Congratulations on purchasing your new home! You’ve just recently moved in and have been living blissfully for about a month or two and then you notice something… maybe it’s a dripping that you’re not sure was there before, or a receptacle that is not working.

You sit back and say to yourself “Why didn’t the home inspector tell me that was going to happen? Did he/she let me down?” Well, there are a few things to consider.

Some problems can only be found after living in a house for a period of time. They can’t be discovered during the 3 or 4 hours of a home inspection. An example is that some shower stalls leak when water bounces off people in the shower, but do not leak when you simply turn on the tap. It would be awful strange (and possibly uncomfortable and definitely awkward) if you hear your home inspector say. “Well, I’m going to test out the shower now, I’ll be out in 15 minutes!” Or maybe the day you had your home inspection, it was a beautiful sunny day; this morning you wake up to your roof or basement leaking – right after that huge thunderstorm and heavy wind. Some problems will only be discovered when carpets are lifted, furniture and storage are moved, or finishes are removed.

A home inspection is a non-destructive inspection.

The problems may have been there all along, and at the time of inspection but there were no clues pointing to their existence. The term lawyers use is called “latent defects’. Inspections are based on the past performance of the house. If there are no clues of a past problem, it really is unfair to assume we should be able to foresee future problems. Home inspectors can’t see or predict latent defects – although, it would be really nice to see into the future some times.

We’re human, so sometimes we do miss some small things in our reports. Minor problems are noted when we’re looking for larger problems that would affect a buyer’s decision to purchase a home. We note the small things as a courtesy, but want to make sure a home buyer is aware of the furnace that is about to die and educate them on why and how to go about solving the issue.

A common source of concern with home inspectors comes from comments made by contractors. Contractors’ opinions often differ from ours. Don’t be surprised that three roofers all say the roof needs replacement when we said that, with some minor repairs, the roof will last a few more years. There are economic reasons for roofers to indicate that the whole roof needs to be replaced. As a home inspector, you are my client, and as my client, it is my responsibility to be honest with you and make sure that our dealings have integrity – recommending an expensive fix will not benefit me.

A home inspector’s advice represents the most prudent action in our professional opinion – and what is best for the client. 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, whether or not the leak is his fault. 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. Although, from his or her point of view they are protecting themselves from future problems, it is at the cost of the client/homeowner.

So, you’ve decided to hire a contractor and he says to you: “I can’t believe you had this house inspected, and the inspector didn’t find this problem.” There are several logical reasons for this apparent oversight.

  1. It’s easy to forget what the state of the house was when the home was being inspected (snow outside, lots of storage in the basement, the furnace couldn’t be turned on because the AC was on, etc.). Also, buying a home can be very stressful and very exciting at the same time – clients may have been speaking to both the Realtor and others during the inspection. It’s impossible for a contractor to know exactly what the state of the home was when the inspection was performed.
  2. Everyone has 20/20 hindsight. When you walk into a basement and you’re half asleep wearing your favourite slippers and you step into 2” of water – clearly there was a leak somewhere. (This actually happened to me at my brother’s home, the sump pump died in the middle of the night and there was a heavy rainfall.)
  3. When a home inspection is booked, it is usually booked for 2 to 4 hours. This doesn’t give home inspectors to stay under the sink for a long period of time, or remove every switch/receptacle plate – we ’d definitely find more problems, if we had days and not hours and it would be costlier for all parties.
  4. Remember, a Home Inspector is like your general medical practitioner (your family doctor). The HVAC contractor may indeed have more expertise than we do, but that is because as a home inspector we are expected to know about plumbing, electrical, roofing, etc… that’s a lot to know about, and a lot of schooling and hands-on experience.
  5. You’ve begun renovating your new home and you start finding all sorts of things in the walls. Remember a home inspection is a visual examination, we don’t perform any invasive or destructive tests – Home inspectors do not put holes in the walls, rip up carpet/flooring/trim/etc.

A home inspection betters your odds. It does not “eliminate all risk” of purchasing a house. Home inspections shouldn’t be considered as an insurance policy; premiums for that kind of insurance for a policy with no deductible, no exclusions, no limits and an indefinite policy period would be a multiple of the fee the home inspector charged. It would also not include the knowledge and experience added by the inspection.

I hope this has given you some food for thought – and remember that a home inspector is there to provide facts and help you understand.