Consumer Alert! The State Home Inspection minimum requirements have been changed to your detriment!

The home inspection requirements for licensed Home Inspectors have changed in the State of Texas, and not for the better!  There are important things that you need to know.[tab: What were the changes?]

As of 1 January 2014 the minimal home inspection requirements for Home Inspectors licensed by The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) have changed.  Under the new Standards of Practice (SOP) governing “the minimum levels of inspection required” by Home Inspectors your “Minimalist Home Inspector” can now become even more “Minimal”!  The laws and rules governing how licensed Home Inspectors act and what they inspect can be found in The Texas Administrative Code (TAC) which can be found by clicking HERE.

You would think that when changes are made to laws and regulations the changes are made to make them better.  Unfortunately this was not the case with these major changes to our rules and laws.  When these changes were proposed they were being pushed to the consumers and to Inspectors as a better way to approach a home inspection.  Under the previous laws specific requirements were made for Home Inspectors to identify issues, and signs of potential issues, in a home regardless of the performance of the system or component being inspected.  The new rules and laws were changed to take a performance based approach to inspecting a system or component without regard to the presence of signs that indicate a potential possible issue.  The translation to this is “Is the area, item, system, component, etc., working right now on the day of the inspection?  If so then there are no issues noted.”.  To give an example of this new approach first you should see a recent television news report from San Antonio that actually did a story with a San Antonio Home Inspector regarding this problem.  First watch this short news video by clicking HERE and then continue with this Blog post.

So hopefully you have watched the news story so you can obtain an idea of this new change to the SOP.  The story is not altogether descriptive and not completely accurate, but then I am a licensed Home Inspector and can see those irregularities where the consumer might not.  We are going to use this one example in the news story of a change to the SOP that is now based on the new “performance based approach” to home inspecting.  There are many other examples that can be used but this one will demonstrate the issue consumers now face.  Since you do not have ready access to the old SOP I will place the old wording in this Blog for you to compare.

This is the old SOP requirements for reporting on drainage and grading.

§535.228. Standards of Practice: Minimum Inspection Requirements for Structural Systems. [Adopted February 1, 2009.]
(a) Foundations. The inspector shall:
(3) generally report present and visible indications used to render the opinion of adverse
performance, such as:
(I) soil erosion, subsidence or shrinkage adjacent to the foundation and differential
movement of abutting flatwork such as walkways, driveways, and patios;
(4) report as Deficient:
(B) a crawl space that does not appear to be adequately ventilated;
(C) crawl space drainage that does not appear to be adequate;
(c) Grading and drainage. The inspector shall report as Deficient:
(1) improper or inadequate grading around the foundation (including flatwork);
(2) erosion;
(3) water ponding; and
(4) deficiencies in installed gutter and downspout systems.

These are the new “performance based” requirements for reporting.  These can be seen at the TAC link above.

(3) generally report present and visible indications used to render the opinion of adverse performance, such as:
NOTE:  The requirements for (3)(I) above in the old SOP have been removed.
(4) report as Deficient:
(E) crawl space ventilation that is not performing; and
(F) crawl space drainage that is not performing.
(b) Grading and drainage. The inspector shall:
(1) report as Deficient:
NOTE:  items (c)(1), (2), and (3) have been removed and replaced with the following two items.
(A) drainage around the foundation that is not performing;
(B) deficiencies in grade levels around the foundation; and
(C) deficiencies in installed gutter and downspout systems.
(2) The inspector is not required to:
(A) inspect flatwork or detention/retention ponds (except as related to slope and drainage);

There are two very important observations that need to be made with regards to the changes displayed above.  The first is The complete removal and replacement of the wording as noted above in the “Note” annotations.  The second major observation is the change in the wording for what is required using the wording “not performing”.  With the old SOP wording the Inspector was required to report the signs of improper grading and drainage regardless if there was actual surface water around or under (in the case of a raised foundation crawlspace) the foundation.  In other words if the Inspector can see that there is a high potential for grading and drainage issues, even though no water is present, they must report it even if they do not actively have ground water to watch.  Under the new “performance based” SOP the Inspector is only required to report if the drainage and grading is performing on the day of the inspection.

So what’s the difference and are we just splitting hairs here?  Well the entire SOP has been a serious point of contention with the good Home Inspectors while the less than desirable Home Inspectors have loved the conflicting and confusing wording.  Let’s take an example where the new SOP fails in its wording.  The conditions for this example are that we are in the middle of a drought, there has been no rain for months and none expected.  The soils around the home, or under the foundation with a raised foundation (Pier & Beam) are dry but not necessarily cracking.  In this case using the new SOP wording the grading and drainage is “performing” since there is no pooling and puddling, and the Inspector is not required to call out all of the suspected issues that would cause grading and drainage not to perform.  Now we come out of the drought or hit our rainy season, nothing has changed around the foundation since the home inspection, and all of a sudden the grading and drainage is not performing since water is standing near and not flowing away from the foundation.

Aaah, so you are splitting hairs on this example aren’t you?  NO we are not and there are more changes through the SOP that mirror this new “performance based” reporting requirements.  These changes all have the effect of watering down the minimum requirements Home Inspectors are to report on.  So what was the purpose of making all of these changes?  Was it to help sell the house instead of informing the client about the home’s true condition as the Home Inspector in the news story claimed?  Well I certainly can’t tell you since I was not in the mind of either TREC or the Inspector Advisory Committee (IAC, those that authored the changes).  Any reason I give would only be my opinion but I will provide one opinion that these new SOP requirements have made the Minimalist Inspector even more Minimal, and it has done so with the blessing of TREC!

Now I will make a statement in defense of TREC and the IAC which will also help you avoid getting caught in the trap of watered down SOP requirements.  This is the definition from the TAC regarding the “Scope” of a home inspection.

(b) Scope.
(1) These standards of practice define the minimum levels of inspection required for substantially completed residential improvements to real property up to four dwelling units. A real estate inspection is a non-technically exhaustive, limited visual survey and basic performance evaluation of the systems and components of a building using normal controls and does not require the use of specialized equipment or procedures. The purpose of the inspection is to provide the client with information regarding the general condition of the residence at the time of inspection. The inspector may provide a higher level of inspection performance than required by these standards of practice and may inspect components and systems in addition to those described by the standards of practice.

What is important to note with this scope definition is the first and last sentence.  The SOP is only a minimum level of inspection required from a licensed Home Inspector BUT the Inspector can exceed these minimum requirements!  In other words even though these standards have been watered down the Home Inspector can exceed them and provide you the information you need to make an important purchase decision.  So no matter what the SOP states must be done it really is up to the Home Inspector what they give you.  The problem with this though is if the “Minimalist Home Inspector” only follows these minimum requirements and you are harmed then the “Minimalist Home Inspector” can easily walk away claiming they did follow the SOP.

So when you are selecting your Home Inspector you need to make sure they are not a Minimalist Home Inspector.  Two ways to do that is to ask if they do exceed the minimum SOP requirements.  The second way is to always ask for a sample home inspection report from an actual home inspection they have performed.  Use it to compare with other Home Inspector’s your considering hiring.  You can tell a lot about the Home Inspector just by reading their report.

Good luck and don’t get caught in the new trap set for you by the watered down SOP!

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