When Things Go Wrong
There may come a time that you discover something wrong with the house, and you may wonder if your home inspector let you down. There are a few things to consider:
Intermittent or Concealed Problems
Some problems can only be discovered by living in a house. They cannot be discovered during the few hours of a home inspection. For example, some shower stalls leak when water bounces off people in the shower, but do not leak when you simply turn on the tap. Some roofs and basements only leak when rain is very heavy or is accompanied by wind from a certain direction. Some problems will only be discovered when carpets were lifted, furniture and storage are moved or finishes are removed.
These problems may have existed at the time of the inspection but there were no clues as to their existence. Lawyers call these latent defects. Our inspections are based on the past performance of the house. If there are no clues of a past problem, it is unfair to assume we should foresee a future problem. Home inspectors do not identify latent defects.
We Always Miss Some Minor Things
Some say we are inconsistent because our reports identify some minor problems but not others. Any minor problems noted were discovered while looking for significant problems that would affect the typical person’s decision to purchase. We note them simply as a courtesy.
A home inspection is a sampling exercise with respect to components that are numerous, such as bricks, windows, and electrical receptacles. As a result, some conditions that are visible may go unreported. This is not a failing of the inspector but a result of sampling. A report by a second inspector will always be somewhat different than the first as a result of this sampling approach.
The common source of concern with home inspectors comes from comments made by contractors. Contractors’ opinions often differ from ours. Don’t be surprised when three roofers all say the roof needs replacement when we said that, with some minor repairs, the roof will last a few more years.
Last Man in Theory
While our advice represents the most prudent action in our professional opinion, many contractors are reluctant to undertake these repairs. This is because of the “Last Man In Theory”. The contractor fears that if he is the last person to work on the roof, he will get blamed if the roof leaks, whether or not the leak is his fault. Consequently, he won’t want to do a minor repair with high liability when he could re-roof the entire house for more money and reduce the likelihood of a callback. This is understandable.
Most Recent Advice Is Best
There is more to the “Last Man in Theory”. It is human nature for homeowner’s to believe the last bit of “expert” advice they receive, even if it is contrary to previous advice. As home inspectors, we unfortunately find ourselves in the position of “First Man In” and consequently it is our advice that is often disbelieved.
Why Didn’t We See It
Contractors may say “I can’t believe you had this house inspected, and they didn’t find this problem”. There are several reasons for these apparent oversights:
1. Conditions during Inspection
It is difficult for homeowners to remember the circumstances in the house, at the time of the inspection. It is easy to forget that it was snowing, there was storage everywhere in the basement or that the furnace could not be turned on because the air conditioning was operating, et cetera. It’s impossible for contractors to know what the circumstances were when the inspection was performed.
2. The Wisdom Of Hindsight
When the problem manifests itself, it is very easy to have 20/20 hindsight. Anybody can say that the basement leaks when there is 2 inches of water on the floor. Predicting the problem is a different story.
3. A Long Look
If we spent 1/2 an hour under the kitchen sink or two hours removing every electrical switch plate and cover plate, we’d find more problems too. Unfortunately, the inspection would take several days and would cost considerably more.
4. We’re Generalists
We are generalists; we are not specialists. The heating contractor may indeed have more heating expertise than we do. This is because we are expected to have heating expertise and plumbing expertise, roofing expertise, electrical expertise, etc. A home inspection is a generalist the same way a family doctor is a generalist. They have wonderfully broad knowledge, but are not cardiologists or neurosurgeons.
5. An Invasive Look
Problems often become apparent when carpets or plaster are removed, when fixtures or cabinets are pulled out, and so on. Many issues appear once work begins on a home. A home inspection is a visual examination. We don’t perform any invasive or destructive tests.
In conclusion, a home inspection is designed to better your odds. It is not designed to eliminate all risk. For that reason, a home inspection should not be considered an insurance policy or warranty. We know of no insurance company that offers a policy with no deductible, no exclusions, no limits and an indefinite policy period.
We hope this is food for thought.