you. A potential client will ask me “do you take photographs”, but they never ask of what. Maybe they should. One report that I examined contained many photographs, but only about a quarter of them had anything to do with explaining an issue. There were photographs of the different rooms and equipment tags. If I inspected the Master bathroom, do you need a picture of the Master bathroom to prove that I went into that space? If I write down the information from the tag of a dishwasher, do you need a picture of the tag? What does that picture tell you? We are facing the same problem as with the content; is the picture provided useful to your understanding of an inspector’s finding? The reason that I began to include pictures in my report had to do with a desire to clarify my finding. Most home buyers are not going to wiggle their way through a tight attic space. On an inspection, I discovered that the builder had not properly insulated the attic to his own specification. I mentioned this fact, but he claimed that this could not be too bad, so he was going to ignore my finding. My statement could be doubted. By taking a photograph, the builder had to acknowledge that the insulation was not there. My goal is to take photographs of parts of the home that the buyer will not see, or to clarify a finding in the report.I do not take a picture of every issue. I do not know a way of showing that an appliance is not working through a photograph. My advice: find sample reports on the website or ask for sample reports to see if you find the report helps you.

My hope  is that my research can help you find the Houston home inspector that is right for you. Hopefully that will be me.If you are looking for what is the best value for you, then you need to find ways to discover these facts about the service provided.

« « Why Is My House Not Selling?| Making a Home Inspection Report more Readable » »

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States
713.781.6090

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