Stop the scaremongering!


I tend to leave my fellow professionals alone when it comes to their way of inspecting.  We all do things differently, and while we might have an opinion on how to inspect homes, the vast majority of my peers are professional.

When you read the press however, it seem as if all Home Inspectors are incompetent.  The truth is actually the reverse.  In Ontario, Canada in 2014 there were over 200,000 homes sold.   The real estate industry suggest that 60% of those homes had home inspections.   That’s 120,000 home inspections.   The number of lawsuits successfully that prosecuted negligent Home Inspectors in Ontario in 2014, found trawling through CanLii, are….. well….none.

That’s 0 (zero) negligent Home Inspections out of 120,000.   Now I don’t want to trivialise the impact of a negligent Home Inspection, but that’s nothing like what we are subjected to by the Media.

Home Inspectors slammed by Mike Holmes Group again

Of course the favorite Inspector basher is none other than Mike Holmes.   So I was dismayed to see Mr Holmes used as the figurehead when someone else in his empire reported in a recent publication.

While most of the piece gives good advice to the public, it is where they allegedly report his findings on a home where I have a particular issue.

I’ll get to those in a minute.   First the good advice Mr Holmes spokesperson allegedly gives.

  • In some cities it’s a seller’s mar­ket, and you’re lucky to even buy a house or a condo. But if you buy the wrong one, you will lose it all and you will re­gret it
  • Too many peo­ple have gone bank­rupt and too many mar­riages have fallen apart be­cause of one bad de­ci­sion: Buy­ing a house that needs a for­tune to make right.
  • What’s the rush? I’d rather not buy a house than buy the wrong one, and you should too.
  • Some­times peo­ple get a home in­spec­tion and still end up buy­ing a lemon

Here’s where it all starts to go wrong.   The hypothesis for the reason this last statement is made is tendered as “Why? Be­cause they didn’t hire the right pro­fes­sional. Just be­cause they call them­selves a Home In­spec­tor doesn’t mean they’re any good.”

It can be plainly seen from the above statistical analysis that the Home Inspector is not, even usually, the cause for someone buying a lemon.   Most lemons get sold to people who don’t have Home Inspections.   Yep! count them,  there’s over 80,000 homes sold in Ontario last year alone that did not have a Home Inspection.  That’s 80,000 chances of a lemon.   The 120, 000 that did have Home Inspections generated……ZERO…..valid lawsuits.

Sorry Mr Alex Schuldtz of Mike Holmes Group, while I agree with you that not all Home Inspectors are good Home Inspectors, it’s not the main reason for people buying lemons!

Here’s some more good advice/bad/ugly advice from Mike Holmes Group.

1. The Good

  • Home­own­ers and home buy­ers need to ask the right ques­tions, es­pe­cially when hir­ing a Home In­spec­tor.
  • How long have you been in­spect­ing homes?
  • Are you cer­ti­fied? By who and what does that mean?

2.  The Bad

  • Are you in­sured?

3. The Ugly

  • What were you do­ing be­fore Home In­spec­tions? (You want some­one with a back­ground in home con­struc­tion.)

The Good advice above.

The right thing to do is ask the Home Inspector the questions that will identify they know what they are doing as a Home Inspector.  Inspectors that have been inspecting a long time should be good at their job, however they may use outdated techniques or use old practices that do not keep up with the modern requirements from the public.   Instead of just asking if they have been inspecting a long time, find out if they are current with technology, their education, do they go to educational conferences.   Check out their certifications.  A college course does not an inspector make.   If they are not a member of a Home Inspector Association or Society, what Standard of Practice do they abide by?  Do they have a code of ethics?  Without the peer support of an association they are operating alone, or within a franchise.  Some certifications expire, others do not.  Find out how you can find the Home Inspectors current status.

The Bad advice.

If a Home Inspector is insured, it’s not to protect you the consumer.  It’s to protect the Home Inspector against frivolous claims made by consumers (see statistics above) or to protect the inspector against their own negligence.  Choosing an inspector solely on the basis they are insured or not is bad advice.   You want a good Home Inspection from a good Home Inspector.   Getting you as a consumer to think Insurance gives you a piggy bank to claim against if you think the inspector has done something wrong is bad advice.  What Insurance gives the Home Inspector are the tools and the legal clout to defend themselves, even if they are in the wrong, against your ability to put your claim across.

I’m not saying a Home Inspector shouldn’t be insured.   All of us are in some way or other.

Some choose to insure themselves using large organisations that create programs to protect the Inspector.  The Home Inspector needs to charge you for that protection.  Others choose to insure themselves by performing excellent inspections, ensuring you understand the limitations of a Home Inspection and are there for you should something unexpected crop up afterwards.

Most professional Home Inspectors I know will help you with problems that were not visible on the inspection, just to ensure you are not ripped off by contractors.  It doesn’t make them liable for missing those items.

As for the Ugly advice.

Assuming that just because someone has been in the home construction industry before becoming a Home Inspector does not make a valid argument to say they will be a good Home Inspector.  Let’s face it, even Mike Holmes on his many TV appearances makes wild statements that a Home Inspector missed this, and a Home Inspector missed that after he’s ripped the walls open.   But who put the walls up wrong in the first place?  You guessed it, the guy who was in construction.

A Home Inspector should have all round knowledge of a home.  Not just the way it was constructed, and not just to modern code.   A professional Home Inspector should be like your family doctor.   A General Practitioner with excellent root cause analysis skills.   Your Professional Home Inspector should be able to identify a defect, analyse it’s probable cause and recommend who you should call in to fix the problems.   Your Professional Home Inspector should be able to give you the average lifespans of a component in the home, but has no way of knowing if the roof is going to leak early or a furnace is going to fail before it’s time any more than a General Practitioner can tell you when you are going to get a cold in the future or if you are going to die early from a heart attack.

The worst advice of all.

Don’t select your Home Inspector by the price they charge.   A cheap inspection is a cheap inspection.   If you think paying $300 or less for an inspection that takes less than 2 hours is good for you, best of luck.

I can tell you from my experience, to perform a thorough, professional, Home Inspection on a home up to 2,000 sq.ft. (total space including the space below ground that Realtors forget to mention in the listings) takes around two and a half-hours…..minimum.

Anything bigger than that you are looking at 3-4 hours.  Add to that the preparation of the paperwork, travel time, the analysis of any photographs and videos taken, the preparation of the report and any discussions you may want after you receive the report, you can be looking at 7-8 hours of time on your inspection.   Add to that the Inspector has to have a vehicle, tools and equipment, continued professional development.  This doesn’t add up to cheap.   A reasonable price to pay for a regular (less than 3,000 sq. ft.) Home Inspection is around $400-$500 plus tax.

In some areas, at some time of the year, or for repeat business you may get it less expensive, but it’s the real cost of providing a professional Home Inspection.  anyone who can continually do it for less is not running a full time home inspection career and are doing Home Inspections as a side business.

So at the beginning of this post I mentioned the article posted on behalf of Mike Holmes Group.    I said I’d get back to the findings posted in the article.   It’s very important as a Home Inspector to ensure you as my client are educated about the home you are either trying to sell (pre-sale inspection) or attempting to buy (buyers inspection).   Part and parcel of that education is making sure you understand not just the potential problems but also the chances of those problems happening.

The Home Inspection Report is a snapshot in time full-disclosure educational session.  Here’s the 101 on it.

First and foremost, inspectors don’t have X-Ray vision.  We can’t see through walls, or underground.

Second,  it’s not our house.  Unlike Mr Holmes in his HGTV programs, we can’t go round knocking holes in walls to see what’s hidden, we can’t move items that would damage the property, in any way.   Believe me, even a paint chip can create a court case from an irate sellers whose home failed to sell because of a negative report in a home inspection.

Third, we have to consider safety.   Yours, the homeowners and ours. If something is too heavy, too unbalanced to move we won’t move it.   If there are a couple of boxes in a basement hiding the foundation walls, and they are all easy to move and there is somewhere to move them to without damaging them, the home or any person, then a Professional Home Inspector will move them.  If an electrical panel or appliance appears old, damaged or in any other way compromised, a Home Inspector is not required to inspect them other than from a distance that ensures the inspectors safety.

So what about the items Mr Shudltz mentions in the media piece?   Lets take a closer look.

  1. Miss­ing down­spouts or down­spouts that di­rect wa­ter to the roof or foun­da­tion; could lead to leaks
    Not could….will, they Will lead to leaks.  Foundations are porous.  Some more than others.   Field stone walls leak through the mortar joints, block walls leak through the mortar joints and the blocks themselves, poured concrete is porous and will eventually allow water to diffuse through.  Even the modern “waterproof” barriers have nail holes.   I have never seen a hole that didn’t leak!   Keeping the foundation dry is the most important thing anyone can do to reduce the likelihood of water entering the foundations, basements and crawlspaces.
  2. Ver­ti­cal foun­da­tion cracks; more than one could mean struc­tural prob­lems, like a cracked foot­ing
    Or it could just be shrinkage cracks, or settlement cracks and the footings could be perfectly OK.  The actual shape of the crack, where it is in relation to the wall and other components and other cracks along with the loads on a wall and the soils or other things adjacent to the wall can tell a lot about what type of crack it is.   Deeply diagonal or horizontal cracks however are a totally different story.  Any crack that is excessive in its angle (over 45 degrees for example) or horizontal in the foundation wall, either above or (especially) below grade should have a structural engineer report on it.
  3. Miss­ing in­su­la­tion in the at­tic and/or ex­te­rior walls; leads to higher en­ergy bills and po­ten­tially mould
    Mould requires moisture, if the attic and walls are properly ventilated, it’s unlikely mould will grow.   I’ve seen more mould in “insulated” homes that I have in those homes with none.
  4. Trees and houses don't mixTrees next to the foun­da­tion; could get into plumb­ing and in­ter­fere with proper wa­ter drainage around the home
    The roots might get into the plumbing (hopefully not the trees themselves) but what about the possible compromise to foundation walls themselves of the fact that some trees drain the water from the soil compromising it too.
  5. Lights that flicker; could mean some­thing’s wrong with the elec­tri­cal
    With the electrical what?   Electrical light, electrical panel, electrical wiring.  I have fluorescent lights that flicker when the ballast fails, it wouldn’t stop me buying a house.   Being precise in identifying the symptoms is as important as being precise when identifying the possible causes.
  6. Blocked sof­fit vent­ing; leads to poor air cir­cu­la­tion and pos­si­bly mould
    Unless there’s another form of ventilation to replace it!  There are thousands of older homes that don’t have soffit vents, there are tens of thousands of new homes that don’t have soffit vents,  I don’t hear of mould popping up in all these homes.
  7. Mouse drop­pings and in­sect wings (could mean ter­mites)
    I blame this on the journalistic writing as I don’t believe anyone in the Home Inspection profession could relate mouse droppings to termites.  Termites are pretty devastating to timber framed properties, so proper identification of them is important.   I wouldn’t make that call solely on seeing a lot of wings.   They could be ant wings, bee wings, fly wings or even Paul McCartney and Wings.  Saying a home has termites just because you see wings is analogous to saying someone has lung cancer just because they have a cough.   There is a host of evidence that would be visible in the case of termites or for that matter any other wood destroying organism (WDO).
  8. Patch jobs on the walls and ceil­ing; could mean a leak
    It could also mean little Johnny put his baseball through the wall while playing inside.  Again wild statements like this do not encourage me that an inspector, using such little visible evidence could professionally come up with a rational defence to making such an outlandish statement!

All the above indicate why you should choose a Professional Home Inspector.   We are trained to observe, identify, assess and then recommend, not as it would appear some might do from the article, just look and guess.

I couldn’t agree with the last sentence in the article more. “Buy­ing a house shouldn’t be like play­ing Rus­sian roulette. You should know that you are mak­ing a smart in­vest­ment.” 

That smart investment starts by choosing a Professional Home Inspector that is working for you, and actually knows what they are talking about.

A Professional Home Inspector will give you an unbiased, accurate, balanced view on the condition of the house, not some snippets from a Stephen King novel.

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