When Things Go Wrong
There may come a time that you discover something wrong with the house you purchased, and you may wonder if your home inspector let you down. There are a few things to consider.
Intermittent Or Concealed Problems
Some problems can only be discovered by living in a house. They cannot be discovered during the few hours dedicated to a home inspection. For example, some shower stalls leak when water bounces off people in the shower, but don’t leak when simply turning on the tap. Some roofs and basements only leak when rain is very heavy, or is accompanied by wind from a
specific direction. Some problems will only be discovered when carpets are lifted, furniture and storage are moved, or finishes are removed.
Some problems may have existed at the time of the inspection but there were no clues as to their existence at the time. Lawyers call these latent defects. A home inspector’s visual observations are based on the past performance of the house. If there are no clues of a past problem, it is unfair to assume that a future problem can be foreseen. Home inspectors do not identify latent defects.
Minor Issues Are Often Missed
Some say we are inconsistent because a home inspection report will identify some minor problems, and not others. Minor problems noted were typically discovered while looking for larger and more significant problems that would affect the a buyers decision on a home. For minor issues, we note them simply as a courtesy. The intent of the inspection is not to find the $200 problems; it is to find the $2,000 problems – these are the things that affect people’s decisions to purchase.
A home inspection is a sampling exercise with respect to components that are numerous, such as bricks, windows, and electrical receptacles. As a result, some conditions that are visible may go unreported. This is not a failing of the inspector but a result of sampling. A report by a second inspector will always be somewhat different than the first as a result of this sampling approach.
A common source of concern with home inspectors comes from comments made by contractors. Contractors’ opinions often differ from ours. Don’t be surprised that three roofers will say a roof needs replacement when an inspector said it might last a few more years with some minor repairs.
Last One in Theory
While our advice represents the most prudent action in our professional opinion, many contractors are reluctant to undertake these repairs. This is because of the “Last One In Theory”. The contractor fears that if they are the last person to work on the roof, they will get blamed if the roof leaks, whether or not the leak is their fault. Consequently, they won’t want to do a minor repair with high liability when they could re-roof the entire house for more money and reduce the likelihood of a callback. This is understandable.
Most Recent Advice Is Best
There is more to the “Last One In Theory”. It is human nature for homeowners to believe the last “expert” advice they receive, even if it is contrary to previous advice. As home inspectors, we unfortunately find ourselves in the position of “First One In” and consequently it is our advice that is often disbelieved.
Why Didn’t We See It
Contractors and others may say “I can’t believe you had this house inspected, and they didn’t find this problem”. There are several reasons for these apparent oversights:
- Conditions during inspection: It is difficult for homeowners to remember the specific circumstances in a house at the time of the inspection. It’s easy to forget that it was snowing, there was storage everywhere in the basement or that the furnace could not be turned on because the air conditioning was operating. It’s impossible for contractors to know what the circumstances were when the inspection was performed.
- The wisdom of thought: When a problem manifests itself, it is very easy to have 20/20 hindsight. Anybody can say that the basement leaks when there are 2 inches of water on the floor. Predicting the problem is a different story.
- A long look: If we spent a half hour under the kitchen sink, or two hours removing every electrical switch plate and cover plate, we’d find more problems too. Unfortunately, the inspection would take several days and would cost considerably more.
- We’re generalists, no specialists: The heating contractor should indeed have more heating expertise than we do. Home inspectors have broad expertise across heating, plumbing, electrical, roofing, structure, etc., rather than the deep expertise of specialists.
- An invasive look: Problems often become apparent when carpets or plaster are removed, when fixtures or cabinets are pulled out, and so on. Many issues appear once work begins on a home. A home inspection is a visual examination. We don’t perform any invasive or destructive tests.
To conclude, a home inspection is designed to better your odds, not to eliminate all risk. For that reason, a home inspection should not be considered an insurance policy. No insurance company offers a policy without deductible, exclusions, or limits. It would also not include the value added by the inspection.
We hope this perspective is helpful.