Can your home inspector find every single problem in your home? Probably not. Even the best home inspection could possibly miss an issue, but we can strive to make home inspections better.
I walk into the bedroom, and I see a mark on an outlet. Others have walked passed this mark not realizing that this is a sign that another home inspector has been in the house. However, I am puzzled. First the mark indicates that the outlet has a problem. I cannot find a specific issue with this outlet, but I do find problems with outlets. Next, I notice that a panel that a home inspector should have opened has never been removed. Yet there is another sign of an inspector having been in the home when I am up in the attic. Was there another inspection? I see other signs that items were not inspected or discovered. I have the situation that the other inspector spotted something, but I am not sure what he found (the mark on the outlet). In other homes, I have conducted an inspection after the home has undergone repairs, since another inspector found issues. When I mentioned to my clients that another inspection report exists, they ask for a copy, then they wonder why my report does not match the original report. Maybe because of the repairs?
When in conversation with fellow home inspectors, I was told that I really did not know how to do my job, because I use aids. This gentleman argued that if you knew everything about your job, you would simply go into a home to conduct your examination, and you would find everything that you would need to find. I knew that statement to be false. I think back to when I worked in a retail environment. A customer came to me saying that the business always ran better when I was the manager on duty. A stuff member made a similar remark. That made me consider why does the store function well when I am there, and not as well when I am not there. I have come to the conclusion that there are certain steps that need to be taken to perform a job well. I said the other inspectors statement was false, because other managers who used his methodology failed to have a smooth day at work. Here are my steps for a home inspection:
There are three parts to preparing for the job: having the equipment for the job, gathering general information on the topic, and more specific information concerning the job at hand. In gathering general information, you want to keep up on the latest trends or basic information on how to do your job. As a home inspector, this means that I need to know what techniques builders are using, what techniques are the best for our environment, and what techniques are being developed that might help my clients. For example, a builder may use one long piece of flashing running along a joint of the wall to a roof. With the heavy rain possible during hurricane season, I should know that using step flashing would be a better choice to move water away from the roof sheathing. I should also realize that there is a technique of using step flashing along the wall to the roof, but then having a decorative one piece of flashing covering over this area (the step flashing is the real flashing, while the other piece is set up only to be decoration). I also need to understand the product that is on the market (what might be the difference between a foreclosure and the home being offered by a seller). I am also served by learning the latest building techniques, which is currently centering more around sustainable or green building. I should also know something about the products going into the home (is that an energy efficient window?). If I do not know how a product works, how can I examine it?
In the more specific preparation, I need to find out about the home. Was the home built when a asbestos was used? Lead paint? Where is the home? That may sound silly, but if you are supposed to be at a home at a certain time, then you should know where it is. Knowing other facts about the home can help you sound knowledgeable with the client. There may be other things to discover, but you need to do your research on the home before showing up at the door.
I mention having the equipment. Do you have the basic tools to perform the job? Do the tools work? Do you know how to use them? There are different was to test the equipment in a house. A home inspector should understand different ways to test the air conditioning system, and he should know what tool he needs to perform the test. I could purchase expensive equipment to check the exact level of the foundation in a home. This can be great information for my client, but this will increase the price of my inspection (factoring in buying the equipment, the time it takes to use the equipment, maintenance of the equipment, and the time learning to use the equipment). Using other pieces of equipment, I can accomplish a similar outcome. However, my client may not need something so detailed, since they would call in a foundation company if I find an issue.
People hate checklists. Bad or even average employees see them as a way for the boss to be looking over their shoulder, so they check them off. Some people see them as a nuisance. They are trying to get their job done, and they go through their routine, but then they need to stop to make a quick series of check marks to show their boss that they did the job. For a checklist to be effective, the list has to be well thought out, and it has to work to help people do the job right. I saw one inspection report where the inspector had a series of check boxes in each section of the standard report from the state. He probably understood each item, but the clients did not. He did not cover every possibility. In the end, his report failed to deliver usable information to the clients. Maybe some people who have problems with checklists are thinking of this list. I do have a series of questions in my checklist that I need to answer. These are rarely yes/no questions. What the questions do is to make me stop, think, and record. Before I leave a home, I look through my sheet to see if I answered each question. If I did, then I know that I have examined the home completely. When the client is with me during the inspection, I often explain issues to them, but then I have not written down the issue, because I am explaining the next item. They have the information, but I might forget to put it into my report if I did not write it down. When I see signs of an inspection, but I also see signs that an item was not inspected, I am convinced that a checklist would help prevent that mistake.
The Walk Through
If I left my head in the checklist, I might not understand the big picture. Before I start the inspection proper, I orient myself by walking through the home. I can understand other things that I am seeing after this walk through. After I complete the home inspection, I also want to walk through one more time. The first walk through helped me to understand that the vent in the side of the house was for the clothes dryer. The final walk through lets me see if anything has changed after I performed my tests. For example, I was checking the drains for the plumbing system in a bathroom. Everything inside the house seemed fine. When doing my final walk through, I went to a side of the house that had nothing there, and I found water stains on the wall, where the drains would be located for the bathroom. I know knew that the drains had an issue.
Taking Time to Complete the Job Right
The end product of a home inspection is the report. With the notes in my checklist organized in the format of the final report, I do not have to organize too much before writing the report. I used to want to write the report quickly for the client at the job site. I realized that this was not helping the client. I bring my material home. I download my photographs, and I go over my papers. I begin to write the report. Writing a report now takes two to three hours (almost as long as examine the home). After writing the report, I read what I have written. Did I jumble issues? Did I write the findings in a way that the client can understand? Did I forget something? Proofreading is vital to a good report, but many people do not proof their work before submission.
I have had people argue with me that faster is inherently better. I do feel that we need to produce work in a timely manner, but this does not equate to overly fast. My favorite example is the Realtor who told me that her inspector were better than me, because they did the job in two hours. I had mentioned that my average time for an inspection was seven hours at that time. This seven hours figure was based upon all of the time needed for the job. In the case of her inspectors, I knew that they spent more than the two hours. I also knew that two people were inspecting the same home, which means there was four hours of work performed in the examination. They used a home inspection software to produce the report. I am fine with the idea, but I prefer writing the report for the client. I feel that a handwritten report helps a client better than a computer generated phrases. These inspectors may have produced a valid report, but did they fully offer their clients the best job? From my experience, they did not.
Rather general advice is it not? I do think this can be applied to other tasks, but this is my defense for using a checklist and my method in general for performing a home inspection. I have examined homes in around two hours, although it usually takes me longer. I know that an inspector can walk into a house. He can go through the rooms with a tape recorder, and he could have checked most things. To really be sure, you need the checklist and you need the time.