October 08, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
If you’re about to hire a home inspector, or believe an earlier inspection overlooked a significant defect which is going to be expensive to repair, today’s story will be of special interest.
Chad, who lives near Sacramento, wrote: “In February, our home inspector gave us a detailed report, finding everything in pretty good shape, so we bought the house. In May, we turned on the A/C, but it did not produce cold air. We had to replace it at a cost of about $8,500.
“The home inspector did a poor job, and obviously missed something important. His report didn’t say anything about the A/C unit not working. I’ve been to three attorneys, two who told me to forget it and I didn’t have a case, but one wants to take the case, but requires being paid $7,500 up-front but claims that when we win, he will get what I’ve paid him back. Do you have any suggestions?”
Extremely common problem: not reading the report
We ran these facts by Joe Ferry, a Philadelphia attorney with an extremely interesting nationwide law practice advising home inspectors on how to do a good job and keep out of trouble with their customers.
Joe is one lawyer with a reputation for telling it like it is. “If an inspector contacts me with a claim, and I objectively find that it has merit — that something was overlooked — my advice is to pay the claim and do the right thing for your customer.”
But, in his experience, there are few valid claims, for a number of surprising reasons he outlined during our interview.
“In the past five years, we found only three cases out of 300 where an inspector missed something important. The problem is that the public generally does not understand what a home inspection entails.”
Inspectors do not have X-ray vision and cannot predict the future
“On a national basis, when claims against home inspectors are objectively examined, at least 90 percent of the time the inspection was correctly performed. But the homeowners thought the defect should have been discovered. Most people who hire an inspector have no idea of what a home inspection actually includes — they do not understand what it is that the inspector does,” he points out.
“I am not trying to be sarcastic, but some people think the inspector has X-ray vision and will find everything that has been wrong with the house in the past, is currently wrong with it and will be in the future. This is not at all accurate. A home inspection is a limited, noninvasive, visual inspection. These are important words, as the inspector is not looking at everything in the house, but at things which are within the Standards of Practice.
“The most common SOPs are: ASHI, American Society of Home Inspectors, INACHI, International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, and California has CREIA, California Real Estate Inspectors Association.
“Inspectors give their clients a copy of the standards — which set out what the inspector is going to look at — but, unfortunately, very few homeowners ever read them. So, when something goes wrong several months or years down the road, clients often believe the inspector is responsible, but that is rarely the case,” Ferry maintains.
“Another common problem is when a contractor tells a homeowner that the house they bought isn’t according to code and it will cost a great deal of money to bring it up to code. Homeowners understandably feel that the inspector should have brought this to their attention.
“But code determinations are not part of the Standards of Practice, and this is set out in the information provided clients,” Ferry stressed.
Homebuyers have an important role in the inspection process
“Homebuyers have an important role in the selection of a good inspector and the inspection itself. First of all, never use one suggested by the seller’s real estate agent. Get your own, by asking friends, using the net, Angie’s List, and possibly your own agent’s recommendations.
“When the client is present, inspectors tend to do a better job. So ask a lot of questions about their experience, how long they’ve done this kind of work, and how they got into the field. Get references. But do not be concerned about price. That is the last thing you should worry about,” Ferry advises.
His blog is Joeferry.com and anyone using a home inspector would be well advised to spend time reading some of Ferry’s recommendations.
Next week: We will tell you why our reader hasn’t got a prayer if he sues the inspector, as well as offer tips on what you can do to make that home inspection worth every dollar you pay for it.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.