When Things Go Wrong

What Happens When Things Go Wrong With The House?

When Things Go Wrong

There may come a time that you discover something wrong with the house, and you may be upset or disappointed with your home inspection.

Intermittent Or Concealed Problems

Some problems can only be discovered by living in a house. They cannot be discovered during the couple hours of a home inspection. For example, some shower stalls leak when people are in the shower, but do not leak when you simply turn on the tap. Some roofs and basements only leak when specific conditions exist, like rain driven from a particular direction. Some problems will only be discovered when carpets were lifted, furniture is moved or finishes are removed.

No Clues

These problems may have existed at the time of the inspection but there were no clues as to their existence. Our inspections are based on the past performance of the house, and apparent conditions at the time of the inspection.  If there are no clues of a past problem, it is unfair to assume we should foresee a future problem.

We Always Miss Some Minor Things

Some say we are inconsistent because our reports identify some minor problems but not others. The minor problems that are identified were discovered while looking for more significant problems. We sometimes note them simply as a courtesy. The intent of the inspection is not to find the $200 problems - it is to find the apparent larger problems, if we can. These are the things that might affect a decision to purchase.

Contractor’s Advice

The main source of dissatisfaction with home inspectors comes from comments made by contractors. Contractors' opinions often differ from ours. Don't be surprised when three roofers all say the roof needs replacement when we might have said that, with some minor repairs, the roof will last a few more years.

Last Man In Theory

While our advice represents the most prudent thing to do, many contractors are reluctant to undertake these repairs. This is because of the "Last Man In Theory". The contractor fears that if he is the last person to work on the roof, he will get blamed if the roof leaks, regardless of whether the roof leak is his fault or not. Consequently, he won't want to do a minor repair with high liability when he could re-roof the entire house for more money and reduce the likelihood of a callback. This is understandable.

Most Recent Advice Is Best

There is more to the "Last Man In Theory."  It suggests that it is human nature for homeowners to believe the last bit of "expert" advice they receive, even if it is contrary to previous advice. As home inspectors, we unfortunately find ourselves in the position of "First Man In" and consequently it is our advice that is often disbelieved.

Why Didn't We See It

Contractors or specialists may say "I can't believe you had this house inspected, and they didn't find this problem."  That is a line joked about by home inspectors on message boards and in blogs, and even in home inspector CEU classes or conferences, but it is not a joke really.  That is a VERY unprofessional line and an easy one.  You don't make yourself look better by trying to make someone else look bad.

There are several reasons for these apparent oversights:

1. Conditions During Inspection

It is difficult for homeowners to remember the circumstances in the house, at the time of the inspection. Homeowners seldom remember that it was snowing, there was storage everywhere in the basement, or that the furnace could not be turned on because the air conditioning was operating, et cetera. And things may have been "arfully concealed" by the homeowner!  It's impossible for contractors to know what the circumstances were when the inspection was performed.

2. The Wisdom Of Hindsight

When any problem manifests itself, it is very easy to have 20/20 hindsight. Anybody can say that the basement is wet when 2 inches of water are seen on the floor. Predicting the problem is a different story. Would that there was a home inspector crystal ball, or X-ray vision.

3. A Long Look

If we spent 1/2 an hour under the kitchen sink or 45 minutes disassembling the furnace, we'd find more problems too. The inspection would take a long, long time and would cost considerably more.

4. We're Generalists

We are generalists; we are not specialists. For example, the heating contractor may indeed have more heating expertise than we do.  But a home inspection is a VISUAL examination of the house.  Home inspectors can't get invasive when a client does not own the property.

5. An Invasive Look

Problems often become apparent when carpets or drywall are removed, when fixtures or cabinets are pulled out, and so on. A home inspection is a visual examination. We don't perform any invasive or destructive tests, or move personal belongings.  Rule Number One on a home inspection is to not break anything.

6. Not Insurance

In conclusion, a home inspection is designed to better your odds. It is not designed to eliminate all risk. For that reason, a home inspection should not be considered an insurance policy. The premium that an insurance company would have to charge for a policy with no deductible, no limit and an indefinite policy period would be considerably more than the fee we charge. It would also not include the value added by the inspection.    

The last thing I say to my clients at every inspection is that if something comes up to please call me first.  That is for two reasons.  First, I have no financial interest in telling you what you might do to fix it.  I will not refer you to anyone who cuts me in on the deal, or accept money from you to fix a problem.  Second, I will always be honest with you!  And you can count on that.


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Jay performs inspections Monday through Saturday, throughout Northern Virginia, from his office in Bristow to Leesburg and Centreville, to Great Falls and Vienna and everywhere in between!