Home Inspection

A web log for homeowners, prospective homeowners and home sellers in the subject of Home Inspections, presented by I. G. "Zack" Lilienfeld, PE, Licensed New Jersey Home Inspector and Consulting Engineer


Misconceptions About Buyer's Home Inspections

Nowadays, buyers' home inspections are fairly common, as buyers are paying more for their homes than years ago, and they want to minimize the risk of the unknown. After all, when you buy a home for $500,000, who wants to discover they need a $16,000 foundation repair a year later?

As all home inspections performed for buyers in New Jersey must be done by a professional that is licensed in New Jersey, there are state inspection standards of practice to be followed with regard to what gets inspected and conversely, what does not, for a home purchase. What I have been finding lately is that buyers really need to be better educated about what constitutes a home inspection, so they understand, as completely as possible, what to expect for their hard-earned money paid to a home inspector.

Here are some common misconceptions:

1. The home inspection will be "technically exhaustive"
Inspections following the New Jersey Standards of Practice are VISUAL inspections and are not intended to be technically exhaustive. Of course, inspectors are expected to look at all of the stated components and systems that can safely be accessed, are operational, and can be operated without damage to components. This does NOT mean that inspectors should disassemble equipment to determine the condition of hidden components. The process of disassembly can itself cause problems. Water stain on a ceiling? We can't tear out the drywall to see where it is coming from. What about the integrity of buried plumbing drains? Inspectors do not perform ultrasonic testing or video scans. We do look for telltale signs of problems, however.

2. The home inspection involves the home inspector operating and evaluating everything in the home.
Home inspections are not intended to cover everything. For example, septic systems cannot legally be performed by licensed home inspectors by law. Beyond that, things like window air conditioners, water filtration systems, countertop microwaves and other non-hardwired items are not part of the inspection. And, consider washers and dryers with laundry in them - these can't be operated for obvious reasons. Additionally, if the house water, gas or electricity is turned off, or an appliance or fixture is valved or breakered off, an inspector should not be expected to turn on the appropriate valves or circuit breakers. This is for good reason: The circuit or system may be rendered inactive because of an electrical fault or leak, unbeknownst to the inspector. Turning on items that are shut off by valve (clothes washers or barbecues), or by circuit breaker (spa tub, baseboard electric heat) can result in unanticipated property damage to the home or personal injury to the inspector. Services that are shut off could be due to a gas main leak, electric service entrance problem, or water line break. Because many of the homes I inspect are in resort communities and homes are often vacant, I always inform buyers or their agents to be sure all systems are active before the inspection.

3. Home inspectors are the experts on all things they inspect, and what they say is the final word on defects.
Consider the home inspector as the "general practitioner" of the health of the home they are evaluating. Most people do not expect their family doctor to be able to correctly diagnose everything they see, and they are used to being referred to specialists. So the same is true of home inspectors. No matter how many years or inspections an inspector has under his or her belt, NO ONE has all the answers. Structural, roofing, suspected underground fuel oil tanks, suspected mold or termite activity and heating/air conditioning issues are often cited by home inspectors as areas where they recommend buyers get a "second opinion" from a licensed or certified professional in those specialties.

4. Home inspectors will inform the buyers of the expected remaining life of a component or system.
This is a touchy point. Certainly, buyers want to know if a component or system will last a long time. People realize nothing lasts forever, but I have found that remaining life is a real concern. Home inspectors cannot accurately predict remaining life, however to the extent possible, a home inspector needs to let the buyer know the approximate age and "typical" life expectancy of equipment. However, this is often not possible. For example, water heater life varies by manufacturer, water quality, volume of water run through the tank, storage temperature, environment it is placed in, etc. Just like light bulbs and VCRs, even identical hot water heaters placed side by side will not have the same service life.

5. A home inspector is responsible for identifying building code violations
Although some home inspectors are licensed code officials, home inspectors generally do not, and indeed should not, represent themselves as being fully versant in code compliance - unless they are. Code officials inspect work performed under a municipal permit, including new construction. And while they are not perfect, they have specific training and experience interpreting the Code that generalist home inspectors do not. So, if a home inspector is "iffy" on a suspected code violation, you should be referred to the municipal construction office for a final say.

6. Home inspectors should look for and report on hidden defects.
Home inspectors are not required to move things to see what is behind or under them. This is because damage can result (broken china, scratched hardwood floor, wires or pipes pulled out, etc) when the object is moved. I get questioned about this a lot, especially when the buyer is accompanying me. Imagine the consequences of dislodging a gas pipe when moving a range out, ripping out a ice cube water line when moving a refrigerator, or knocking over a piece of art that was carefully placed by the homeowner. Not good! Some inspectors are more careful - or careless than others. Obviously, there are times when you believe there are problems but just can't get to the area of concern. In these cases, perhaps a return call is warranted, when the occupant has moved the item of concern.

7. Home inspectors will inform the client of the cause of a defect.
Sometimes we can, other times we can only report that something is not working and leave it at that. A hole in the drywall behind a door knob, and no doorstop, is obvious. But what about water stains below an air conditioning supply duct? Could be condensation, or migration of a water leak from a roof or plumbing riding down the duct. Once an inspector states the reason for a problem, and someone hires someone to fix it based on this, the problem may not be corrected - and who will pay for the service call? Home inspectors are required to report on the condition and function (it works or not) and not diagnose the root cause. Of course, that is not to say we will not provide some guidance as to a LIKELY cause. And some inspectors may have a particular expertise (former plumbers, HVAC technicians or builders) and they can offer their expertise when asked.


The best thing a buyer can do is talk with their inspector before and after the inspection. Be sure you are clear on what issues are important to you, and what to expect from your inspector and inspection report.

One last item. As a home buyer, YOU pick the home inspector. Your real estate agent can be very helpful in giving you a list of the names of qualified home inspectors. However, you are not obligated to use these inspectors. There may be others out there that are highly qualified and experienced. While it is convenient for your real estate agent to obtain an inspector and schedule an inspection for you, remember that the inspector that the agent prefers to use may not be the one who is best for YOUR needs.