If you ask almost any home inspector in the country what their inspection covers, you’ll get almost the same answer every time – a short version of the minimum requirements of the Standards of Practice. That minimum, in Louisiana, generally takes under half an hour for an inspector to complete and if that’s all you get, you’ll wonder why you even bothered to hire a home inspector in the first place. What each particular inspector covers actually depends on three things:
1) What can he see. He can’t inspect what’s hidden in walls, etc.
2) How much does he know about houses? How well does he read them?
3) How well can he write? No amount of inspection skill in the world can make up for an inspector that cannot write.
4) How hard will he work for you?
When asked what I cover, I tell my prospects that I generally cover whatever I can see. Except for contractual and regulatory limitations and exclusions, that about says it.
Repair prices are the next step following receipt of the inspection report. Buying a house is a financial transaction and the major findings of a report must be translated into dollars to realize potential value. When looking for a source of repair prices, the home inspector is the nearest one among the professionals so far involved in the home buying process so he becomes the bulls-eye. There is much pressure on him to furnish repair estimates for his findings and many do yield to such demands. As an inspector who is prohibited by law from completing any repairs on the house for one year, he’s no more qualified than the agent to render repair estimates. An estimate by either could be off by thousands of dollars on a single major repair and each discrepancy from the eventual repair cost could represent a loss to the buyer. With a signed bid from a contractor, the potential loss becomes negligible since the contractor has signed a contract, contingent on the sale of the house, to complete the repair for a previously agreed amount.
A very wide range in expertise can be found among home inspectors that all meet the same state requirements and offer the same home inspection service. That’s because the classroom requirement for home inspectors is only 90 hours. Almost anyone can be a home inspector. I have an excellent 8 1/2 by 11 book recently written for home inspectors. It has over 300 pages and covers only the electrical aspects. Electrical is but one of 8 topics that I consider crucial to the knowledge of home inspectors. A home inspector cannot be taught all this in just 90 hours. The requirement is only for 90 hours because that’s pretty much all that’s available in this country. Washington State has a 120 hour requirement but that’s about it. No one in this country has yet to successfully write and market a curriculum that can properly prepare an individual for a career as a home inspector. If you chance upon a knowledgeable inspector, it’s because that inspector has taught himself his job. It’s the only way to learn it.
There are several professional societies that home inspectors can join. Membership fees are as high as about 400 dollars per year. Most of these dollars go towards promoting the membership. Education was once their primary aspect but competition from other societies has changed that. Education now is just the guise. Once possessed of a meaningful mission, they now amount to little more than a ‘chest thumping’ bunch of societies.
One particular society automatically grants certification once you join with no additional testing required. They have a logo for inspector members to attach to a badge, brochure, website or even embroidered to their shirts. Nearly any home inspector can join any society as long as he pays the fees. Some may require a review of a number of inspection reports before granting full membership.
If a seller agrees that a problem or issue needs to be fixed, don’t let him fix it himself. Ask him to amend the sale price so that YOU can fix it once you become owner of the house. He has no vested interest in fixing it properly because it won’t be his problem once the house is yours.
The best way to find a good inspector is the same method you’d use to find a good author…read their works. In the case of home inspectors, ‘works’ refers to sample reports or any actual report that you can get your hands on, including those that friends and family might have. There’s hundreds of sample reports available online. Judging inspection reports is a skill, a skill that is acquired by reading reports. When honing that skill, there’s no need to limit your search to local inspectors. Any sample report from anywhere in the country is fine. Once you’re able to discern good reports from lousy ones, you can begin searching for your inspector by looking for sample reports from inspectors in your area.
If a particular inspector has gotten your attention but doesn’t have an online sample report, call him and ask for one. If he doesn’t have any, it’s my suggestion that you keep looking. Inspectors with good reporting skills like to brag and disseminate their sample reports. Inspectors with poor reporting skills don’t want you to see what you’re going to get until he’s hired and paid.
Prior inspection reports?
You might be offered a previous inspection report by an agent or even the seller to use as your own. The problem with these reports is that they might be found invalid later because you didn’t actually commission them, someone else did since that report doesn’t bear your name. Also, if the inspection was done before you signed the Louisiana Residential Agreement to Buy or Sell, it’s invalid because it was done outside of the ‘due diligence’ period. If the ‘due diligence’ period has passed by the time you learn that the inspection is invalid, you will find yourself obligated to complete the purchase of the house without further option to have it inspected. Another issue is that an inspector is strongly influenced by the entity that pays for his services. Since the seller and agent both have transactional interests that collide with the buyer’s, the buyer’s interests are betrayed by using such reports. Always hire someone that answers only to you.
Buyers of newly constructed homes often think that the house must be perfect because it’s new. Much faith is put into the building codes and into local code enforcement authorities. The truth is that the perfect house is a myth and that building codes are only bare minimum requirements. They are a point from which to begin rather than a point to strive for.
A lot of misunderstanding results when a builder tells a buyer that their new house is code-compliant because it has passed all code inspections. That’s not necessarily the truth. Passing a particular parish’s code inspection and complying with the Louisiana Uniform Construction Code are two different things.
Many provisions of the Louisiana Uniform Construction Code are not enforced by the individual parishes and municipalities, for political reasons. Builders might not like certain features and complain about it. Local government officials don’t want their popularity to dwindle, so they sometimes accommodate builder complaints by relaxing certain requirements. I say ‘relaxing certain requirements’ but what’s actually happening is that they ‘don’t enforce certain requirements’. Louisiana adopts the building codes but leaves enforcement to the individual parishes and municipalities.
Unless your build contract includes specifications in addition to ‘pass all local code inspections’, you may find issues on your new home when you do the walk-through with the builder and when you receive your home inspection report. I’ve inspected hundreds of newly constructed homes, none were without issues. Most had at least one major issue.
Home inspectors generally are not code inspectors. Very few are versed and registered as such but some do have high familiarity with code requirements and use that knowledge when they write reports. Unless they are licensed by the state they aren’t allowed to proclaim compliance or non-compliance but they can use citations from code books in their reports.
The Louisiana Board of Home Inspectors regulates competency by use of a Standards of Practice (SOP). It’s what most states that regulate home inspectors do, but how can an SOP list all of the thousands of things that can go wrong on a house? It’s a faulty concept that the bar for HIs can be set with an SOP. It doesn’t work. The way to regulate competency is to require a certain level of education but with only a 90 hour classroom course available, that doesn’t work either.
A 3rd party code inspector is a state registered code inspector that works for himself or a private company instead of a city or parish government. Ethically, his clients would be the folks that are buying new homes but there is no law stopping him from directly working for the builder instead.