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HOME & BUILDING INSPECTORS & INSPECTION METHODS
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MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD IN BUILDINGS
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PIPING IN buildings, Clogs Leaks Types
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SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
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VENTILATION in BUILDINGS
VISUAL PERCEPTION ERRORS
WATER ENTRY in BUILDINGS
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WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WINDOWS & DOORS
This article gives tips on getting the most from a licensed professional ASHI (or other association) home inspection, who attends, what services to order, handling conflicts of interest, real estate agent attendance, property owner attendance, water and septic testing, termite reports, lead paint, radon, other advice for home buyers about attending the home inspection and choosing tests and services, and some typical fees.
Issues of home inspection ethics are discussed. Here are some details that will help a home buyer make the most of the home inspection process.
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More Reading about Home Inspections:
For the Hudson Valley Area of New York State here are some local recommendations and suggestions
In addition to confirming the inspection appointment with the property owner or real estate agent, please be sure that someone will be available, usually the realtor, to let us in to the building at the time and on the day of the inspection. As a courtesy, be sure the realtor/seller are informed that our inspections are typically 3 1/2 hours in length, may be longer, and won't be ended until you, the client, are finished asking your initial questions at the site.
In discussing the inspection with the realtor or owner, make sure that all of the mechanical systems are turned on and working, such as heat, electricity, air conditioning. If any systems are to be left shut off or areas are to be inaccessible or locked, the inspection will be limited. Discuss these limitations with your inspector.
For example, an expert home inspector may spot evidence of a history of plumbing leaks at a fixture even if water to the building is shut down. But other critical data, such as fixture flow and drainage adequacy can't be assessed if there is no water.
The buyer(s) should attend the inspection and should stick closely to the inspector to observe, hear explanations, and ask questions. The more eyes examining the property the better.
If you must bring children to an inspection, be sure you bring along another adult who can watch the kids so that you can watch the inspector.
The property owner has every right to be in the building and/or have someone present during the inspection, probably a real estate agent, to be sure that nothing untoward is done to the property by the visitors, and perhaps to answer questions that may arise.
But some inspectors (including me) feel that it's much better for you the buyer if the seller and realtor do not actually accompany the inspector during the inspection. Bring along a book or magazine for those parties in case they forgot their own.
Normally the real estate agent is, by law, working for the interests of the property seller.
If the agent accompanies you on the inspection you are not in control of information that you've paid-for, and you're making a gift of it to the seller who may use it to negotiate against your interests.
However to protect all parties to the transaction, the inspector should be expected to answer direct questions from third parties, such as "did you say the house needs a new roof?" and more important, if immediate life/safety hazards are observed by the inspector, s/he is obligated to inform all parties concerned.
There naturally conflicting interests between the needs of a buyer who wants to understand as much as s/he can about the repairs, maintenance, and improvements a property needs and the needs of a seller who is nervous that a buyer will be dissuaded by these items and who does not want to be bothered by buyer-requests to fix or give allowances for this or that upcoming or past-due repair. The existence of conflicting interests in a transaction is natural. There is nothing unethical about the existence of such forces.
However what is done about conflicting interests is either ethical, unethical or perhaps even illegal. A few of the potential ethical issues are explored in these notes. For example, a home inspector who has a relationship with a real estate agent (perhaps paying for referrals) is engaging in a conflict of interest - one cannot serve two masters at once if the two have conflicting interests.
Furthermore, such inspector-realtor relationships are not disclosed to the inspector's "client" - the home buyer. The buyer has a right to know about such a relationship, and might want the right to choose a different, unaffiliated inspector. Engaging in a conflict of interest is unethical.
To be clear, and to disagree with a few aggressive business people in the real estate and home inspection fields: there are no cases in which the rules of ethics do not apply. A businessman, a real estate agent, a home inspector, a buyer, or property seller, does not have the option of "turning off" the application of the rules of ethics. There are no cases of "it's just business." There are business practices. Some of them are ethical. Some are not.
The real estate agent will often want to follow the inspector, to rebut conditions the inspector points out or simply just to hear the inspector's findings. And certainly, the inspector and buyer should not be up to anything devious either.
But a buyer, who is paying for the professional inspection and thus is paying for information about a property, has the right to control the dissemination of that information. A listing or selling agent (other than a true, contracted buyer's agent) who obtains the inspector's findings will be expected to use whatever s/he learns in negotiation to obtain the best price for the seller.
A property buyer who has hired a building or home inspector has the right to be able to accompany the inspector, to receive and control the use of information produced by the inspection, and to inspect the property without the company of a property seller or agent who have conflicting interests.
The purpose of a home inspection is to accurately and without bias, discover and report on the condition of a property. The purpose of the inspection does not include participation in negotiation about the property price. An inspector who offered to assist in negotiating the price of a property would be one whose findings and judgments would no longer be credible or unbiased.
A home inspection is not a "deal killer." A careful inspection of virtually any property will reveal repairs, maintenance, or improvements needed. But it would be unusual for the repairs needed at a property to be so extensive that one should question proceeding with the purchase. So inspection findings should not jeopardize the purchase of a home.
Rather, it is important for the buyer to have some sense of the priorities of repair and the probable ballpark costs involved in those repairs necessary to keep the property safe, to keep the mechanical systems working, and to stop any significant ongoing damage.
All parties to the real estate transaction deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, courtesy, honesty, and fairness. While this is likely to be the intention of all of the parties, on occasion I see the anxiety and pressure of this low-frequency high-fee transaction resulting in questionable behavior which may even go so far as to be harmful. Usually but not always, the harm is to the property buyer. "Harm" in this case includes:
The people who have hired the home inspector get the report.
The inspector is prohibited by ethical practice and in some cases by legal case law, from giving the report to any third party without first obtaining explicit instruction to do so from his/her inspection client. The client has the right to receive first, read, investigate further if needed, and then control the subsequent release of information that client has paid-for.
However certain inspection findings should be disclosed to all parties promptly. If the inspector detects conditions which appear to be an immediate, serious threat to the building occupants or to the property (such as an open septic system tank or a gas leak) the inspector should advise the appropriate parties immediately.
While actual cases of fraudulent representation of home inspection results by a buyer to a seller are quite rare, to protect a property owner/seller from such instances, an inspector should be willing to answer specific questions from the property owner or realtor about what the inspector has reported on a property. This does not mean answering "what did you find" questions from a third party. It means answering a question like "Did you say that the roof needs to be replaced immediately?"
Tricky things for a home buyer to look out for in home inspection reports
My policy is that no inspection report and no lab report will be released to any third party unless my client specifically asks me to do so. The release request must be initiated by the client, excepting the safety or clarity concerns cited above. The written report and the oral report say the same thing and present the same level of repair priorities and ballpark costs.
If you're buying a home and have scheduled your home inspection, here are a few tips for the inspection itself"
Except for unsafe conditions which might be pointed out by the inspector, do not attempt to negotiate or even discuss specific building defects with the seller or realtor during a home inspection.
You, the buyer, need to collect all of the information about the property that you can, read through the inspection report, and understand your priorities of repair or significant cost items.
Jumping the gun by discussing any specific finding during or immediately at the end of the inspection risks confusing everyone as you may later realize that something else is more important.
Read the report through carefully, noting
Most line items on the Home Reference Book report pages have at the left a number that directs you into a more detailed explanation of that topic, additional reading if you like, or you can call me with questions if you prefer.
The information in the "Home Reference Book" included with the home inspection report is based on research of authoritative building information sources, but it cannot be exhaustive as if we even attempted that level of detail, the book would be too big to carry much less read.
But beware, construction has many people who have strong opinions but who may not have ever read even the instructions on the box of the product they're installing. Home inspection ethics require that the inspector have no financial connection with any repairs or improvements to the property - a step which helps protect you from conflicts of interest.
How to Set Building Repair Priorities: How to manage the large number of home inspection "findings" without being overwhelmed
Sort all of the inspection report findings into these categories:
Dan's "3 D's" - these are items for which the building is in control of your money in that you need to address these items promptly.
Everything else. These are items for which you are in control of your money. For example, "adding insulation" may be highly desirable and may reduce your heating bills, but adding insulation, adding central air conditioning, putting a roof over a deck, are perhaps desirable improvements but when you do them is your choice.
The building won't be deteriorating - you won't be losing what you've just purchased - if you defer such expenses.
Home Inspection Exclusions
Reader Question: 11/11/2014 Anonymous said: What are areas of limitation for a home inspection?
What are areas of limitation for a home inspection?
Good question, Anon.
Home inspection limitations are generally spelled out in the standards of practice to which the individual home inspector subscribes. Those may be standards published by a professional association such as ASHI (The American Society of Home Inspectors) or by the licensing agency - typically a state or province in which the inspector practices. (A few states have no licensing nor standard for home inspectors).
The standards of practice are a *minimum* standard to which the inspector must perform and are generally in my OPINION very thin - not very demanding. The inspector is permitted to exceed these, and most do, depending on their individual level of expertise. There are some inspectors, especially high-volume fellows, who use the "standards" and their exclusions to perform the absolute minimum required.
There are also "de-facto" standards of care that can sneak past these minimum levels of performance.
For example some standards exclude the reporting of aluminum electrical wiring, but if an inspector has been exposed to information about that hazard, or if s/he *should have known* about the hazard (e.g. through seminars, publications, and general technical education that include that topic in both basic and advanced training) then an inspector might be held liable for failure to report such hazards, might defend by showing his/her published standard, and might or might not be succesful in that defense, depending on the judge and attorneys and their astuteness.
Please see HOME INSPECTION STANDARDS & ETHICAL CODES
for examples of standards that include discussion of home inspection exclusions.
You'll see that generally the inspector is not expected to report things that are not visually apparent and is not expected to go into nor operate any place or system that s/he in her/his judgement has reason not-to (such as unsafe) but such extra exclusions must be reported to the client.
Continue reading at HOME INSPECTION SAFETY or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: how do I figure out the risks if I'm buying a home with a moldy attic?
My wife and I would very much love your input if you could possibly spare the time. If not, totally understand. Very best to you. If so, great! Here you go…
I’ll try to be brief in this email, or feel free to call my cell. In short: We are in escrow on a home purchase, the building inspection identified fungal growth in the attic, and so we hired a specialist to perform environment testing (his report is attached). The assessment of the attic is no surprise (pretty obvious that area needs to be scrubbed/remediated). But what about the spore types and counts in the rest of the home?
The Basidiospores range from 2k (per M3) to 11k. Spooky to you or no big deal? I have just spent hours on your excellent website and learned lots, but my learning included the fact that these singular air sample ‘snap shots’ can be highly unreliable (spore counts can fluctuate vastly over time). Also, the attached report compares to the outside as a ‘baseline’ but I learned from you those outside comparison can also be highly unreliable (the outdoors were blanketed in snow at the time of his sampling, fyi).
Here’s my laymen’s thought, your reaction please:
1. Spore Type: The type of spores on this report do not appear to be the scary ‘toxic’ variety? That right? They all seem to be more of a nuisance variety (i.e., allergy symptoms). Do I have that right?
2. Spore Count: Regarding the concentration, the total counts may not be that much of a concern either? Maybe? The lower floor is 13k (all spore types) but as I read the information on your website that count seems to be just barely in the ‘high’ range (the 13k – 50k Nat. Allergy Bureau, pretty broad range). Right? But, as you point out on your website there really is no scientific standard ~ the ranges and opinions vary. Ugh.
My bottom-line question to you: does the attached report concern you? What do you advice? Should we run away from this house and not look back, or what? Now I don’t want to talk myself into buying a house we’ll regret later, but it seems perhaps the report is not much of a concern. I’m thinking I should perhaps take these next steps. Your reaction please:
1. More testing: I guess I should have this enviro specialists gent come back out to the house for more testing? Paying him more bothers me, I admit. But this time his goal would be to help identify the source of growth inside the occupied areas? Fyi, the inside of the home is beautiful, totally remodeled. No sign whatsoever of fungal growth (visually or odor). Maybe the growth is inside the wall maybe.
2. Attic remediation: We will absolutely plan to remediate the attic fully, either require the seller to do it before close or they can credit us an amount for us to take care of it.
Just an fyi, but to add to my panic here: this home is being purchased through section 1031 ‘exchange’ funds which includes a rather breakneck timeline. I am required by IRS regulations to identify the home I plan to purchase by Dec 13th! My wife and I thought this was that home, but if it’s not we feel panicked for finding another home with no time!
Again, I have no idea if you have time to help me or any interest. If you can help us, so greatly appreciated! We would be very grateful for your input via email reply or feel free to call my cell: - B.F., Sacramento CA
Reply: the perils of rush-rush home purchases, the buyers who buy them and the inspectors who inspect them
I agree Bill with two key observations that you cite regarding "mold testing"
" ‘snap shots’ can be highly unreliable (spore counts can fluctuate vastly over time). Also, the attached report compares to the outside as a ‘baseline’ but I learned from you those outside comparison can also be highly unreliable (the outdoors were blanketed in snow at the time of his sampling, fyi). "
I add that a snow blanket obviously puts a damper on outdoor airborne particles - it was a nearly completely meaningless comparison.
The danger of incomplete inspections and unreliable mold tests
I add that "basidiospores" (read "mushrooms") is a very broad category and though not scary, also not helpful; I'd be more interested in why there was so much mold, where it is located, what caused its growth, and what other fungal growths (visible or hidden in reservoirs like insulation, ceilings, walls) are more significant and perhaps more harmful.
I cannot infer from your message that the attic mold found is the most important or only problem in the home, don't know that a competent and thorough inspection was ever performed, and that there may not be more significant leaks and perhaps mold or other problems lurking in the home.
We don't know why there was "attic mold", don't know that the more harmful attic mold was the mold that was sampled (there is never just one kind of mold present in a building), and don't know that there was not a more important but hidden reservoir such as wet drywall below moldy insulation - which is possible depending on why the attic was humid or wet and why the mold someone presumably saw was observed in the first place.
Momentum Carries Many Real Estate Deals
With respect, it is just not reasonable to rush to a major purchase such as a home, running in the style realtors would prefer - dashing as fast as you can towards the home, shouting "I WANT IT, I WANT IT" and throwing your wallet and checkbook ahead of you as you run. Real estate agents and sellers, of course, love that sort of momentum as it avoids the pitfalls and threats of buyers' remorse.
The purchase of a home is, as you know of course, significant as also can be costs involved if you have not satisfied yourselves that you've examined what you are buying thoroughly enough that the risk of a big troublesome surprise (which can never be zero) has been reduced to an acceptable level.
Perils of Pauline and other Rush Purchasers
I emphasize that last-minute rush-rush inspections, consults, and tests on buildings, precisely because of the rush atmosphere, are the classic descriptors of a deal that later leaves people upset or worse. The very requirement and atmosphere of rush-rush too often means half-baked, half-thought, or even if well-executed, poorly read and understood inspections, tests, and results of an effort to evaluate a building and its systems.
It is for this reason that I have learned to never accept rush-panic assignments except where there is clearly a threat to human life.
OK so what now: If as seems likely, you will not be able to complete a thorough inspection and evaluation of the home prior to your decision to purchase it, then at the very minimum you should assure that there has been a truly expert, competent, un-biased home inspection by a serious professional, someone who is not working for realtor nor seller, who actually inspects the property, gives real detail not a mere checklist of what kinds of materials are present, and who can, by inspection, identify for you the known major expenses you are likely to face.
Without that step the risk is a "capture error" - you become so worried about attic mold that you fail to attend more immediate, costly, or dangerous conditions in the building. Then you can calculate the actual cost of the home to see if it makes economic sense for you. Add up:
Purchase price + cost of required repairs (see the article above where I discuss Dan's 3 D's that define essential repairs on buildings) Add legal costs, homeowners & liability insurance, costs to turn on utilities, title insurance, title registration, moving costs, Add the cost for known essential up front repairs that were identified by the inspector
Add and be sure that you have access to another 10-30% (of the base price) in line of credit, family funds or other sources that you could tap should you discover a major expense that if not addressed would cause you to risk losing your investment.
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