What are the questions a home inspector won't (or shouldn't) answer?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Your home inspector provides you with important information you need to evaluate the condition of a home. But the inspection is visual and non-invasive. Unlike on those popular home improvement shows, your inspector can’t cut open a wall to see what’s inside. Also, an inspection does not include disassembling and troubleshooting major appliances like an air conditioner or water heater to tell you what’s wrong if they are not functioning properly.

   And there are questions that are simply outside of an inspector’s expertise. They should be directed to your realtor, appraiser, surveyor, loan officer, closing agent, or other real estate industry professional. Here’s our “Top 10” list of questions a home inspector won’t answer:

  1. Would you buy this house? We get this question regularly, along with variations like “Would you let your daughter buy this house?” But people buy houses for all sorts of reasons and have wildly different parameters for what’s acceptable. Several of our customers over the years have even had us do a home inspection on a property solely to use for price negotiation, and then tore the place down shortly after the closing.
        We see our job as providing you with some of the facts necessary to make your own decision because, actually, the home inspection is just one part of the data you must review to make a good home-buying decision. An appraisal tells you how the price your are paying compares to the current market value of the home, based on other recent home sales. A surveyor verifies that the home is correctly sited on the land, along with checking for any encroachments or other site-related problems. And the title insurer verifies that the seller actually owns the property and is able to convey it to you free of any encumbrances.
  2. What do you think this house should sell for? We inspect about a dozen houses a week and, in the process, overhear lots of stories about asking prices, final sale prices, and complicated, crazy negotiations. So we can tell you some amusing anecdotes, but that doesn’t mean we know anything about what a house is actually worth. Ask your realtor or appraiser this question.
  3. Is this a good neighborhood? We have no idea, but ask the neighbors. Seriously...you would be surprised at how much some of them will tell you. And online research regarding the demographics of the zip code can give an idea about the surrounding area.
  4. Does this house have lead paint? Any home built before 1978—when lead paint was banned by the federal government—has the potential to have lead paint buried under the layers of newer paint added in the last
    four decades. About two-thirds of the homes built before 1940 and one-half of the homes built from 1940 to 1960 contain heavily-leaded paint. Some homes built after 1960 also contain heavily-leaded paint. It may be on any interior or exterior surface, particularly on woodwork, doors, and windows.
        While there are several do-it-yourself test kits available at hardware stores, they have been proven to be inconsistently accurate, and the only test approved by the EPA uses X-ray fluorescence to determine if the paint contains lead. The testing is done only by professionals trained by the equipment manufacturer and who have passed a state or local government training course, since the equipment contains radioactive materials. Because of the cost of the equipment (about $20,000) home inspectors do not provide this service, but can refer you to a professional lead inspector to check your pre-1978 home for the presence of lead, and the cost for the inspection is typically about $300. The inspector will check each wall and trim surface in every room and around the exterior of the home and provide a detailed report of the findings.
  5. Is the house in a flood zone? Your insurance agent can tell you if the home is in a flood zone, based on maps created by FEMA. If you feel that your property has been incorrectly included in a FEMA flood zone, you can have a surveyor certify your floor level to contest the FEMA map rating. It is not uncommon in the Gainesville area to contest a FEMA flood zone rating and have it changed for less expensive insurance.
  6. Did you see any sinkholes? We do not inspect for sinkholes, and evaluating whether a small depression in the yard is the start of a
    house-swallowing sinkhole requires examination with specialized equipment—typically ground-penetrating radar.
  7. Is there clay soil under the house? Again, this is beyond the scope of a home inspection and requires soil borings for core-sample evaluation by an engineering firm. We can, however, advise you if structural defects we observed may be the result of clay soil heaving and recommend testing to confirm it.
  8. Are there any cracks in the floor slab under the carpet? Because a home inspection is non-invasive, we do not pull up carpet to see what’s under it. We are limited to a visual inspection of readily accessible areas.
  9. Is the fence mine or the neighbor’s? While it may seem obvious which fencing belongs to the property from walking around the perimeter, we do not venture to guess which side of the property line the fences are on. A surveyor will determine what is within the property boundaries, and the results are sometimes surprising.
  10. How much damage is there inside the wall? Wish we had x-ray vision, but home inspectors don’t. If there is a small opening in the wall at the area of damage, we can use a video borescope to view the nearby interior surfaces. However, exterior walls are filled with insulation and it may not be possible there. Also, a infrared camera can sometimes provide limited information about what’s happening inside a wall but, ultimately, you have to open up the wall to see the extent of any damage. Most of the time, the seller is unwilling to allow an invasive inspection and you may have to wait until after you have bought the house to get a clear picture of the damage. 

    Also, see our blog posts How can a house be inspected by two different home inspectors that come up with different things to be fixed? and How do devious sellers try to fool the home inspector?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

What makes a house fail the home inspection?

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

• What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

    Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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