General contractor vs. home inspector: Who’s right for the job?

I am frequently asked “Why should I hire a Home Inspector to inspect a home when I could just as easily hire a General Contractor?”

Well, in Ontario at the time this piece is being written, there is no requirement for Home Inspectors to be regulated in law, so you could do, but let’s look at the reasons you might think you would want to choose  a general contractor over a home inspector.

General Contractors are more qualified than Home Inspectors

A General Contractor is not usually someone who knows everything about a home and how it’s constructed, but is more of a project manager.  Sure they may have worked in the construction industry, but that doesn’t mean that actually know how things are built.   They are their to ensure all the correct trades, such as electricians, plumbers, framers, roofers and HVAC installers do their jobs, and are responsible to the client for anything going wrong.  A Professional Home Inspector undergoes many hours of training to ensure that have the requisite knowledge of all the components of a home such that they can identify defects and report then in a way to the client that the client understands.  While a General Contractor may be more qualified to manage specialist trades who know intimate details about each component, it is likely when it comes to the overall building and defect recognition, a Professional Home Inspector with a recognised certification is far more capable in performing a Home Inspection at a cost that the client can afford, in a time-frame that is required and in a manner that gives a concise easy to read report such that the client can make up their own mind as to whether to buy or sell a house in the condition found.

General Contractors have an incentive for finding defects

This is true.  This is also a serious conflict of interest.  Any findings in a Home Inspection report that resulted in money being made repairing the defects could be considered suspect.

A Professional Home Inspector must abide by a strict code of ethics that prohibits all conflicts of interest.  This means not only can they perform work on a home they have inspected, they can’t benefit from contractors referred to perform repairs, and the most certainly should be paying to be referred by contractors or realtors, in money or in kind.   General Contractors general don’t have these stringent clauses in their code of ethics, where they even exist.

A Home Inspector will refer a General Contractor anyway

This is not necessarily true.   A Home Inspector is trained in default recognition.   Much like a general practitioner, a Professional Home Inspector is trained to identify root-cause-analysis of a defect and identify the correct person to fix as required.

Just as you would go to a General Practitioner for a medical check-up, only to be sent to a specialist if something is suspected, a Professional Home Inspector knows the difference between faults that needs specialist intervention and those that can be handles by a General Contractor or even a qualified DIYer.   A General Contractor will never refer another General Contractor to perform work, when they can make money out of doing things themselves or hiring the specialist at a premium.  This is another area for conflict of interest that a client is protected from by hiring a Professional home Inspector

A Contractor will know if the home is to code

OK.   We’ve all seen the HGTV programs where a famous general contractor goes around saying this isn’t to code or that isn’t to code.  A Home Inspection is NOT a code inspection.  There is a very good reason for this.   Codes Change.   For example, here in Ontario, Canada, we have the Ontario Building Code, the Ontario Electrical Safety Code, the Ontario Natural Gas Code, the TSSA Fuels Safety code along with a number of CSA coders that are referred to during construction, renovation and component installation.   It is almost impossible (except in a new build) to identify which code (if any) was in force when the home was built or changes made or component installed.   Having a General Contractor who runs around stating that things aren’t “to code” in 2015 when the home was built 25-100 years ago is meaningless, scare-mongering and frankly inexcusable.    A Professional Home Inspector takes into account many things about a home that is being inspected, including it’s age, general condition, location,even the state of the furnishings to try to identify if defects are material or cosmetic and caused by serious concerns or just general lack of maintenance.   A General contractor is working to a measure that older homes cannot be measured to.   Some older homes may not be “built to code” but many are built above and beyond the modern code, because they use components and techniques not even used today.

Clearly, it can be seen that there is nothing to stop anyone from hiring a General Contractor to perform a Home Inspection in Ontario.

The questions is: Given the possible conflicts of interest, the likely charges that would be incurred, the amount of time required to assemble the various specialists, the lack of a stringent standard of practice and code of ethics and the lack of all-round experience of inspecting homes objectively rather than as a means to earn more business, why would anyone want to?