What is a Real Estate Inspection?

As a consumer and home-buyer you have a right to know exactly what a typical real estate (home) inspection is.  The following information should give you a better understanding of exactly what your inspector will and will not do for you during the course of his/her inspection.

First and foremost an inspection is a visual survey of those accessible areas that an inspector can clearly see.  No destructive testing or dismantling is done during the course of an inspection, hence an inspector can only tell a client exactly what was clearly in evidence at the time and date of the inspection.  The inspectors eyes are not any better than the buyers, except that the inspector is trained to look for specific tell-tale signs and clues that may lead to the discovery of actual or potential defects or deficiencies.

Inspectors base their inspections on the current Industry Standards of Practice provided to them by their professional societies.  New York State has issued a Standard of Practice that is the LAW.  All NYS Licensed Home Inspectors must be in total compliance of this law in their inspecting and reporting.

These New York State Standards of Practice tell what the inspector will and can do – as well as what the inspector will not do.  Inspectors must give a copy of the Standards of Practice to their clients. If your inspector has not given you a copy, ask for one.

The Industry Standards and New York State Standards of Practice clearly spell out specific areas in which the inspector must identify various defects and deficiencies, as well as identifying the specific systems, components and items that are being inspected.  There are many excluded areas noted in the Standards that the inspector does not have to report on, for example; private water and sewer systems, solar systems, security systems, swimming pools, unattached sheds, lawn sprinkler systems etc.

The inspector is not limited by the Standards and if the inspector wishes to include additional inspection/testing services (typically for an extra fee) then he/she may perform as many specific inspection/testing procedures as the client may request.  Some of these additional services may include; a wood destroying insect inspection, septic dye test, radon test, or a variety of environmental testing, etc.

Most inspectors will not give definitive cost estimates for repairs and replacements since the costs can vary greatly from one contractor to another, many will however, for a fee.  Inspectors typically will tell clients to secure three reliable quotes from those contractors performing the type of repairs in question.

Life expectancies is another area that most inspectors try not to get involved in.  However, every system and component in a building will have a typical life expectancy, and these are discussed in Reveal Home Inspection’s report to you.  Some items and units may well exceed those expected life spans, while others may fail much sooner than anticipated.  An inspector may indicate to a client, general life expectancies, but should never give exact time spans for the above noted reasons.  To do otherwise would be irresponsible of the inspector.

The average time for an inspection on a typical 3 bedroom home takes three hours and more, depending upon the number of bathrooms, kitchens, fireplaces, attics, etc., that have to be inspected.  Inspections that take less than three hours typically are considered strictly cursory walk-through inspections and provide the client with less information than a full inspection.

Many inspectors belong to national inspection trade organizations.  These national organizations provide guidelines for inspectors to perform their inspections.  As the oldest – and most prestigious – national organization of home inspectors, the AMERICAN SOCIETY of HOME INSPECTORS (ASHI) provide educational materials and programs for its members in order to provide a continuing education for professional inspectors, as well as Certification Programs to establish and maintain qualifications and accountability.  Make sure that you, as a consumer, ask your inspector about his/her credentials and affiliations.

All inspectors should provide clients with written reports – New York State law requires it.  The worst type of report would be an oral report.  This type of report does not protect the client and also leaves the inspector open for misinterpretation and liability.  Written reports are better and come in a variety of styles and formats. The following are some to the more common types:

  1. Checklist with minimal comments
  2. Rating System with minimal comments
  3. Narrative report with either a checklist or rating system
  4. Pure Narrative report

The best type of report is a combination of all the systems with emphasis on narrative description, this best helps the reader fully understand the findings of the inspector and all of the ramifications of such findings. Any one reporting system is less than adequate.

Four key areas of most home/building inspections cover the exterior, the basement or crawlspace areas, the attic or crawlspace areas and the living areas. Inspectors typically will spend sufficient time in all of these areas to visually look for a host of red flags, tell-tale clues and signs of defects and deficiencies. As the inspector completes a system, major component or area, he/she will then discuss the findings with the clients-noting both the positive and negative features.

The inspected areas of a home/building will consist of all of the major visible and accessible electro-mechanical systems as well as the major visible and accessible structural systems and components of a building as they appeared and functioned at the time and date of the inspection.

Inspectors do not provide warranties or guaranties with their inspections and reports. Buyers should therefore not rely on the inspection as any form of insurance policy against any latent, hidden, concealed or future defects and deficiencies.

Following are some key points that buyers should remember:

  • Buyers should consult with and ask questions of owners and their representatives.
  • Reports are confidential and are meant exclusively for buyers, and not agents or owners.
  • No inspector will find each and every defect in a building, hence buyers should anticipate future typical defects and deficiencies which accompany the routine maintenance of any home.
  • A final walk-through inspection, by the new owners, should be carried out the day before final closing to double check the condition of the building.

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