The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: I am planning to buy a home but don’t know who the home inspectors are in my area. On the other hand, I have a good friend who is a licensed general contractor, and he has offered to do my home inspection for free. He is a very experienced builder with vast construction knowledge, and I would expect that he can do as thorough a job of inspecting a home as anyone in the inspection business. Is there any reason why I should not have him do my home inspection? Seth
Dear Seth: Hiring a general contractor to do a home inspection seems reasonable to anyone who does not know the scope and processes involved in home inspection, but a contractor inspection can be a costly mistake. A home inspection is not a walkthrough evaluation by someone who knows how to build a house. That is something that many homebuyers, especially first-time homebuyers, do not realize when they are faced with your choice. Home inspection involves skills, practices, and knowledge that are not essential to the process of construction, and this in no way minimizes the respectability of qualified contractors.
Most home inspectors start out as contractors who enter the home inspection profession and gradually learn to conduct thorough inspections. That learning process takes a few years and involves a very large number of home inspections. A basic apprenticeship in home inspection usually requires about 1000 inspections. Those who have done fewer than 1000 are likely to resent this opinion. Those who have done more than 1000 are sure to agree with it.
Home inspection is a process of investigation and discovery. Contracting is a process of mechanical skills and management. Although building knowledge is essential to the practice of home inspection, construction itself has little or no relation to the practice of forensic analysis. A home inspector is an investigator — a property detective – someone who observes and evaluates defects. The skills essential to a thorough home inspection are unique, are refined by years of practice, and are not essential to the process of building construction.
The focus of a home inspection is not merely the quality of construction, but the overall level of maintenance versus deterioration of the property, the operability and shortcomings of fixtures, compliance with numerous safety standards, the projected longevity of various materials and components, old versus new standards of construction, and much more.
Just as a traffic patrolman is not a crime detective; just as your family physician is not a medical pathologist; likewise, home inspectors are diagnostic specialists, distinct from professionals in the building trades.
What matters most when you choose a home inspector is to find someone who has done many inspections and has a reputation for thoroughness. If you need some referrals, call some of the real estate offices in your area and ask them who are the nit-pickiest inspectors. Those inspectors are the contractors you should consider before you buy a home.