Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I’m writing to shred an article on your website that deals with home inspector liability. In it you say, “One way that home inspectors have addressed liability is to limit the scope of an inspection to defects that are visible and readily accessible.” This seems to be a blanket justification for the failure of home inspectors to report defects. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, inspection is defined as: “View or examine closely and critically especially in order to assess quality for shortcomings….” Given that definition, home inspectors don’t inspect: they express personal opinions. One solution would be for buyers and sellers to conduct their own inspections for obvious defects, instead of allowing home inspectors to pick their pockets. This would help to reduce the escalating costs of buying a home, typically caused by attorneys and others who ride the lucrative real estate gravy train. Edward

Dear Edward: The home inspection process is well defined by the Oxford Dictionary. But shouldn’t that definition be limited to conditions that are apparent to the five senses? Or should home inspectors be liable for conditions that are concealed within construction, beneath the ground, or behind personal property? To be consistent with your blanket condemnation of the home inspection profession, the Oxford definition could be modified to read, “View or examine closely and critically those conditions that are visible and accessible, as well as those that are not.”

The suggestion that buyers and sellers should conduct their own inspections invites an answer that is longer than the space of this column. To summarize, we should consider the following questions: How many buyers and sellers would be able to evaluate the wiring in an electric service panel? Would they recognize conditions involving over-fusing, improper grounding, or the use of a breaker panel as a raceway? How many would be willing to crawl through the dank web-infested recesses beneath a house or the dusty darkness of an attic? And if they did so, how many would recognize a significant defect in the foundations or framing? How many could identify faulty plumbing and electrical installations; or evidence of seasonal flooding after the soil below the building had become dry; or noncomplying gas piping, gas unions, or gas valves; or a flue pipe that is too close to combustible materials; or the lack of required ventilation; or inadequate clearance at a chimney? How many could evaluate the functional and safety aspects of a water heater or a furnace? How many could determine the quality, condition, and proper installation of a roof, regardless of the type of roof being inspected?

The answers here are obvious. Someone with professional knowledge and experience is needed to provide adequate and reliable information about the conditions in, on, under, and around a home. This, of course, does not mean that everyone who assumes the title of Home Inspector is sufficiently qualified. But among those home inspectors who are qualified, the services they provide are valuable, substantial, and not to be compared with the pilfery of a pickpocket.