The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: Home inspectors perform an inadequate service, a fact that is overlooked in your column. I hired an inspector not long ago and found his work to be a complete waste of money. All he did was look around and report the obvious. I could have done as much myself instead of paying a so-called “expert.” Homebuyers deserve better than this. For example, why don’t home inspectors look under carpets for asbestos, mold, or signs of vermin? Your interest in promoting home inspectors prevents you from understanding this. Get a clue. William
Dear William: Home inspection can be a waste of money or a valuable benefit, depending on the quality of the home inspector you hire. If your home inspector did little more than “look around,” you have a legitimate grievance, but not a case against an entire profession.
This column frequently identifies negligent home inspectors, but it also recommends inspectors who are qualified and experienced, who provide detailed evaluations of homes, and who disclose defects that could not be found in the course of a simple “look around.” For example, an inspector I know found the following defects in just the past week:
- Over-spanned framing in an attic, causing the roof to sag.
- Rust damage in the burner chamber of a gas furnace.
- A disconnected safety shutoff switch in a forced air furnace.
- Circuit breakers that were oversized for the wires in the circuit.
- Faulty grounding in an electrical subpanel.
- Buried gas piping that lacked rust protection.
- A bathtub whirlpool pump that was not grounded.
- Lack of tempered safety glass at a staircase landing.
- A fireplace chimney that was too short at the roof.
- Improper placement of piers under a home.
These are typical examples of defects routinely reported by qualified home inspectors; defects that would not be discovered by homebuyers conducting their own walkthrough inspection or by inspectors with inadequate experience.
As for your suggestion that home inspectors check beneath carpets for asbestos, mold, or vermin:
- How much carpet should home inspectors lift? Should they raise a few corners or totally roll back the carpets in each room? If they don’t do it all, how can we be sure they will not miss a serious problem?
- How do we explain to sellers that we must move their furniture to enable inspection beneath the carpets? If sellers agree to this intrusive process, how many additional hours will be needed to complete the inspection, and how much should inspectors charge for this additional time?
- If furniture or personal items are damaged while being moved (i.e. a broken vase or a scratched table), who should pay for repair or replacement?
- Once the carpets have been laid back down, who should pay the carpet layer who refastens the edges to the tack strips?
Practicality imposes reasonable limits on home inspectors. An inspector cannot view everything without creating unacceptable problems. In spite of these restraints, a truly qualified home inspector can find considerable numbers of defects, providing valuable disclosure to home buyers. If you should ever hire another inspector, be sure to find someone who is truly qualified.