Seattle Home Inspector's Blog

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Being right is of little comfort if someone dies.

The Standards of Practice that home inspectors operate under are “minimum” standards.  It is important to understand that most home inspectors in order to provide better service to their client will go beyond these minimum standards.

Some home inspectors would have the world believe that the inspector opens themselves up to a Pandora ’s Box of liability if they mention anything that is not included in the Standards of Practice.

I come from the position that there are worse things than opening oneself up to perceived increase in liability.  To walk around the home and property with blinders on may in the long run “increase” the inspector’s liability. 

At a recent inspection on a fairly large property there were a couple of detached structures including a well house that serviced four or five other homes in the area.  As I walked around this structure I noted several covers and tubes in the ground.  One was about 16” in diameter with no cover.  Another one had a cover but it was not attached to anything. 

Underground storage tanks

Typically detached structures are not included in a Standard Home Inspection and the inspector will usually negotiate whether they are excluded, included or partially included, and the cost of the inspection will be set accordingly.  On site, this usually involves a lot of pointing and shouting at these structures---with no written report.  In the case of a well house that is community property, any defects seen might be deferred to the homeowner’s association for further evaluation and repairs.  This would all typically be beyond the standards of practice.

In the case of the above picture, one can see the open, water filled, tube at the top left and the underground storage tanks with unsecured cover next to it.  These are a safety concern for any children that might be playing in the area.  The large black covered tube at the upper left corner of the picture is the access cover to an underground storage tank for irrigation and as you can see the cover when removed in the picture below revealed that the tank was full of water.  Not only is the tank full of water, but the electrical connections to the pump in the tank are submerged in the water.

Cover on well not secured

Does it increase an inspector’s liability to report on this or to not report on this---even though it is outside the Standards of Practice?

I for one am willing to increase my “liability” in pursuit of information that will protect my client.  For me being “right” is of little comfort if someone dies.

Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector

 

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Seattle Home Inspector

 

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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board

Comment balloon 31 commentsCharles Buell • March 19 2011 04:06PM

Comments

I think mentioning ANYTHING related to the safety of people, whether children or adults is a very good thing Charles. With common sense you would think we could all be in agreement on that.

Posted by Gary Woltal, Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth (Keller Williams Realty) over 7 years ago

I'm certainly in your corner on this one Charles.  I wouldn't want to buy a house and NOT know about this after an inspection.  Of course, if "I" were the buyer I'd be paying for any and all building that have electric and water to be inspected. 

Posted by Tammy Lankford,, Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) over 7 years ago

Charles there are people who strive to always do the right thing. It's readily apparent that you are one of those people!

Posted by Vickie Nagy, Vickie Jean the Palm Springs Condo Queen (Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I agree with Gary. I would add NOT mentioning something you noticed would be more liablity than reporting it. Just my thoughts.

Posted by Randy Ostrander, Real Estate Broker, Serving Big Rapids and West Central MI (Lake and Lodge Realty LLC ) over 7 years ago

Charles, Just from a sheer being human standpoint, passing on a safety issue is something I'd hope everyone would be receptive to.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) over 7 years ago

Gary, you would be surprised how often I hear from inspectors that reporting on "anything" outside of the standards of practice is a bad idea.

Tammy, regardless if the client wants be to report on the structure or not I always include the electrical to these detached structures if possible.

Vickie---I do my best---including tilting at windmills :)

Randy, it would seem so---but there are many that say it is the other way around

Liz and Bill----it is all those grey areas in between that get inspectors riled.  Most people have no issue with the egregious issues but what about the ones not so egregious? 

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

Charles: I always enjoy and learn from your posts. Thank you so much!

Posted by Janice Roosevelt, OICP ABR, ePRO,Ecobroker ( Keller Williams Brandywine Valley ) over 7 years ago

Interesting. Typically, pump housings are bolted here in my neck of the woods...

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 7 years ago

Charles, I was fascinated by your post because I just had a home inspection done on my new home two weeks ago.  I definitely would want to know about any issue of this type and would want to remedy it as soon as possible.  I think standards are one thing, and I love how your own moral character tells you where the standards fall short of human compassion.  Thanks for this post. 

Posted by Janet Jones, Home Staging, Interior Redesign Kihei, Maui, Hawaii (Just Your Style Interiors, LLC) over 7 years ago

Charles - I for one am willing to increase my “liability” in pursuit of information that will protect my client. And that is why your inspection rises above the "average" or "standard" inspection.  Protecting the interests of your client as well as the safety of others should be "standard."

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) over 7 years ago

Good gosh!  Why would someone think that reporting on something increases liability?  I have heard people say that if we use too many tools (like IR, moisture meters, etc.) it opens us up because someone could say we did this but not that.  C'mon...

You go beyond the SOPs?      ;>)

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Janice, you are welcome

Michael, around here as well

Janet, I swear I don't know where our consciences have gone at times

John, I am with you my friend

Jay, same myth at work regarding "tools" as well.

 

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

Hi CHarles" It takes a special person to point out everything that is not quite correct.. you are special! Best, Gay

Posted by Gay E. Rosen, As Real as Real Estate Gets! (Julia B. Fee Sotheby's International Realty) over 7 years ago

This post made me smile.

I especially liked  "On site, this usually involves a lot of pointing and shouting at these structures---with no written report."

As for reporting on stuff outside our standards of practice, I know we're on the same page.  Take care of your client, treat 'em like a friend or family member, write your report as such, and you won't have anything to worry about.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Charlie,

If I see something dangerous, I am going to put it in the report.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 7 years ago

Could you invite Nutsy over there before they put the covers back over the openings?

Posted by Kate Kate over 7 years ago

If I could choose just one Home Inspector, it would be you.  And you know that, Buell.  There's nitpicking and then there is doing your job to protect not only the client ... but the very Industry you work in.  You represent both damn well in my opinion.

Posted by Jason Sardi, Your Agent for Life (Auto & Home & Life Insurance throughout North Carolina) over 7 years ago

You know I agree with you. I have heard the same tired old arguments about going beyond sop. I certain those that don't have their reasons, but I can't think of one that would be valid.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

reminds me of baby Jessica. Safety always first!

Posted by Shannon Coe, 916-597-3818, Lincoln, Rocklin, Loomis, Roseville (Keller Williams) over 7 years ago

Mr Charles,

Please tell Ms Kate that I can handle my owns risks.

Nutsy

 

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 7 years ago

Gay, all in a days work as they say

Reuben, yes---we are on the same page :)

Steve, we should start an "on-the-same-page" club

Kate, consider it done

Jason, thanks---and nice to see you----I have been kind of missing in the rain lately myself---just too dang busy

Jim, I agree---it boggles the mind

Shannon---I don't think I know baby Jessica

Nutsy, the whole world knows that is not true

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

Nutsy, you appear particularly puny today.

Charles, Baby Jessica was trapped in a well, rescued and survived. Early to mid 90s I think. Maybe you don't remember because you were just a youngster.

Posted by Kate Kate over 7 years ago

Kate, ahhh yes---I do remember that now---proof that I AM that old :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

Hi there Charles, we have a very good friend that was electrocuted at a home inspection. The homeowners neglected to tell the inspector or the Realtor (both our friends) that the home had a previous inspection that was stopped due to unsafe conditions. When they both walked into the garage, one of our friends was immediately hit with 220v. He is lucky to be alive! Nothing is worth losing it over. Stay safe out there Charles!

Jacque & Larry

Posted by Larry & Jacque Ficek, Realtors - Wasilla Alaska (Alaska Dream Makers) over 7 years ago

Dear Charles,

Your clear pictures are one of the best parts of your posts.  
I guess the answer is that one should do what one needs to do so that at the moment of laying one's head on th bedtime pillow, the reflections show the day was well spent and the last thoughts before sleep are proud ones.

Have a happy day -
Lynn

Posted by Lynn B. Friedman, Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers (Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty Call/Text 404-939-2727 Buckhead - Midtown - Westside -- and more ...) over 7 years ago

Jacque & Larry, that sounds aweful---one can never be too careful around electricity

Lynn, thanks---and yes it is good to be able to put ones head on the pillow and know you have done ones best.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

I'm in your camp on this one Charles.

At least mentioning it in the report that there is a concern that should be investigated. or have further enquiries made. I think it is the responsible thing to do, even if it is only mentioned 'en passant'. 

If you as a professional don't bring it up, who else will?

"Well the inspector never said anything, it must be OK"

If you leave clients with that impression, even by omission, I think you've created a liability there.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 7 years ago

I think there's no substitution for integrity and this is a great glimpse of your integrity Charles.  I would say thank you on behalf of a safer neighborhood if I lived there, instead I'll say God bless you and that you continue to have success in all you do Sir.

Posted by Joe Colón, Jr. (Jenny L Colón, PC) over 7 years ago

Robert, for sure.

Joe, thanks.  It is important in these trying times for all of us to do the best we can.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

The general SOP for most organizations is used as both a crutch and limiting document.  I look at it this way.  I am hired to tell my client about the home but the surrounding property can affect the home and it's occupants.  If I take the lazy way out and don't inspect the property as a whole, I think I am at greater risk than relying on the SOP as a protective document.

Human safety trumps the SOP but there comes a point when the process ceases to be a "home inspection".

That being said, I do a lot of acreage parcels.  I am not going to tramp through the weeds and blackberries of 5 or 10 acres.  There are just limitations on what can be done during a short time frame.

Posted by Stephen Stanczyk, Home Inspector - Puyallup WA (Safe Haven Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Stephen, I agree with the "tramping" part.  It is really like anything---we can only see what we see and unless we are being paid to traipse all over the property we can only report on what we see.  I am more concerned with ignoring things we see---because it is outside the scope of the sop's.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

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