The Bear in the Doghouse!

Home Inspector with Charles Buell Inspections Inc.


Just because you do not see the bear in the woods does not prevent one that is there from biting you.

What is that dang dog digging up now?Most home inspector standards of practice attempt to protectc (or absolve) the home inspector from some of these bears that might turn around and bite them where the sun does not shine.

The ASHI Standards of Practice reads like this (under General Exclusions), the inspector is not required to determine:

11. the presence of potentially hazardous plants or animals including, but not limited to, wood destroying organisms or diseases harmful to humans including molds or mold-like substances.

12. the presence of any environmental hazards including, but not limited to, toxins, carcinogens, noise, and contaminants in soil, water, and air.

The Washington State Standards of Practice reads like this (under Exclusions & Limitations), the inspector is not required to:

(3) Report the presence of potentially hazardous plants or animals including, but not limited to, wood destroying insects or diseases harmful to humans; the presence of any environmental hazards including, but not limited to mold, toxins, carcinogens, noise, and contaminants in soil, water or air; the effectiveness of any system installed or methods utilized to control or remove suspected hazardous substances.

It is through these “exclusions” that most inspectors attempt to deal with a myriad of issues that they, the agents, and their buyers would just as soon do not exist.  However, in the end, it is the buyer that will be faced with dealing with these “bears.”  Finding out about them after the fact, might just result in the bear being set loose on the inspector and/or agent.

The way I see these exclusions is to mean that the home inspector cannot possibly be responsible for any bears that simply do not give themselves away.  Isn’t this only logical?  The woods is no doubt full of bears but if they are all sleeping during the day, away in some shady cave, how is the inspector to know?  Obviously he cannot.

On the other hand, if in the process of walking through the woods, the inspector stumbles upon a sleeping bear, would it not be prudent to warn others people in the vicinity—all the while carefully backing away from the bear—and hopefully not waking it?

There is a long list of these sorts of bears in any home—but especially older homes.   Take for example vermiculite—a substance known to have a high probability of asbestos (in fact the EPA says to “assume” vermiculite contains asbestos).  While the inspector might be within his or her right to ignore this “bear” and say absolutely nothing about it to the buyer, does this provide an acceptable “level of care” for the client?

If the inspector discovers that the heating system duct work in the recently nicely remodeled and flipped home are yellow with the signs of heavy cigarette smoking, does he or she say nothing?

How about the mold covered wall where the bed has been shoved up against the wall?

There are also the bear cubs that must be dealt with—those items in the house that are “possibly” problematic—where problems associated with them might be a little less conclusive.  For example all sorts of floor covering materials may or may not have asbestos.  To me, mentioning that some of these bear cubs are known to contain asbestos and some don’t and to recommend testing in the context of remodeling is a prudent level of care that informs the client and protects the inspector.

Ahhhhh!!! I see now!

I find it a little difficult to understand how hiding behind the “exclusions” of our Standards of Practice either protects us as inspectors or does real service to our clients.

To me, the exclusions are meant to cover our butts when there is in fact a bear in the house but there is no way for us to know.  Does this open the door to someone else claiming that the bear was clearly visible and the inspector should have seen it?  Of course it does—but that door is always open anyway and pretending otherwise is just another version of ignoring the bear in the woods.

These exclusions are also meant to protect us from all the new types of bears that have yet to be recognized.  There once was a time when there were no Asbestos Bears, Lead Bears, Oil Tank Bears, or Meth Lab Bears.

In the end, if you saw a bear sleeping in the dog house in the back yard—would you say nothing about it?


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle


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Dana Basiliere
Rossi & Riina Real Estate - Williston, VT
Making deals "Happen"

Charles, Inspectors have to tell it like it is. "Call a bear a bear" Oh, and I hope that dog comes up for air.   DanaB

Feb 08, 2013 11:03 PM #23
Dagny Eason
Dagny's Real Estate - Wilton, CT
Fairfield County CT, CDPE Homes For Sale and Condo

Your posts are always fun to read - I like full disclosure from my inspectors so my buyers can make educated decisions on the houses they are purchasing.    With full explanations too! 

Feb 08, 2013 11:11 PM #24
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Charlie, Great post, glad you did not use "Honey Badger" because he don't care ; )

Feb 08, 2013 11:16 PM #25
Marshall Brown
Mid America Inspection Services, LLC - Fargo, ND

Years ago, when I was in home inspector training, I was told that the majority of the exclusions and limitations in our inspection agreement were based on our lawyers responding to unhappy client's lawyers assertions.


My own thoughts after the years is that, it is more important that our clients be aware of what we do not do than what we do. These are the things they need to obtain further help on if they have concerns. You can call it CYA or simply an attempt to make certain the clients know what they should expect, and not expect, from their inspection.


We home inspectors offer a service and frankly most clients, and unfortunately many Realtors, only have a vague idea what exactly it entails. If you follow the home inspector forums you'll see that even home inspectors don't fully agree. Our company tries to make certain our clients are advised of the SOW/SOP so as to not have unwarranted expectations. We also try to stick closely to our association's SOP.


The bottom line is; "Have we helped reduce the chances of the client making an inappropriate decision about the property?" Oh yeah, and not gotten sued!




Mid-America Inspection Services, serving Fargo and West Fargo, North Dakota, Moorhead, Alexandria, Fergus Falls, Detroit Lakes, Wadena and the Minnesota Lakes Region


 218-443-3555, 320-846-0004, 218-287-0877, 218-841-0444


Feb 08, 2013 11:33 PM #26
Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA
Douglas Elliman Real Estate - Southampton, NY
...Finding Your Place In The sun!

Charles: Love the analogy and the photos--I have often wondered how some inspectors seem to be able to give a house a clean bill of health even when there are pretty obvious problems...It used to be that this one inspector in particular was used all the time by realtors who did not want to make waves. He is much less popular now that he and his company have been sued by someone back into the dark ages. I respect your opinions and your candor in your posts--it is a complement to you and your company and I wish I had someone like you here in the Hamptons!

Feb 08, 2013 11:43 PM #27
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
your real estate writer

Ah - the difference between client care and hiding behind standards of practice.

Yes! If you see a bear in the dog house, say so! Maybe it isn't legally required, but it is certainly morally required.

Feb 09, 2013 01:03 AM #28
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jay that sounds like a good policy :)

Erica, that sounds very frustrating and I have heard of such inspectors---pretty useless really

Francine, as am I

John, indeed :)  It makes one wonder how many other sleeping ones there are right now.

Clint, anyone that did not "assume" the materials on that ductwork is asbestos is in for a world of hurt :)

Scott, thanks---yes, I often point out the "Bamboo Bear" as well :)

Jon, let's just say it was a very big dog :)

Lyn, yes, it is the assumptions that come back to haunt us when we are wrong

Dana, the picture reminds me of my beagle pulling skunks out of the woodpile :)

Dagny, that is what we strive for on every inspection.

Don, I have heard bad things about badgers

Marshall, I have no problem with the SOP's as long as they are not used as a shield interpreted in a way to withhold information

Paula, thanks, I think those types of inspectors are rapidly disappearing as we have a more knowledgeable buying public looking for our services.

Marte, yes---it is following the Moral SOP that is important.

Feb 09, 2013 01:55 AM #29
Jim Basquette
Basquette Real Estate Group of Keller Williams - Cincinnati, OH

I say disclose what you know and what you suspect and be sure to note the difference between the two.  The standards are there to protect you from things you could not see.

Feb 09, 2013 02:15 AM #30
Rob Renk
Center Street Lending - McKinney, TX
AE | Fast Fix/Flip Loans for Residential Investors

Great share, your blog posts are always so informative.  I learn so much from reading about your industry.  Thanks.

Feb 09, 2013 03:21 AM #31
Hella Mitschke Rothwell
(831) 626-4000 - Honolulu, HI
Hawaii & California Real Estate Broker
I actually did disclose a bear once. A little guy decided he wanted to live in the doghouse! But bears ate normal here in the Northwoods so we don't disclose unless a specific incident right around the sale.
Feb 09, 2013 03:57 AM #32
Dawn A Fabiszak
Private Label Realty ( Denver metro area, Colorado - Aurora, CO
The Dawn of a New Real Estate Experience!

Charles ~ my inspector is careful to explain that he can only inspect what he can see during the inspection.  He will also point out potential items that he does explain to the buyers that they may want to check with professionals for any issues.  But I do get your point.  Realtors can run into the same "disclosure" issues.  Great post!

Feb 09, 2013 04:47 AM #33
Sharon Sanchez
Ace Home Realty - Carson, CA
Your Number "1" Source For Real Estate.

Great post Charles.  As an agent, I have to do a visible inspection and disclose what I see.  So inspectors must disclose what they find, even it's a bear in the garage that may hurt the transaction.  Better to now, then to be sued later for non-disclosure. 

Feb 09, 2013 05:16 AM #34
Robert Butler
Aspect Inspection - Montreal West Island, QC
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection

If inspectors fail to identify all the bears or cubs there, in the sense of ignoring whatever is not obviously a problem, we would be ostriches with our heads in the sand. If that 'dog' was covering the fill pipe, where was the whistle pipe and was there an underground tank?

Feb 09, 2013 05:32 AM #35
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

You know I agree about the "bears". The SoP is a minimum, a place to start. It also serves to establish to all the "players" what is basically expected. It is not, nor should it ever be a shield. Those that use it as one often find out it can be pretty flimsy. 

Feb 09, 2013 05:43 AM #36
M. Lynn Delatte
Developers Realty - Broadview Heights, OH

I have had buyers buy a home when they were told that some of the heating duct insulation were likely asbestos, and I would have understood completely if they had backed out.  I think that a good inspector lets the client know what they see and then the buyer has an idea of the lurking "Bears."  I hate it when I hear that agents won't work with some inspectors because they point out too much.

Feb 09, 2013 09:39 AM #37
Travis "the SOLD man" Parker; Associate Broker
Team Linda Simmons, Enterprise, AL 36330 - Enterprise, AL
email: / cell: 334-494-7846

Poison ivy for ground cover (#20)....aaaaaaaaahahahaha - If I didn't regularly spray for it, I'd have PLENTY of it, and FREE!!

Feb 09, 2013 10:11 AM #38
Rafi Footerman
Mid Jersey Inspections - Edison, NJ
Home Inspector, Mold Inspector, Radon and More!

Actually, asbestos in vermiculite in this area is very rare.  Apparently the brand primarily used here did not have asbestos.  Nonetheless, I still point out the possibility.

Feb 09, 2013 12:17 PM #39
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jim, yes---and there can be quite a difference at times

Rob, thanks---glad you find the posts useful

Hella, that would be pretty cool to see---and way better than the bears I am talking about in most cases :)

Dawn, for sure.  I often see mistakes on the listings that could be very costly to the agent.

Sharon, that is the way I think about it as well.

Robert, for sure an underground tank.  We have very few tanks in the basement.

Jim, yes---and from what I see they are the ones being sued most often.

Lynn, some of this just has to do with lack of education.  For example if the buyer just wants absolutely no asbestos they should not be looking at pre 70's houses.

Travis, that would not be good

Rafi, interesting---we need to know our area as inspectors for sure.

Feb 09, 2013 02:17 PM #40
Robert Butler
Aspect Inspection - Montreal West Island, QC
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection

Does that mean you are allowed to have underground tanks? Here that's a big no-no. Tanks have to be above ground if outside (rare) or in basements and garages (common). Fuel lines to combustible equipment, normally copper are not to be encased in cement slabs or mortar and be sheathed in a red or orange vinyl cover for visibility.

Feb 09, 2013 11:44 PM #41
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Robert, I actually don't know if they are still allowed or not---good question.  So few people are putting in new oil furnaces---except as replacements.  Not sure I have ever seen a brand new installation. That said we still have thousands of underground tanks still in use or abandoned.

Feb 10, 2013 12:15 AM #42
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