A question I know a ton of buyers have is, “what do I ask my home inspector?”. Many buyers are going through this process for the first time and want to make sure they ask the right questions. There are a few reasons for this. First, they want to get as much information as possible, especially regarding important information. Second, they want to be sure to get the most out of their inspection. They would hate to have their inspector not check something or not discuss something because they didn’t ask about it. Lastly, they want to
So, as an experienced home inspector, the first question is, “does it matter what you ask as the buyer?” My answer is absolutely yes. In a perfect world everything would be discussed and evaluated onsite and that would all be driven by the home inspector who is the expert and knows all of the information they need to give to you. I can say this is what your home inspector strives for, to fill your head with all the proper takeaways that you need to know about your inspection. The truth is, this is not always the case.
You may wonder what are some things that get in the way of getting you the right information. Time is one of the major obstacles. During many home inspections there are agents limiting our time at the property and even taking some of our time by changing our focus. There may be a seller present that may explain every reason of why they haven’t dealt with issues resulting in limiting our inspecting time. The client may ask questions that distract the inspector from the primary focus of the inspection. There is only a certain amount of time we can reasonably spend at the property and that is why many inspectors focus on efficiency to maximize the usefulness of that time period.
Another large obstacle may be communication skills. When a home inspector is training they get to see various styles. I can tell you from experience, the way inspectors communicate and their inspection processes can vary significantly depending on the inspector. Some inspectors may communicate poorly or may have a communication style that does not work with their client. I consider myself to excel at communication and there are times when I have to adjust the way I present information to better suit the need of my client.
While there are other obstacles to consider, let’s switch gears to figuring out what you can do about all of these considerations. First, limit the obstacles that we just discussed. Reduce the time wasters. If a seller or sellers agent does not need to be present, ask that they don’t attend so they will not take your inspectors attention. Ask questions that qualify the need to discuss things further like “is this something that is important to talk more about in detail?” This will help you gauge how big of an issue you are discussing and if it is a minor thing, learn about it after the inspection. Do your best to ensure your inspector has a communication style that works for you by talking to them BEFORE the inspection. These practices will minimize the obstacles onsite and will help you get the most out of your inspection.
So, this still leaves the main question of “what should I ask my inspector?” There are two primary times to ask questions during most inspections, at the end and during the inspection. Your inspector will get to many of the things you want to learn so I discourage asking questions prior to the inspection unless you feel they are important for the inspector to know before getting started.
Here are some questions to ask during the inspection:
- “Is this a serious issue?”
- “Will not repairing this result in more problems?”
- “Is this unsafe?”
- “Who should I have fix this?”
- “Why does this need to be fixed?”
- “How does this system normally function and what is the typical maintenance?”
- “How old is this system/what is the average life of this system?”
Keep in mind these are follow up questions because your inspector is going to tell you a lot of this and they don’t always apply. For example, your inspector isn’t going to tell you the life expectancy of something that isn’t designed to be replaced, like your foundation.
Here are some questions to ask at the end of the inspection:
- “What did you not inspect/locate?”
- “What items should I have investigated further prior to closing?”
- “What are the top items (10 or so) I should take away from this inspection?”
- “How does this home compare with others of similar age from your experience?”
- “Would you recommend any specialists come out to evaluate specific systems?”
- “Was there anything we need to circle back to or we didn’t confirm?”
- “Were there any limitations of the inspection the seller can change and we can resinspect?”
This is an important step in the process because you now know what the inspection consisted of and this is your last chance to ask questions while still at the property. Many of these are to ensure you provoke your inspector to maximize the inspection. Again, not all will apply at every inspection and your inspector may not be prepared for some of these questions.
There are certainly other property specific and good questions, but these are ones I think are particularly important and I try to discuss on as many inspections as possible.
One more thing… What questions NOT to ask your inspector. This may not be the exact way to put it, but there are questions your inspector is prohibited from answering and if you do ask these questions you should not expect an answer. There are good reasons for these things being prohibited, so it is best not to ask – or if you do ask do not expect a response.
Do not ask your inspector:
- “What is the value of the property?”
- “Should I buy the property?”
- To do anything against the regulations
- For costs of the issues they find
- To make any repairs to the property
- Operating anything that is shut down
- Turning on a fuel or electrical supply
The exact wording from the CRM for Massachusetts is listed below:
From MA 266 CMR 6, Page 8
Inspectors are prohibited from:
(1) Reporting on the market value of property or its marketability and/or the suitability of the property for any use.
(2) Advising their Client about the advisability or inadvisability of the purchase of the property.
(3) Offering or performing any act or service contrary to law and/or 266 CMR 6.00.
(4) Determining the cost of repairs of any item noted in their Report and/or inspected by them and/or their firm.
(5) Offering to make and/or perform any repair, provide any remedy: including but not limited to
performing engineering, architectural, surveying, plumbing, electrical and heating services, pest control (treatment), urea formaldehyde or any other job function requiring an occupational license and/or registration (in the jurisdiction where the inspection had taken place) on a Dwelling, and/or Residential Building inspected by his or her firm. The only exception is if those repairs and/or services are part of a negotiated settlement of a complaint and/or claim against the Inspector and/or the firm he or she
(6) However, nothing in 266 CMR 6.06 shall prohibit the Inspector and/or his or her firm from
offering consulting services on a dwelling, and/or Residential Building his or her firm has not inspected as long as the consulting service is not pursuant to the sale and/or transfer of the property and/or dwelling.
(7) Operating any system or component that is shut down or otherwise inoperable. (However, the
inspector shall recommend the seller and/or the seller’s representative demonstrate that those systems and/or components are functional).
(8) Turn on any electrical or fuel supply and/or devices that are shut down. (However, the Inspector
shall recommend the Seller and/or the Seller’s Representative demonstrate that those systems and/or components are functional).
I hope this better prepares you for your home inspection. For more information and additional resources, please visit my website at www.inspectingyourhome.com or call me at 978.417.9853.