Have you ever seen the pharmaceutical TV commercials that talk about a new medication available to the public? Often times the narrator speaks very fast and reports on more side effects of using the medication than he does the benefits. A constant disclaimer to “consult your doctor before taking…” is also heard throughout the message. Next time you see one ask yourself at the conclusion, how does it make you feel about the product? Do you feel well informed or perhaps a little more intimidated about whether it’s right for you? Perhaps they may have raised more questions than they answered. You may conclude the medication can be good for me, but is it?
As home inspectors, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that you leave your inspection well informed about your pending purchase. If a customer ever leaves an inspection saying something to the effect “Boy, that guy sure knows what he’s talking about…but I wish I only knew what he said ” then we have failed in providing an informative inspection regardless of how accurate the content may have been. Talking over a client’s head with impressive technical jargon does not make for an effective home inspection. Communication and documentation from the inspector should always be provided in layman’s terms. The best inspectors assume the responsibility of educating their clients in addition to reporting conditions readily observable. Your participation in the inspection process is strongly encouraged in order to generate optimum communication between you and the inspector. A thorough home inspection on an averaged sized home should take between 2-3 hours to complete, but the inspection should truly end when you, the client, have asked all the questions that you see fit.
As a Home inspector we execute our inspections as” generalists”, as opposed to “specialists” and we should never over step our capacity when inspecting your home. I’ve always stated to clients that “home inspectors are a lot like general practitioners.” The home is our patient and we’re here to give it a checkup. As we inspect the home we should be: diagnosing areas of opportunity for improved health whether it be structural or mechanical, looking for symptoms of deferred maintenance and talking about preventative care for the home to ensure its longevity.
Another relative comparison can be explained, when a general practitioner reviews a patient he/she may discover an irregular heartbeat. While this may be something simple or complex for corrective care, it would not be unlike the practitioner (generalist) to refer a cardiologist (specialist) for further diagnosis. Same holds true for a heating system that is not operating properly. The inspector should state what he sees and why an HVAC contractor should be consulted, rather than arbitrarily referring a contractor to avoid future liability. Additionally as important, if your inspector recommends something be addressed by a licensed trades person prior to the close of sale, it usually means there is potentially an expensive repair or safety concern to be considered. When conditions warrant such a recommendation, please be advised that your inspector is truly acting in your best interest.
Equally, when components are functioning as intended (i.e. roof, heating, A/C etc.) we should assume responsibility for what we inspect and confirm the proper working condition of the component at the time of inspection. After all, we can and should report the good stuff just as much as we report on the opportunities for improvement.
Keeping things in perspective is also our responsibility, hence a comparison to “bedside manner” comes into the process. Inspectors should provide a detailed report written in layman’s terms along with photos that help you to address the proper priority to the information. For example, a crack in a counter top does not create the same sense of urgency as a potentially cracked heat exchanger. And suggestive type maintenance does not necessarily carry the same weight as a safety issue/concern. Furthermore, it helps if a home inspector can explain to a buyer whether a particular skill set is needed to take on a suggested action. For example, extending a downspout away from a home to reduce moisture in a basement can be done vey easily by the homeowner with virtually no experience or tools needed.
Proper communication and perspective from your inspector lends to a successful understanding of your home. A good home inspector will create value for the client in the form of sound information. Lumping everything together without explanation can be as confusing as a pharmaceutical commercial. Helping you understand your home and the inspection report should be our only goal.