What is a home inspection and why is it so important to have one?

You’re getting ready to buy that home and your Agent advises you to have a home inspection.  But you just don’t understand why spend the money because, after all, you just don’t see anything wrong with the home?  Read on to see why it is so important to have that home inspection.

[tab: Introduction]

To understand why a home inspection is so important to you we first have to understand what a home inspection is.  Unfortunately to understand what a home inspection is we also need to understand what, if any, mandated requirements there are for home inspections and Home Inspectors.  If you run an Internet search for “What is a home inspection” you will run into page after page of articles, definitions, etc.  If you take the time to read enough of them you will see they all have the same recurring theme.  Virtually all of them are written as self serving (serving the writer and not you) describing what the writer would like you to believe.  Many of those descriptions are either canned wording taken from some other WEB site or article.  Most of these descriptions are worth little as they are vague and well written to help the person providing it limit their responsibilities and hopefully (on their part) their liabilities.

I mentioned “mandated requirements” and by this term I mean requirements that are issued by an authoritative entity that has the power to enforce them.  The only authoritative entity that can enforce any requirement are our governmental systems.  Many States now have laws and rules that Home Inspectors must follow.  The laws and rules are as simple as the Home Inspector must register with the State all the way to the State dictating what an inspection should include and how the written reports will be produced.  These laws and rules are generally termed the “Standards of Practice” (SOP) for Home Inspectors.  If you want to know what the SOP is for your State’s license laws you must go to your States WEB site and search there.  For the remainder of this Blog I’ll refer to the Texas mandated SOP which can be found at the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) WEB site.

For those States that do not have Home Inspection mandates there are various Inspector associations that have created their own versions of SOP’s.  But what you the consumer need to fully understand is that Inspector associations are not government entities.  Inspector associations can make any mandate they want but they have virtually NO CONTROL over the Home Inspector regardless of what these home inspector associations would like you to believe!  Unlike a government entity the association can not issue a fine or penalty and if they do they certainly have no means to collect it.  They can not do anything for the consumer if the consumer is wronged, other than kicking the Home Inspector out of the association.  That does you little good and only unleashes a bad Home Inspector back onto the consumers.  Any mandate or requirement that an association has on their members (in this case the Home Inspector) is completely voluntary for the member to comply with, and depends solely on the honesty and integrity of the member.  It is unfortunate but these same Home Inspector associations that claim to help protect you rarely police their own members, and even more rarely turn them into the authorities when they do discover rogue Home Inspectors!

A government entity that regulates Home Inspectors sits on the far other end of the spectrum from the Home Inspector Association.  A government entity can not only issue a penalty against a bad Home Inspector but they can also enforce that penalty using the full weight of their agency or any other agency that is at their disposal.  These penalties can be as simple as a warning letter, monetary fine, and if the infraction is serious enough they can revoke a Home Inspector’s license.  In the case of a person illegally performing inspections without a license the government licensing authority can utilize various levels of the criminal justice system to stop and penalize the illegally operating Inspector.

Now that we understand about mandated requirements we can move onto what a home inspection is.  Please see the next tab “What It Is”.

[tab: What It Is]

The following excerpt from the Texas State mandated SOP is a definition of what a home inspection is.  You can find these requirements at the TREC WEB site located HERE.

§535.227. Standards of Practice: General Provisions.

(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 limited visual survey and basic operation of the systems and components of a building using normal controls and does not require the use of specialized tools 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 parts, components, and systems in addition to those described by the standards of practice.

We are finally getting to the meat and potatoes of what a home inspection is!  Or are we really?  It is important to note what the very first and last sentences state.  This SOP only defines the minimum actions a Home Inspector is mandated to take for a home inspection and does not stop the Inspector from exceeding these requirements.  Also of great note is the second sentence that actually defines what the State of Texas considers is a home inspection (real estate inspection).  These statements, or ones similar to them, are also found in the Home Inspector association SOP’s.  The Texas SOP, as well as the Home Inspector association SOP’s, are a convoluted mess of wording that are certainly not written for the consumer to understand.  The Texas SOP was written by the Inspector Advisory Committee (IAC) which is a volunteer group of Inspectors that advise TREC on matters regarding Home Inspectors and the industry.  The Texas mandated SOP is so badly written that many licensed Inspectors don’t even understand what it means.  The IAC members are now writing an “SOP Commentary” that is intended to clarify the SOP since the SOP is not a clear and concise document.  Unfortunately even the IAC can not agree on the explanations and clarifications in the “SOP Commentary”.  What I will list here are some very major points that can help summarize the SOP mandates by the State of Texas.  More in depth discussions will be given in future Blogs.

  • The SOP only requires the Inspector to inspect the physical home, and the ground immediately around it for grading and drainage issues.  If it is not physically attached to, and part of the home then the Inspector is not required to inspect it.  For some crazy reason reason there is an exclusion not requiring an Inspector to inspect a deck that is attached to the home but has no door from it to the inside of the home or garage.  That exclusion can be found in Section 535.228. Standards of Practice: Minimum Inspection Requirements for Structural Systems, Item (s) Porches, Balconies, Decks, and Carports, Sub-item (1).
  • Any item that is not physically a part of the main structure is considered “optional” and unless you contract with the Inspector to inspect it they are not required to.  Some examples of these items are detached garages and buildings, fences, stand alone decks, etc.
  • If you read the required inspection reporting form (found by clicking HERE) you will note that there is a section “V. Appliances” that list the only appliances that the Inspector is required to inspect.  These cover most all common appliances but you should be aware that if it is not there, and you don’t contract for it, then the Inspector is not required to even mention whether it is there and whether they did or did not inspect it.
  • On that same inspection form is Section “VI. Optional Systems”.  If you do not contract with the Inspector to inspect these items then again they are not required to inspect them.  Since these are optional items you must contract for the Inspector is even allowed to remove any or all of these items from the report form.
  • The SOP, report form, as well as other forms we are required to provide the consumer are liberally sprinkled throughout with exclusions, limitations, etc., etc.  Just when you thought all you had to worry about was some Inspector’s contract wording now you know that the very laws that are suppose to protect you might actually harm you.
  • For any action an Inspector is required to take, or part/system/component they are required to inspect, they must let you know “at the earliest practical opportunity” (generally when you first call them) if they do not regularly or routinely perform that action or inspect that item.  For example we are required to access all roofs and walk them if access is available with a standard ladder, and the access point is no higher than a basic first floor height (8′ – 10′ from ground level).  This rule is to help prevent you from hiring an Inspector and then only during or after the inspection finding out the Inspector does not walk roofs.  We have plenty of Inspectors that refuse to walk any roof.  This is a very good rule but unfortunately has one major flaw.  If you do not tell an Inspector on the first contact that you have an optional inspection item then the “the earliest practical opportunity” is when the Inspector arrives on the site and notes the system, component or condition.  By then it might well be too late for you to find another Inspector, especially if you are close to the end of your option period.
  • The SOP provides leeway to the Inspector to not perform an action, or inspect an item, if the Inspector feels the current conditions are unsafe to themselves and/or the item to be inspected.  This is a good rule in so far that it helps an Inspector prevent from harming themselves, someone else around them, or the home or item being inspected.  If an Inspector exercises this right then the Inspector MUST indicate in the report the specific reason why they chose this course.  Unfortunately this allowable course of action is used by many Inspectors not to perform actions and shorten their inspection time on site, and their explanations why are vague.

These are just some of the important highlights of the Texas mandated SOP.  In another Blog(s) I will review many of these minimum standards so I will not touch on them here as that can take volumes to discuss.  So what really is a home inspection?  Take a trip to the next tab to learn that answer.

[tab: What Is It Really]

So what really is a home inspection?  The short answer is that a home inspection is what you contract for!  Wow, that was really helpful wasn’t it?  I do apologize for being snide, but the truth is you as the consumer are the only one that controls what a home inspection really is.  Most Home Inspectors will operate using a “Pre-inspection Agreement” type of contract that will spell out what the scope of any inspection will include.  That agreement will usually also include disclaimers on what an inspection is not.  Unfortunately a pre-inspection agreement can not list everything an Inspector will or won’t do.  Such a contract would undoubtedly be very long, cumbersome, repetitive, and harder to digest and understand than the Texas SOP itself.  Having said that you need to read an understand any contract for a home inspection before you sign it.  For your own protection you should also read and become familiar with any mandated SOP, and any other SOP that the Inspector claims to be following.  In the last section of this blog I described a few of the many major faults with the Texas State mandated SOP so you can understand the importance of being aware of an SOP’s content.  If you have questions on either of these items you need to ask the Inspector to clarify them for you before you hire them to inspect.

As a consumer buying a home I want to know everything I possibly can about the condition of all structures and systems on the property as well as the property itself.  When you speak to Home Inspectors to determine which one you will use you first need to become familiar with the home and property you are buying.  It is surprising how many consumers call me and are not able to answer simple, specific questions I have so that I can better understand their inspection needs.  Your homes specifics might well help an Inspector determine if there are special circumstances that they are not able to handle or would potentially be better handled by other specialists.  You should have the following information on hand when you call Inspectors.

  • The full address of the property.  Using the property address I am able most times to find out quite a bit about the property before I even leave my office.  If I know of a situation that would cause issues during the inspection I will call you as soon as possible before the inspection.  I have also received calls for inspections around the State of Texas and I will certainly go where someone wants my services.  However the cost of operating a vehicle is not inexpensive, and I will tack on a surcharge for long distances to offset that cost.  A good Inspector will make sure that is understood and why an inspection is so much higher than others locally to the property.  If I can help you find an Inspector closer that fits your needs and budget then I am happy to do so.
  • How large is the home in square feet (including any attached garage) and how many stories is it?  Not only do many Inspectors set their prices on square footage but they also use it to gauge times for everything thing from when to arrive to when they expect to be finished.
  • Does the home have a roof eave at the first floor level or is the beginning of the roof eaves at the second story or higher?  This relates to that safety call an Inspector is allowed to make and is a good option for Inspectors.  All roofs should be accessed and walked if they can safely be accessed.  Many problems are found on the roofs surface and very high roofs are seldom watched regularly for signs of troubles.  I do not know of any Inspector that has ladders that are safe to use, safe to handle by one person, and can reach a second story roof.  This leaves the Inspector with inspecting it from the ground level only most times.  If we are aware of this condition we can advise you outright to hire a professional roofer to bring their equipment to access and fully inspect the roof.
  • Is your home’s foundation a slab or a raised foundation (i.e. Pier & Beam)?  Inspectors charge additional for raised foundations due to the extra time and work involved inspecting them as well as the damage to their equipment, tools and materials that easily occur.
  • What utilities are present for the home and are they all active?  It is important for the Inspector to know if you have gas, a septic system, an on site water well, etc., and whether these are active or not.  If you are buying a foreclosed home, or one that has not been lived in, then it is quite possible that the home has been winterized.  Winterization generally means that all utilities have been shut off and electric, gas and water meters might even have been removed.  An inspection can be performed without utilities but it becomes a very limited inspection and certainly not in your best interest.
  • Are there any detached structures on the property, i.e. detached garages, guest homes, storage buildings, etc., and do you want those inspected as well?  Detached garages, guest homes, etc., all take time to inspect and report on.  As such they too will be calculated into the inspection and reporting fee.  Generally Inspectors don’t charge extra for the small sheds that are found at many homes but would still like to know they are there.
  • Are the exterior walls of your home made of stucco or EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System)?  A visual inspection of these exterior wall systems is not difficult to perform.  However when issues are noted then the use of more specialized equipment and training is needed to perform a more in depth look for potential problems.  Most Inspectors do not carry the necessary equipment, nor possess the necessary training and skills, to properly assess problems with these wall claddings.
  • Does your home have any of the “Optional Systems” listed on the inspection form noted in the last section of this blog?  Does your home have some unique feature not found normally at other homes?  An example of a unique feature would be motorized gates, boat docks, etc.
  • What do you want inspected on your property?  Remember that in Texas the rules and SOP only require the Inspector to inspect the physical structure, the immediate ground around it, and do not require them to inspect any optional or not listed components.

Now that you have read any SOP’s the inspector is planning to use, and you have the home’s basic information, you can appropriately define what a home inspection is to you.  Your Inspector should be asking you for the preceding information so they can better understand how much of an inspection you want .  If your Inspector does not ask these questions then make sure they are made aware of these items by telling them.  Unfortunately there are plenty of Inspectors out there that much prefer not to know anything about your property, except the address, before they arrive on site.  Instead they will book the inspection and only upon arriving on site will you find out that they will not, or are unable to, inspect certain parts or systems.

When you call the Inspector you should be aware of the following items and make sure both you and the Inspector agree on how these are inspected.  There are many different aspects of a home inspection but these are the major problems that consumers tend to encounter with a bad home inspection.

  • The roof – There are many reasons that an Inspector should access and walk the roof’s surface as there are many issues that can only be seen from the roof’s surface.  In fact the Texas SOP requires that the roof be accessed and walked for any inspection.  In opposition there are few reasons that an Inspector should not access the roof and walk it for an inspection.  The only valid reasons for not walking a roof are no access from the ground (particularly two story access points), safety concerns for the Inspector, safety reasons for anyone in the immediate vicinity, to prevent damage to the roof’s covering or structure, or if the consumer and Inspector agree that the roof will not be walked.  Regardless of why a roof is not walked the Inspector must provide a reasonable explanation in the written report.  Make sure you are clear to the Inspector that you want the roof walked unless a safety issue is present.  Unfortunately we have many Inspectors who will not access a roof under any circumstance, or they will try to get the consumer to agree a roof walk will not be performed and inspection is only from the ground with binoculars or the eaves with a ladder.
  • The attic – Just like the roof surface there are many issues that can potentially be found in far reaches of an attic area.  But just like the roof there are many Inspectors who will not walk the attic area.  The Texas SOP has no specific wording that requires the Inspector to walk through an attic area and does provide the Inspector the right to disclaim an attic as unsafe to walk.  Many Inspectors will not walk through an attic unless there are safely constructed access platforms for them to walk through the attic with.  Attics are generally not made for walking in so you rarely will find platforms to walk through an attic.  There are valid reasons for not walking an attic.  For example (but not all inclusive) are newer homes with 18″ + of insulation which makes it near impossible with safely finding ceiling joists without severe disruption of the insulation.  In one case I had an inspection where the attic suffered major fire damage and was improperly repaired making it dangerous to even access it at the opening.  Make sure that you advise your Inspector that you want the attic walked thoroughly if safe to do so, and watch out for disclaimers in contracts contrary to that.
  • The crawlspace – Just as roofs and attics are so often forgotten in a homeowner’s maintenance tasks the crawlspace is even less attended to.  So many issues can occur of significant importance in the crawlspace.  The Texas SOP requires that the crawlspace be accessed and fully crawled unless unless unsafe to do so.  The crawlspace even on a smaller home can take considerable time to properly inspect and document issues found.  If an Inspector does not perform a crawl, or does not inspect the entire crawlspace, they must provide valid reasoning why.  I have been in some very nasty and tight crawlspaces and will not back out until I have exhausted all efforts to make it around and inspect all areas.  Unfortunately this is another area that the less than stellar Inspectors will attempt to use the “Safety” or “No Access” argument not to perform a proper crawlspace inspection.  You need to make sure your Inspector will make every attempt to crawl or give you ample reasons why they could not.  Also make sure the Inspector is aware that there is a crawlspace present that requires inspecting so that do not attempt to disclaim it in their contract.

So why is a home inspection needed?  Move on to the next tab for more good points to consider.

[tab: Why You Need One]

I’ve inspected homes for people from various building trades and professions.  Of all the reasons they gave a home builder I inspected for said it the best.  The builder wanted an inspection from an independent Inspector because he really liked the home but wanted to remove his personal emotions, and love for the home, that could otherwise blind him from seeing problems that might be there.  We are all only human and sometimes we become blinded by emotions when buying a home.  After all it is the perfect home for us and that is why we make the offer to buy it.  Unfortunately emotions have a tendency at times to cloud our judgment and can lead to possible bad choices.  A Home Inspector is an independent party who approaches a home with a trained eye and no emotions.  The Home Inspector’s job is to review the home and find issues to make sure the buyer is aware of the condition of the home.  The Home Inspector has no financial interest in the home and does not benefit regardless of whether you purchase the home or not.

There are of course other reasons why you need a home inspection.  One of the other important ones is to help you make a decision as to whether your offer price properly reflects the value of the home to you.  Before you made the offer on the home no doubt you viewed it more than once or twice.  You have seen items that require attention and have factored them into your offer price.  But there are not only areas of the home you could not view, but there might also be issues you could not find from a normal home viewing.  For example a buyer normally does not crawl around crawl spaces to check for problems there.  You might also have seen a nice, clean looking water heater but did not know it was almost 20 years old and had operational issues with it.  There are so many different aspects that a home inspection covers where your short home viewing does not.  Even a large list of small dollar repairs can quickly add up to a sizable repair bill.

Whether your Home Inspector finds a large list of items, or almost nothing at all, the money spent on a home inspection is well worth it!

[tab: Links and References]

PS Inspection & Property Services LLC is a full service home inspection and light commercial inspection company servicing the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  We strive to for the satisfaction of our customers in everything we do.  Our services offerings include:

Buyer home inspections
New Home Warranty Inspections
New Home Draw Inspections
Home Maintenance Inspections
Home Remodeling Inspections
Investor Inspections
Rental And Renter Inspections
Infrared Thermal Imaging Inspections
Energy Audit Inspections
Whole Inspections Or Inspections Customized To Your Needs

If you have an inspection need we can customize an inspection for it.  Please visit our main site at PS Inspection & Property Service LLC.

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