Home inspectors are human, and just like the rest of us, they can occasionally make mistakes. You might assume that a professional inspector will be able to sniff out any minor problem in a home's construction, but of course, this is easier said than done. It's important to become familiar with the contract you sign with your home inspection service provider to make sure you understand who is responsible for any errors.

Tough questions

In his column about real estate topics, Barry Stone answered a question from a reader regarding who is liable for major oversights during a home inspection. The reader, a professional home inspector himself, said that a few claims had been brought against him by homeowners who claim his services were misleading, and therefore, make the inspector responsible for repair costs. How should home inspectors handle a situation when a client comes knocking? On the other side, should homeowners feel duped by their inspector if a problem is overlooked?

Stone explained that, as is the most basic regulation in the home inspection industry, inspectors are required to report on any defect that is immediately visible and accessible. An inspector cannot be expected to remove huge sections of drywall to uncover faulty wiring - in fact, most contracts exclude the inspector from even moving furniture in the course of the inspection. These basics principles still leave plenty of room for interpretation. A leaky pipe underneath a sink, for example, could be deemed inaccessible due to clutter. The inspector must note these details in their final report, but as Stone noted, inspectors usually will suggest further review of these gaps in the report prior to escrow closing.

Covering your bases

While the standards of effective and mutually beneficial home inspections are enshrined in the American Society of Home Inspectors' Code of Ethics, which many professional home inspection organizations refer to when issues like these arise. The person hiring the inspector should take some basic steps to make themselves aware of the standards of procedure, as well as their local ordinances and general best practices. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development created navigate the legal rights and obligations of each party. According to HUD, there are a few of the key questions homeowners should consider asking their home inspector to ensure everyone is on the same page.

  • What does the inspection cover? - Each state has their own list of areas and features a home inspection is required to analyze. HUD recommended asking for a list of these items and areas before the inspection.
  • What is your experience? - Homeowners or buyers should feel free to ask for their inspector's credentials, including specific professional referrals. Some inspectors have experience with different types of property, and this should be ascertained prior to the inspection itself to ensure they are a good fit.
  • What will the final report look like? - It may be a good idea to ask for a sample inspection report, according to HUD, so homeowners and buyers know exactly what to expect before the inspection is completed. It's also recommended they ask how long they should expect to wait for the report to be received.

Performing the necessary due diligence should prevent any major disagreements from occurring after the inspection is finished. A home inspection may seem like an extra, costly burden, but it is really an investment in the safety and quality of a new home purchase. Homeowners and prospective buyers stand to gain plenty by staying informed on the inspection process.