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What is a home inspection?

A home inspector's job is to determine the condition of the home and its installed systems. It is different from an appraisal, which determines the current market value of the house. It is a very specific process and home inspectors set out to look for particular things in a home such as signs of water leakage and fire/safety/health hazards. Think of a building inspector as a detective. We search for clues that a house may offer and the clues add up to certain conclusions. Our main job is to identify major issues, or potential issues, associated with a property, not to catalogue every minor defect. But as a courtesy, our company will comment on many minor issues. Cosmetic items such as paint or window treatments are not addressed.

Most people have never hired a home inspector before and usually are not sure what to expect. All of the inspections performed by our company meet or exceed the standards set forth by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), which is the largest trade association in our field. A home inspection is the following:

  • VISUAL. That means the inspection is largely based upon information that is gathered visually, although some testing instruments are used. We cannot see behind closed walls, floors, ceilings, etc. If heavy storage or furnishings are present in the house, these items will limit the inspector's view as well. Ideally, the house should be vacant during the inspection, but this is usually not the case. Despite closed walls and furnishings/storage, a lot of information can be collected.

  • NON-INVASIVE. We are, after all, only guests in a seller's property and therefore must be as non-invasive as possible. This means that we don't make holes in walls, dig holes in the ground, or move furniture around for the most part. Some sellers regard an inspection of their home as a major intrusion and they may already under stress. So, we always try to be as sensitive to this and show as much respect to the seller as possible.

  • NON-TECHNICALLY EXHAUSTIVE. As home inspectors, we are trained to understand all systems in a house and we look for safety, health, and fire hazards as well as many things that involve spending significant amounts of money to cure. However, we are generalists, not technicians. For example, under-performance or problems in mechanical systems, such as the heating system or air conditioning, can be perceived, but often an exact diagnosis cannot be assessed. In such cases, further review by a qualified tradesperson may be recommended. Remember: rather than hiring a structural engineer, heating technician, electrician, plumber, air conditioning specialist, roofer, etc. to examine your house, a home inspection will cover all these areas and provide determination of areas of concern.

Here is what you should not expect from any house or building inspection:

  • A code compliance inspection. Code compliance verification depends on the examination of many things that are concealed by finished walls, as well as the status of building codes that were applicable at the time the building was built. For code compliance, consult with the local building department of a Certificate of Occupancy/Compliance, as they are the only authority who can definitively state whether a house is code compliant.

  • An inspection for hazardous materials, such as asbestos or chemical compounds. Except in the case of obvious visual evidence of hazardous materials, an inspection is not a comprehensive evaluation for hazardous materials. That type of inspection is called a Phase One Environmental Site Assessment.

  • A repair design. To the extent that defects are observed, approaches and sometimes related costs for effecting a satisfactory repair can be suggested. The actual design of the repair is a separate service that can be provided by any design professional, such as an architect.

  • A design evaluation. System design, whether for heating systems, cooling systems, or structural systems, typically involve complex calculations, not to mention that all components of the system must be visible, which is most often not the case. Even if such a design evaluation is within the expertise of the given inspector and and all pertinent information is available, such work is not within the scope of a typical house inspection.

  • A warranty or guarantee on the house and its systems and components. While we don't perform this service to provide a guarantee or warranty, our intent is to document the visible conditions of the property at the time of the inspection, as well as the probability of failure of major systems, based upon their ages and apparent conditions. In addition, we discuss maintenance needs with the client, and we can explain how the home systems operate. Home warranty insurance policies are often available from realty or insurance offices, if you're interested.