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Consumers Checkbook Review of Inspectors' Inspections

By
Home Inspector with Master Home & Building Inspections, LLC MD Lic 32336-VA Lic 1044

     Ran across this objective review of home inspectors by the Washington DC Consumers Checkbook (checkbook.org) performed in 2018, and was surprised by the results of a blind test of 12 inspectors abilities to locate 28 obvious problems. A rare inspector (like Rainman) will find everything in a home. It's just the nature of the way we process activities that are not repetitive of the same items. But to see that the highest number of defects located was 18 out of 28, was rather surprising. However, we don't know how Consumers Checkbook selected the 12 inspectors. Were they only listed in their database or did they go out to the number of inspector databases, associations, and Internet search engines? There is no criteria discussed in the article to give us the scope of how the 12 inspectors were chosen. We can only assume they were selected from the local Checkbook database.

     Many local Home Inspector chapter organizations do something similar every few years so we who wish to be embarrassed in front of our peers can perform a similar test inspection on a home in poor condition. We call them Peer Reviews. At the end of the inspection we provide a list of problems that we found and are graded on the number we found compared to what we missed. Some inspectors always hit the mark, although most miss something, or don't find it a problem. What's good about this process is it's a rare occasion that we compare ourselves and our inspection abilities to our experienced peers going through the same home. The only other time this might happen is on really large homes where we usually bring in another inspector to help reduce the time we'll be in the home.

     Let's review what items were missed and our thoughts on each:

1) Missing electrical covers - Unless they were hidden behind heavy pieces of furniture, refrigerator, or stove, that should have been obvious. We attempt to check every receptacle in every room unless there is no access or too many personal items that would have to be moved.

2) Evidence of moisture issue (past or present) in basement - This is a big one, but there is not any discussion of the specific visibly obvious condition or smell that should have triggered a red flag to note in the inspection report. We always say/write a common refrain: "Ask the Owner" when they should have the answer to a question with an unknown answer.

3) Considerable rot on overhead wooden porch beam - This should have been obvious as a replace and possible support issue.

4) "Poor" grading around one corner of the home. Not sure what "poor" represents, but regularly we call out negative or flat surfaces around the foundations where water can collect and pool until they saturate the soil, potentially leaking into the basement or crawl space. We have a required selection in our reports that requires a comment on foundation grading and slope.

5) Two indoor electrical outlets inoperative - This is a big one. What buyer would want to find out that one or more outlets in their new home do not work when they move in? As stated before, we check all outlets we can reach and get our tester to plug into. However, we only test one plug in each dual outlet, even though sometimes one of the two is worn out. It's simply a matter of not doubling the time spent on this testing process.

6) Railing for basement stairs very loose. - Safety issue. We call these out 'cuz railings need to hold the weight of 200 lbs of a person who may be falling down and is holding on expecting the railing is going to save them from injury.

7) Considerable water damage on ceiling of living room. - The key word here is "visible". The inspector who included 201 pictures in his inspection report should have gotten a good picture of this area and stated "Needs more investigation to determine if the leak staining is a past issue or may be a current ongoing issue that needs immediate repair." The rule to remember: If it's visible to an average person, it should be seen by the inspector and documented in the report.

8) Damper for the fireplace missing. - We crawl on our back to take a look up into the firebox and chimney opening to see what we can see into the blackness. this is almost as bad as working our way through a crawlspace, as we never know what kind of debris is going to decide to fall from the flue while we are looking up. We work the damper when there is one, and sometimes when they have not been used in so long, they break or fall down or don't work at all.

9) Roof shingles missing or loose. - If the roof is more than one story high, we typically do not attempt to put a ladder up unless we can get to the edge to view the gutter, drip edge installation, and any exposed wood and potential rot. Roughly 50% of home inspectors make a similar choice, with some finding other virtual ways to view the roof surface. If the roof can be seen somewhere from the ground, a nearby hill, or neighbors raised porch, we'll get some good shots with our telephoto camera lens. Most times this give a good indication of the condition. If the client or the underwriter requests a physical inspection, we'll bring a long ladder or recommend a roofing company perform the roof inspection. However most roofing companies will only provide a free replacement estimate, charging between $225 and $500 for a condition report.

10) Garbage disposer very noisy. - We run the disposer and write it up if it rattles or looks excessively rusty inside the grinding chamber, as many of these are low quality with a 1-5 year warranty and end up freezing up with rust soon after the warranty ends.

11) Large leak underneath the kitchen sink. - All the faucets and toilets should be flushed and checked for instant leaks. Some inspectors will run faucets for 5 minutes or more to determine if any leaks will show up or drains will clog. Generally, we've found that leaks and clogs will show up pretty quickly if the home is occupied. Foreclosures and flipped homes are a different animal and require more in-depth operation. One thing we do check is the pop-up operation and the functionality of the overflow pipes (when there is one), since many of them do not work or are clogged.

12) Heavy build-up of creosote in fireplace and/or chimney - This condition is pretty obvious just by shining a flashlight and camera up into the fireplace and flue area.

13) Shower head in basement bathroom needs replacement - The condition as they described it was: the head sprays "water everywhere". That would have been located by turning on the faucet valves to check for their condition, checking the spout and shower operation, and checking the drainage flow and any installed tub stopper system functions. Occasionally we get wet running water through all the fixtures in a home.

14) Clothes dryer vent damper stuck open. - Unless it's on the roof or so high up with an animal cover, we can see it, reach it, open the door to see inside, and see if it naturally returns to a closed position, keeping mice and other small animals from gaining access to the home and its occupants and their food.

15) Lock for first-floor bathroom window is broken/missing. - As with electrical outlets, we test (unlock, open, close & lock) all the windows in the home that can be reached without moving furniture or occupants personal items. If we get more than two or three windows that fail and have a major malfunction, we'll then continue with random testing, as the recommendation to the client will be that major repairs or replacement of windows will need to be performed.

16) One storm door missing a closer function. - If I'm reading it correctly, the storm door closer is missing. That's an obvious defect that is found when we operate all the exterior (and interior) doors and locks.

17) Two outdoor electrical outlets broken (with wiring cut and capped). - Repeating...This is an observable defect, unless hidden by furniture, storage, materials, or equipment.

18) One window with defective sash balance. - The defect of broken or stuck balance mechanisms is very common, and is found simply by lifting and attempting to close the bottom sash. Many if not most of these failures on vinyl window come from the build-up of dirt and debris on the guides and rails, causing them to bind and drag until the mechanism cannot resist the binding and breaks. We always recommend vinyl windows receive cleaning of the frame components and lubrication with silicone spray or other lubricant which will dry on the surfaces not allowing the collection of debris.

19) Drain for utility sink in laundry room clogged. - Returning to plumbing...testing of the faucet and drain functions would have located this problem.

20) Clear evidence of rodents (traps, droppings, access holes, odor) - We can't disagree with this one. If it's visible or you can smell something unusual, it should be noted. However, this issue is not in any of the home inspector training or testing that I know of. Unless one comes from a pest control background, much of this knowledge comes from basic experience.

21) Trees and landscaping in much need of care and trimming. - Unless the trees and bushes are encroaching on or touching the structure of the home, it would be considered a personal choice item. However, we are required to comment on "vegetation".

22) Doorbell inoperative. -How does a home inspector introduce himself or herself to the home? Press the doorbell button when they arrive at the front (or side) door. We know if it works just like that.

23) Missing drip edge on roof. - Going back to roof inspections, if we can get to the edge of any one part of the roof with a 12 foot ladder, we'll take a look at the gutter and roof edge. One thing to keep in mind is that most large new home builders are no longer using drip edge, and the only reason we can think of is cost savings. Instead they are lapping aluminum flashing under the roofing materials, over the facia board and down behind the gutters. That protects the wood and extended structure, but does not provide the "drip edge" functionality which allows water that gets under the edge of the roof shingles to fall "into" the gutters. In many cases we've found, the roofers extend the first course of shingles far into the gutter so as the sun heats them, they will sag down and act somewhat like a drip edge, but over time the bend will crack and eventually fall off.

24) Fireplace ash pit secured with a wooden (flammable) door - If it was not hidden behind something, it should have been called out as a safety issue in the reports, and that has to be one of what we inspectors take a picture of and add to a collaborative "hall of shame" which documents incredibly bad and dangerous installations found in homes on a regular basis.

25) Filters for window A/C units very dirty - Window A/C units and portable microwaves are not something inspectors are required to inspect, as they may be removed when the seller moves out. We do turn them on and see if they start up, but do not check them for cooling ability. In the report we note only that the home has window units. If the unit is in a room without another heating source,we do check them for a functioning ability to heat the room as that is a requirement for habitability of that interior space.

26) Water damage to walls and ceiling of second floor bathroom - Same thing as #7 above, if it's visible it should be written up as evidence of past or current water leakage.

27) Two sets of blinds in family room broken - Again, not inspected because they may be removed and are considered personal effects. Even if they are not operational, we will manually lift them up or out of the way to test the windows behind if they are accessible.

28) Hinges to vanity door in one bathroom very loose - We open and close all cabinet doors and drawers in the home that we can reach from the floor, looking for loose or broken hinges or drawer slides, and for improper alignment, fit, and binding or hitting of neighboring materials or appliances.

     So would we have located and noticed and written up all these 28 defects (less the window units & blinds)? Probably, hopefully. However, we possibly do miss something in every home since we are spendiing only minutes in each room looking at the common and required systems and materials, and there are always hidden defects that cannot be seen.

     In conclusion, it is surprising that these selected inspectors missed so many of the defects, or felt that they were not enough of a defect to call them out in the report. The Consumers Checkbook comments on the comments in the inspection reports deserves more discussion, as we believe the report is the value of the service and needs to provide the relevant information to the client in a complete and understandable way that is useful to the client as part of their purchase decision, and maintenance and understanding of their future home. For a client or Consumers Checkbook looking for a qualified and effective home inspector, it really comes down to a more intense evaluation of the inspector(s) prior to the needed inspection that the time limitation typically does not permit. Like choosing doctors, lawyers, and some other professions, it can take some time, and trial and error to find one that really works for you. Many home buyers only get a home inspection because their Realtor tells them they need one, and some clients only ask one question concerning the price.

     Reviews, while beneficial, in most cases do not provide the kind of depth of service quality that is necessary to make an informed decision. In another article by Consumers Checkbook (www.checkbook.org/washington-area/home-inspectors/articles/How-to-Inspect-Your-Home-Inspector-7030), they discuss the many items that a client should review before hiring an inspector, and it's one of the best compilations I have seen online. And as it should be, they state their #1 criteria for "[learning] the most about inspectors [is] by comparing their reports. Ask for lots of samples and check them to make sure they are lengthy, thorough, and include pictures and notes that clearly describe each problem." We agree. While many folks just want to know the issues to determine if the home is worthy of their purchase, and that they are "comfortable" with the condition, think of the report as documentation of a physical for the home that will guide you with maintenance items, and may answers to questions that come up once you own the home. If the report does not meet that level of detail, you may not be getting all the information you need to make an informed decision on the home.

     The inspector evaluation article can be found here: https://www.checkbook.org/washington-area/home-inspectors/articles/We-Got-12-Home-Inspections-and-Were-Astonished-at-How-Poorly-Many-of-the-Inspectors-Performed-7029