If you are under the impression that this article is going to be a discussion about what knowledge a home inspector has in contrast with a contractor or builder, that will not be the focus. There are good and bad home inspectors out there, and there are good and bad contractors, but quality varies greatly on an individual basis in both cases, and I am sure many builders or contractors will have an extensive knowledge base about the many systems in a home. The construction industry has been around in some form since the beginning of time and the home inspection profession is an extremely young industry. This article is not to diminish either profession but merely to discuss some of the trends going on in the market. As a home inspector in this current market, I have seen fewer and fewer traditional inspections being performed. One of the many alternatives that I have seen on the rise is contractors being consulted about the condition of different properties sometimes as a substitute for a home inspection. When you have gone through the process of getting a home inspection business off the ground you fully realize how many moving parts and different aspects of our job there really are. These are things your average client or agent has probably given very little thought to, but in reality, are hugely important to the process.
A contractor has no clear or specific inspection agreement. One of the advantages of hiring a home inspector is they will typically have a clear inspection agreement. Most insurance companies for home inspectors require they have an agreement in writing to make the scope of the inspection clear. This is really important for the consumer because it forces everyone involved to get on the same page about what’s being inspected PRIOR to when the inspection happens. There is no fully exhaustive inspection and doing such on a home would be impossible. If we accept the fact that all inspections are limited then it’s important information for the client to understand what’s not being inspected. A home inspector has the benefit of following the standards of practice required by the state. In Massachusetts for example, inspectors inspect what the state essentially outlines in the standards of practice. This is more of a tried and true scope for the inspection that has been refined over many years. In other words, home inspectors have a general set focus and put all their training and effort into that focus. In contrast, a contractor may or may not inspect numerous components in the home. Additionally, they may not directly mention what’s NOT being inspected and they may assume the client understands they are not looking at numerous aspects of the home. This type of ambiguity is a recipe for miscommunication and missed findings.
Another thing that a contractor likely isn’t well protected from is a potential claim. The standards of practice for home inspectors specifically state you should be properly licensed to perform a consultation on a property regarding a potential purchase any time you are looking at a home pursuant to its sale. For the majority of insurance policies, you are not covered for completing acts such as performing a job without the proper license as it is illegal. It is a reasonable concern to therefore question if your contractor did miss something, would they have the insurance to cover such an error? People have bad days in the office and just in case a worst-case scenario becomes a reality, so for your protection as a home buyer, you want your inspector to be insured.
When a home inspector walks into a property, they have a routine they have likely performed hundreds of times and regardless of their knowledge level, they have an inspection process. They routinely go through homes systematically and have some sort of process for when to look, when to talk, when to take notes, and what areas to do when. A contractor, even with a significant knowledge base, has likely not done hundreds of inspections and while they may try to have a process for inspecting, it has not been fine-tuned over the years. One way newer inspectors miss things is by not having a consistent process. It doesn’t matter how much you know, if you don’t inspect an area of the home because you don’t know it’s there you are going to miss issues.
Another important part of a home inspection is the inspection report. A document answering all the questions outlined in the standards of practice helps ensure consistency in inspection quality. In Massachusetts, the report is required by law for a home inspection. You may think to yourself, “do I really need a report?” many people ask themselves this very question and often lean toward thinking they don’t actually need a report. The problem here is that it’s very short-sighted. Maybe you don’t need a report today, but what if your inspector misses something? Well fast forward a year when you live in the property and have a big issue that should have been caught, now you have no report to tell you a. what was inspected and b. what issues were found. One person’s word vs another is difficult to prove down the road and most inspections without reports are done under the understanding that there will be no future action or consequences. What’s the point in doing an inspection if the inspector has no accountability later? They have less motivation to do a fantastic job for you. I recommend only considering services with a proper report being provided. Whether it’s a contractor or even a “quickie” home inspector inspection it is not advisable without a report.
While contractors have a lot of knowledge that home inspectors don’t, home inspectors specialize in knowing a little about a lot of subjects. The variety of their knowledge is one of their best assets. Builders and contractors often know a lot about framing, structure, and other similar components, but seldom have hands-on experience with electrical, HVAC, plumbing, or some of the trades. A builder likely has more knowledge in some aspects of the home but may have little knowledge elsewhere. Home inspectors specialize in problems. They train in knowing what are the things most commonly done wrong. With a focus on problems, and always getting the perspective of how things perform over time, a home inspector specializes in this type of analysis. Home inspectors likely have less overall experience in home construction, but they spend all their time training on doing one specific task. As a comparison, if the builder brought his crew for home building, it would likely be the contractor and his electrician, his plumber, his HVAC contractor, his roofer, and potentially other tradesmen.
When you start a business as a home inspector you don’t just need technical knowledge. You need to know the issues, you need to know how to talk about them, how to handle scheduling, how to use software to write a report, how to build relationships and market yourself, how to create an inspection process to go through a property, how to communicate through the process with an agreement, phone calls, a report and a follow up with the client, what insurance to have, how to follow the laws and standards of practice for a home inspector and how not to miss anything….its a lot. While a contractor will likely give insights and great information there are many reasons they should not replace your home inspector. Many contractors attend home inspections and I always find they add value to the inspection and offer insight that home inspectors may not, such as specific costs of issues. That being said your builder can work with your home inspector but really shouldn’t be your home inspector. It’s likely illegal and generally not a great idea for you as the client.