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How to Get the Most Benefit from a Home Inspection

  • HOME INSPECTION, GET THE MOST FROM - CONTENTS: How to get the most from a home inspection. What is included in a home inspection? Who should attend the home inspection? What home inspection services should I order? How much does a home inspection cost? Home inspection standards and ethics. In the Questions & Answers we include a FAQ about the perils of "rushed" home purchases & worries about incomplete mold inspections.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about home inspection certification, licensing, professional associations, procedures, reports, ethics, classes & education

This article gives tips on getting the most from a licensed professional ASHI (or other association) home inspection, who attends, what services to order, handling conflicts of interest, real estate agent attendance, property owner attendance, water and septic testing, termite reports, lead paint, radon, other advice for home buyers about attending the home inspection and choosing tests and services, and some typical fees.

Issues of home inspection ethics are discussed. Here are some details that will help a home buyer make the most of the home inspection process.

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What is Included in a Professional Home Inspection

  • The Home Inspection: the inspector will examine (essentially visually) the physical condition of the building and its mechanical systems and at other conditions that may affect the building (such as site drainage) and will provide a written report.
  • A Written Home Inspection Report: There is too much information, some of it possibly involving significant cost or important safety findings, for any professional to provide an "oral only" home inspection. The inspection findings must be provided in writing. We use the Home Reference Book which is delivered at the end of the inspection. Other inspectors may provide a typed narrative report or an annotated "checklist" report. Any report form can be acceptable provided it is clear, thorough, and sufficiently detailed.

    Watch out: A so called home inspection "report" which is a simple "ok" or "not ok" checklist, or a sort of "inventory" (Asphalt shingle roof, vinyl siding, concrete block foundation) is really just an "inventory" of building material types. As an inspection for costly or dangerous defects such a report is totally inadequate and does not meet the standards of practice for the profession.

    All home inspection findings will be written in your report. What the inspector tells you orally at the inspection must agree exactly with what's written in your report, and vice versa. If you receive an oral warning of something costly or unsafe, that information should appear clearly in the written report too.
  • Ancillary tests which are not required by the home inspection standards of practice may nonetheless be offered by your inspector, such as water or septic testing, or a termite or radon inspection or test. These are discussed below.
  • Time and Attention at the Property: You should accompany the inspector (me) and look, listen, and ask questions. Be prepared to spend 3-4 hours at the property. Be sure your real estate agent knows how long you expect to be at the property and that they let the property owners know as well.

    The time required to inspect a building is not fixed. But if I were inspecting an easy one-family house in good condition, and if I were working alone, with no one to ask questions or chat with, it would still take me at least 2 1/2 hours simply to direct my attention to every item and system on a building that needs my consideration.

    If I allow for the presence of my client who will have questions or who needs to hear explanations, the process is easily 3 hours or longer for a detailed, thorough, inspection.

    The time required to inspect properly depends not only on building size but on the age and complexity of the structure and its mechanical systems as well as the ease or difficulty of access to various systems and components. But if your inspector is scheduling inspections at odd times like "11:15 to 12:10" or if the inspector is spending an hour and a half at a property, unless it's a very small and simple structure, you might wonder what shortcuts are being taken.

  • A home inspection fee: Fees for the inspection and any other services are usually payable at the site, usually by personal check. An invoice will be provided. Readers should be sure to see HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU PAY for PROFESSIONAL SERVICES? where we explain the costs of hiring a too-cheap home inspector or any other service.
  • Follow-up consulting: In our professional home inspection or environmental inspection and testing practice, there is no fee for follow-up questions in clarification of the inspection report. In fact we like you to call to ask questions - it increases the value of our service, and the feedback makes us better at our job. Some inspectors feel differently and may discourage follow-up conversations or email. An inspector who knows your property and who is committed to protecting your interest should be willing to discuss the report or even future problems that may come up.

More Reading about Home Inspections:
What is a Professional Home Inspection
What Building Components and Systems Are Inspected.
ASHI Standards of Practice
Contact Daniel Friedman

Typical Home Inspection Ancillary Tests, Services, Fees, and Suggestions for Each Service

For the Hudson Valley Area of New York State here are some local recommendations and suggestions

  • Radon testing: call RTCA 800 457 2366 and order two radon test canisters - you can place them in the home, and retrieve them 2-5 days later for a reasonable and very low-cost radon screen - it's a money issue as well as a potential if less common health issue - cost $40. for the 2 canisters including the lab fee. You want to see the results as less than 4.0 pCi/L of radon in air.

    At the site I'll make suggestions about canister placement. Basically the two cans go side by side in the lowest habitable area of the home, 2-3 ft. off of the floor, not by a window, door, fireplace, or dead air space.
  • Water testing: while I can provide the service of collecting water samples, often a direct call to the lab for that service is a better idea.fter we see conditions at the home and after we discuss some water test options, you can call Smith Labs in Hyde Park to have the lab come directly to the property to collect water samples - depending on what tests you elect to have performed. (845) 229-6536 -

    I recommend a rather extensive water test when buying a home, followed by annual checks for bacteria and I would not rely on the UV system without monitoring and further testing. Some typical water test fees are shown at Cost of Water Tests - Typical Sampling and Lab Fees
  • Septic inspection, loading and dye test - should be performed, and I can provide this service during the inspection (Typically $175.). This is a hidden, buried, but costly and important system to try to evaluate, with the understanding that no inspection or test can be exhaustive. Information about inspecting and caring for septic systems is at The Septic System Information Website. Additional instructions to prepare for septic loading and dye testing:
    • We do NOT want the seller to have the tank pumped prior to our inspection and testing as this would prevent a system loading test and prevent any possible test of the absorption system or leach field.
    • I may recommend that the tank be found, opened, pumped, and inspected by a septic pumping company AFTER our loading and dye test, depending on what we learn about the system.
  • Septic System Questions to ask the seller in advance - we are interested in but do not rely on these answers. The questions are deliberately a bit vague and open ended so as to permit provision of whatever info the seller can and will provide:
    • Where is the septic system?
    • what is installed [concrete or steel or home made tank, seepage pits, leach fields, galleys, drywells, etc.)
    • what is the service and repair history of the system (pumping, repair, replacement of components)
    • If the seller does not know some of these answers that's perfectly fine. I'll provide my opinion at the site and in a separate written inspection and test report mailed to you after the inspection.
  • "Termite inspection:" properly called a "wood destroying insect infestation report": I can provide this service at the inspection and can provide the separate WDI form that your bank will require ($80).
  • Lead Paint inspection and testing: for houses built before 1978, you should assume that lead paint is present, more so on an older house as it would be unusual for this not to be the case unless all old paint has already been removed or the building was never painted.

    Lead paint is a potentially serious health hazard, especially to children or during renovations, but an old house is should not be stigmatized compared to its peers on this issue (since it's not much different from its peers), so this is not usually a point of negotiation between buyers and sellers. A little on lead hazards is at in the section on "Lead" -

    you may want to use a lead testing professional to screen the house to prepare a lead abatement plan but I'd wait to see the general condition of the home and wait to see that the purchase is otherwise secure.
  • Environmental issues in general: a home inspection is not focused on environmental conditions and those hazards are excluded from the standards of practice. Further, a home inspection fee in no way reflects the costs and fees involved in environmental site surveys. However, I will po

    int out to you certain obvious conditions if I happen to spot them during a home inspection, such as asbestos heating pipe insulation, pipes probably related to a buried oil tank, or a lead water entry main line. In exchange for this benefit from your home inspection you will have to agree that you're not holding the inspector responsible for having performed any sort of environmental survey at the property. Clients with special environmental concerns should review our Environmental Services web page.

Assure access to the property when scheduling a home inspection

In addition to confirming the inspection appointment with the property owner or real estate agent, please be sure that someone will be available, usually the realtor, to let us in to the building at the time and on the day of the inspection. As a courtesy, be sure the realtor/seller are informed that our inspections are typically 3 1/2 hours in length, may be longer, and won't be ended until you, the client, are finished asking your initial questions at the site.

In discussing the inspection with the realtor or owner, make sure that all of the mechanical systems are turned on and working, such as heat, electricity, air conditioning. If any systems are to be left shut off or areas are to be inaccessible or locked, the inspection will be limited. Discuss these limitations with your inspector.

For example, an expert home inspector may spot evidence of a history of plumbing leaks at a fixture even if water to the building is shut down. But other critical data, such as fixture flow and drainage adequacy can't be assessed if there is no water.


Who should attend the home inspection?

The buyer(s) should attend the inspection and should stick closely to the inspector to observe, hear explanations, and ask questions. The more eyes examining the property the better.

If you must bring children to an inspection, be sure you bring along another adult who can watch the kids so that you can watch the inspector.

The property owner has every right to be in the building and/or have someone present during the inspection, probably a real estate agent, to be sure that nothing untoward is done to the property by the visitors, and perhaps to answer questions that may arise.

But some inspectors (including me) feel that it's much better for you the buyer if the seller and realtor do not actually accompany the inspector during the inspection. Bring along a book or magazine for those parties in case they forgot their own.

Normally the real estate agent is, by law, working for the interests of the property seller.

If the agent accompanies you on the inspection you are not in control of information that you've paid-for, and you're making a gift of it to the seller who may use it to negotiate against your interests.

However to protect all parties to the transaction, the inspector should be expected to answer direct questions from third parties, such as "did you say the house needs a new roof?" and more important, if immediate life/safety hazards are observed by the inspector, s/he is obligated to inform all parties concerned.

The Ethics of Handling Conflicting Interests at a home inspection

There naturally conflicting interests between the needs of a buyer who wants to understand as much as s/he can about the repairs, maintenance, and improvements a property needs and the needs of a seller who is nervous that a buyer will be dissuaded by these items and who does not want to be bothered by buyer-requests to fix or give allowances for this or that upcoming or past-due repair. The existence of conflicting interests in a transaction is natural. There is nothing unethical about the existence of such forces.

However what is done about conflicting interests is either ethical, unethical or perhaps even illegal. A few of the potential ethical issues are explored in these notes. For example, a home inspector who has a relationship with a real estate agent (perhaps paying for referrals) is engaging in a conflict of interest - one cannot serve two masters at once if the two have conflicting interests.

Furthermore, such inspector-realtor relationships are not disclosed to the inspector's "client" - the home buyer. The buyer has a right to know about such a relationship, and might want the right to choose a different, unaffiliated inspector. Engaging in a conflict of interest is unethical.

To be clear, and to disagree with a few aggressive business people in the real estate and home inspection fields: there are no cases in which the rules of ethics do not apply. A businessman, a real estate agent, a home inspector, a buyer, or property seller, does not have the option of "turning off" the application of the rules of ethics. There are no cases of "it's just business." There are business practices. Some of them are ethical. Some are not.

The real estate agent will often want to follow the inspector, to rebut conditions the inspector points out or simply just to hear the inspector's findings. And certainly, the inspector and buyer should not be up to anything devious either.

But a buyer, who is paying for the professional inspection and thus is paying for information about a property, has the right to control the dissemination of that information. A listing or selling agent (other than a true, contracted buyer's agent) who obtains the inspector's findings will be expected to use whatever s/he learns in negotiation to obtain the best price for the seller.

A property buyer who has hired a building or home inspector has the right to be able to accompany the inspector, to receive and control the use of information produced by the inspection, and to inspect the property without the company of a property seller or agent who have conflicting interests.

The purpose of a home inspection is to accurately and without bias, discover and report on the condition of a property. The purpose of the inspection does not include participation in negotiation about the property price. An inspector who offered to assist in negotiating the price of a property would be one whose findings and judgments would no longer be credible or unbiased.

A home inspection is not a "deal killer." A careful inspection of virtually any property will reveal repairs, maintenance, or improvements needed. But it would be unusual for the repairs needed at a property to be so extensive that one should question proceeding with the purchase. So inspection findings should not jeopardize the purchase of a home.

Rather, it is important for the buyer to have some sense of the priorities of repair and the probable ballpark costs involved in those repairs necessary to keep the property safe, to keep the mechanical systems working, and to stop any significant ongoing damage.

Who Should Get a Copy of the Home Inspection Report?

All parties to the real estate transaction deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, courtesy, honesty, and fairness. While this is likely to be the intention of all of the parties, on occasion I see the anxiety and pressure of this low-frequency high-fee transaction resulting in questionable behavior which may even go so far as to be harmful. Usually but not always, the harm is to the property buyer. "Harm" in this case includes:

  • Seller/selling agent obtains buyer's paid-for information for purposes not understood by the buyer at the time: to negotiate against the buyers' interests in the transaction. [Most common]
  • Seller/selling agent deliberate obfuscates, obscures, or understates costly or dangerous property conditions [Common]
  • Buyer exaggerates the probable cost of defects or repairs in an attempt to negotiate a lower price. [Unusual]

The people who have hired the home inspector get the report.

The inspector is prohibited by ethical practice and in some cases by legal case law, from giving the report to any third party without first obtaining explicit instruction to do so from his/her inspection client. The client has the right to receive first, read, investigate further if needed, and then control the subsequent release of information that client has paid-for.

However certain inspection findings should be disclosed to all parties promptly. If the inspector detects conditions which appear to be an immediate, serious threat to the building occupants or to the property (such as an open septic system tank or a gas leak) the inspector should advise the appropriate parties immediately.

While actual cases of fraudulent representation of home inspection results by a buyer to a seller are quite rare, to protect a property owner/seller from such instances, an inspector should be willing to answer specific questions from the property owner or realtor about what the inspector has reported on a property. This does not mean answering "what did you find" questions from a third party. It means answering a question like "Did you say that the roof needs to be replaced immediately?"

Tricky things for a home buyer to look out for in home inspection reports

  • Almost-hidden report release permission: Home inspection contracts which include a check box authorizing the inspector to release reports to third parties without further permission from the client. Some home inspectors use their inspection report to market their services to real estate agents in order to seek referrals from those agents.

    If my report is going to serve as a sales tool to agents, you should wonder if I'm glossing over building defects to please sellers and agents. A few inspectors present this checkbox to their clients but fail to explain that they will use this permission to give the selling parties first access to, and control over the client's paid-for information about a property.
  • Who sees the report first? Using the "check box authorization" cited above, some inspectors pass their inspection report first to the agent and subsequently, perhaps even through the agent, to the buyer. If my report goes first to a party who does not have my clients' interest as a legal and foremost obligation, whose interest am I really serving?
  • Oral reports differing from written ones: A few inspectors may tell the client one thing and write something different in a report. The written report and oral report must be essentially identical to avoid misleading the parties involved.

My policy is that no inspection report and no lab report will be released to any third party unless my client specifically asks me to do so. The release request must be initiated by the client, excepting the safety or clarity concerns cited above. The written report and the oral report say the same thing and present the same level of repair priorities and ballpark costs.

Respect the property sellers at your home inspection

  • Be particularly considerate of elderly sellers and occupants: the sellers might have lived their entire lives in a building. Or a spouse may have died, leaving a sad and anxious partner. Moving can be very distressing, especially in such cases as these.
  • Be considerate of the seller's feelings: don't make disparaging remarks about decor, finishes, etc. in front of a property owner
  • Do not handle, open, or otherwise poke into the sellers' or occupants personal belongings. Focus on the physical condition of the building and its systems, not on the art work or gun collection.
  • Don't track mud onto carpets
  • Don't let pets escape.
  • Move carefully around fragile items - don't break anything. When in doubt, don't touch!
  • Reassure the seller that you love the property and intend to proceed with its purchase.

    The inspection is to assist you in understanding what's needed and how to care for the property.

    Naturally any inspection finds things that need attention. In more than 30 years of building inspections we have virtually never found a building that did not need any attention on any topic or component whatsoever. More important is that you find out the identity and priority of attention of the costly, dangerous, or urgent repairs that are needed to protect the property and to make it safe and its systems functional. .

    You will need to read and understand your inspection report before you return to the seller or agent with any questions or concerns.

How to be prepared for your home inspection

If you're buying a home and have scheduled your home inspection, here are a few tips for the inspection itself"

  • Expect to take time, not to rush through the inspection - don't schedule your inspection when you have to rush out to another appointment, or when you are sick or otherwise distracted - there is no fixed inspection duration, but typically this is a 3.5 hour procedure, or longer on an older home, depending on how accessible and straightforward various areas and topics are for inspection purposes.

    buildings with multiple living units, multiple heating or cooling systems, complex structures, complex mechanical systems, or simply uncommon defects may take extra time to evaluate.
  • Bring a bright flashlight so that you can join the inspector in examining dark areas, corners, and niches.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and clothing so that you can accompany the inspector in comfort and safety. One of my clients didn't want to join me in the basement of her new home because she was wearing high heels and a tight skirt. The basement had things that she needed to see.
  • If the weather looks cold or rainy, dress appropriately and perhaps bring an umbrella. As an inspector who cannot tolerate the cold, in winter weather I make a point of wearing long underwear, a heavy sweater, and a warm jacket and hat so that I can inspect the building exterior without being distracted by the cold.
  • Arrange a baby sitter for your kids, or if they must come along to the inspection, bring along a second adult to watch them so that you can give the inspection your full, concentrated attention.
  • Other family members may want to attend your home inspection. I've always welcomed a larger audience, under the theory that the more eyes the better. But if other participants prefer to discuss aesthetic topics like curtains or paint colors, or the new deck you plan to add, that chatting should be deferred so that we can focus our attention on the present conditions of the building.
  • You can make notes if you like but it's not required - all findings will be in your written inspection report
  • Using a camera to take photographic notes is a great idea, but usually, attempts to video record your home inspection are a bad idea:
    • Fooling with the video camera means not paying attention to the inspector
    • Don't burden or distract your inspector by asking him/her to "repeat it for the camera"

How to Make Best Use of Your Home Inspection Report

When to discuss report findings with others

Except for unsafe conditions which might be pointed out by the inspector, do not attempt to negotiate or even discuss specific building defects with the seller or realtor during a home inspection.

You, the buyer, need to collect all of the information about the property that you can, read through the inspection report, and understand your priorities of repair or significant cost items.

Jumping the gun by discussing any specific finding during or immediately at the end of the inspection risks confusing everyone as you may later realize that something else is more important.

How to read your home inspection report

Read the report through carefully, noting

  • the report summary of costly or obviously dangerous conditions at the property
  • the report detail, noting unsafe conditions, areas at extra risk of hidden damage
  • the report detail by subtopic: Roofing/Flashing/Chimneys, Exterior, Structure, Electrical, Heating, Cooling, Insulation and Ventilation, Plumbing, Interior - and paying note to the "time frame" notations which will show you which observations or conditions are marked
  • "0" need prompt attention (marked by a "0" in the "Time" column)
  • "**" marking things which present an extra level of safety concern
  • "HD" items presenting an extra level of risk of hidden damage
  • "Significant" items which are most likely to involve a significant expense (more than $500. in the near term).

Most line items on the Home Reference Book report pages have at the left a number that directs you into a more detailed explanation of that topic, additional reading if you like, or you can call me with questions if you prefer.

The information in the "Home Reference Book" included with the home inspection report is based on research of authoritative building information sources, but it cannot be exhaustive as if we even attempted that level of detail, the book would be too big to carry much less read.

But beware, construction has many people who have strong opinions but who may not have ever read even the instructions on the box of the product they're installing. Home inspection ethics require that the inspector have no financial connection with any repairs or improvements to the property - a step which helps protect you from conflicts of interest.

How to Set Building Repair Priorities: How to manage the large number of home inspection "findings" without being overwhelmed

Sort all of the inspection report findings into these categories:

Essential expenses: Items for which the building is in control of your repair or improvement money

Dan's "3 D's" - these are items for which the building is in control of your money in that you need to address these items promptly.

  • Dangerous items: unsafe steps, rails, electrical wiring, chimneys, etc.
  • Damaging items: conditions which are causing active, ongoing, costly damage to the building
  • Don't work items: items which you need for a habitable building but which are either not working at all (e.g. toilets not flushing), or which are not working at a reasonable level of reliability such that a reasonable and prudent person could expect to live in the building and rely on the item (e.g. a steel heating boiler with severe rust and corrosion).
  • See How to Set Priorities for Building Repairs: - Dan's 3-D's for more about this approach to setting home maintenance & repair priorities.

Deferrable expenses: Items for which you are in control of your repair or improvement money

Everything else. These are items for which you are in control of your money. For example, "adding insulation" may be highly desirable and may reduce your heating bills, but adding insulation, adding central air conditioning, putting a roof over a deck, are perhaps desirable improvements but when you do them is your choice.

The building won't be deteriorating - you won't be losing what you've just purchased - if you defer such expenses.

Home Inspection Exclusions

Reader Question: 11/11/2014 Anonymous said: What are areas of limitation for a home inspection?

What are areas of limitation for a home inspection?


Good question, Anon.

Home inspection limitations are generally spelled out in the standards of practice to which the individual home inspector subscribes. Those may be standards published by a professional association such as ASHI (The American Society of Home Inspectors) or by the licensing agency - typically a state or province in which the inspector practices. (A few states have no licensing nor standard for home inspectors).

The standards of practice are a *minimum* standard to which the inspector must perform and are generally in my OPINION very thin - not very demanding. The inspector is permitted to exceed these, and most do, depending on their individual level of expertise. There are some inspectors, especially high-volume fellows, who use the "standards" and their exclusions to perform the absolute minimum required.

There are also "de-facto" standards of care that can sneak past these minimum levels of performance.

For example some standards exclude the reporting of aluminum electrical wiring, but if an inspector has been exposed to information about that hazard, or if s/he *should have known* about the hazard (e.g. through seminars, publications, and general technical education that include that topic in both basic and advanced training) then an inspector might be held liable for failure to report such hazards, might defend by showing his/her published standard, and might or might not be succesful in that defense, depending on the judge and attorneys and their astuteness.


for examples of standards that include discussion of home inspection exclusions.

You'll see that generally the inspector is not expected to report things that are not visually apparent and is not expected to go into nor operate any place or system that s/he in her/his judgement has reason not-to (such as unsafe) but such extra exclusions must be reported to the client.



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