“Home Inspections, a Necessary Evil?”

About seven years ago I bought my first home and had my first home inspection. Even then I knew something was wrong with the picture. Granted, I have an advantage coming from a family of building contractors and carpenters… let me share my opinion on the matter.

While the binder the home inspector gives you (sometimes prepared right on the spot) is colorful and makes you feel like they actually did something, I’m continually alarmed by the content. Yes, major home issues are most of the time revealed, however, what makes me sick to my stomach are the endless qualifications – e.g., “Could not determine without further investigation,” or “Was not able to view – box in the way,” and especially, “Advise consulting a chimney specialist / air conditioner specialist / structural engineer / sewer inspector / roof certifier / etc.” By the end of the report I ask, “What did you inspect and what exactly do you stand by?”

We are currently in the middle of buying a brick tudor. I called a reputable home inspector and shared my concerns. I told him that I needed someone to specifically investigate the brick work, as some settling has occurred over the 80 plus years of the home’s life. Also I shared that I was concerned about the typical reporting which redirects all issues to a “specialist.” Specifically I asked, “Are you going to get out there and look at the brick house, produce a report, and read it outloud to me saying, ‘I recommend you hiring a brick specialist'”? His response was, “Keith, you got to understand, I’m the ‘front man’, I’m the ‘front man.'” So I rephrased the question… “What is your background and understanding of inspecting brick homes?” He said, “Well, I’ve looked at a couple…, I mean they are not much different than any other home.”

This finished our conversation and helped me immensly in making my decision to not hire him, nor any other home inspector (for my own properties). In essense what he confirmed is that he will turn off and on the light lights, check the outlets with his $3 tester, turn the faucets on and off, charge an extra $50 to crawl under the house (literally!), poke his head in the attic, take some photos of the gutters to tell me that leaves tend to clog them in the fall, recommend that dirt should be graded away from the house, and note that there are a multitude of potential problems that old houses might have (lying under and in unobservable areas). Now as a realtor it makes your buyer feel good about their purchase and perhaps acts as a tool for negotiation, but as a buyer myself I just feel like I’m buying a $325 binder, with no guarantees.

Some will inadvertantly be thinking, “You cheap bastard! In the scope of the cost of a home, what’s a couple hundred dollars for a home inspection?” I am advocating home inspection, just not “home inspectors.” In my situation I decided to call a reputable contractor that will probably be doing some work for me. We’ll take a few hours together to go over the house and assess the major areas – Foundation, brick work, framing, electrical, plumbing, roof, etc. I may hire a plumber to send a camera down the sewer line if suspect and I would recommend an air conditioner company to inspect (if I didn’t already know that the AC wasn’t 1-2 years old). Oh, and I own a $3 electrical testor (see pic. at top of page) and a good flashlight! I’ll post the pictures later of me looking at the leaves in the gutters too šŸ™‚ If you haven’t caught what I’m saying, put your money into the specialists, not the “front man.” You may not be a fortunate as I … when I asked my contractor how much he’d charge, he said, “Oh, dont’ worry about paying me, I know it’ll come back to me down the road.” Who do you think I’m going to hire to do my future remodel?! If you haven’t already begun, as a realtor you continually want to be building your sphere of business associates – ones you can recommend to others, and potentially use yourself.

Happy home inspecting.

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