Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


Bonsai and the Home Inspector Standards of Practice.

There is an ongoing argument among home inspectors as to whether their Standards of Practice is a “bar not to be exceeded” or the “minimum that an inspector is required to do.”

tree2.jpgFinding myself in the latter camp I have wrestled with different arguments to support my position.  I have come up with a visual analogy.

A tree.

With a Tree, we have the above ground trunk, limbs and leaves.  Underground we have the root system that supports the tree. Of course these components are interdependent.  We all know that a tree can’t live long without roots, and while a cut rose will do wonders for your sweetie---eventually it ends up in the compost.  Of course without a trunk, branches and leaves, the root system will also wither and die---serve no useful purpose. 

I have noticed however, the tenacity of root systems to continue growing.

 Sometimes the portion above ground will create a whole new root system as well---if nurtured effectively.Tree trunk healing itself

As an analogy we can visualize the Standard’s of Practice as the roots of the tree. 

After the home inspector’s training has been completed, and the inspector is “qualified” to go out into the world to kick tires and tree trunks, the tree is already an established size based on the Standards of Practice agreed upon by one’s particular State Licensing board, or one’s chosen Association---such as ASHI.  This amounts to the above ground portion of the tree.

Now of course, the foliage of the tree is beautiful and symmetrical---however, perhaps a little “bonsaied” by the minimal nature of the Standards of Practice as well as the minimal amount of education/information the new inspector brings to the forest. 

Time goes by and the sun shines on the tree and, despite the best efforts of the arborist Home Inspector, the tree grows---producing more roots, more branches and more leaves.

This “growth” is equivalent to “new information” being added---new knowledge being gained---continuing education.  To support this growth, the roots---the Standards of Practice---must also grow.  Unfortunately the minimum standards don’t grow fast enough (some arborists even believe they should never be allowed to grow) to keep up with the growth of the tree---a kind of “natural bureaucracy” takes over.  Others argue that new roots must be added by the inspectors themselves to compensate.  This is called “growing going beyond the Standard’s of Practice.”  I think the majority of inspectors have a green thumb in this respect whether they would admit it or not.

As with any tree, messing with the Primary Roots will land you in trouble, so it is important to make sure they are maintained and well cared for.  Pretending that some of the primary roots are necessary and some are not is not going to be good for the tree or the home inspector.

Every tree has a great many roots that are not necessary for the tree’s support but nonetheless equally important in nourishing the tree.

Sometimes, regardless of attentive pruning and feeding, an ill wind will blow and expose hidden decay/rot.  Sometimes a George-Washington-type may come along and even chop the whole thing down---for no reason whatsoever.

Such is the life of a tree---

---and a home inspector.


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Comment balloon 11 commentsCharles Buell • February 18 2012 09:17AM


Charlie, Great analogy. Without a proper root system to work from you can not grow. If you are not you are in trouble, stagnation leads to death.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Charles, clever analogy and visualization of the roots of a tree and standard's of practice for home inspectors. Suggested!

Posted by Rebecca Gaujot, Realtor®, Lewisburg WV, the go to agent for all real estate (Vision Quest Realty) over 7 years ago

Charles- great analogy, especially the "To support this growth, the roots... the Standards of Practice... must also grow."  It would be nice if the Standards of Practice  could keep up with the new information and technology that comes out every year.  Homeowners will have to depend on Inspectors who are willing to not just settle for the minimum requirement. 

Posted by Kathy Streib, Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224 (Room Service Home Staging) over 7 years ago

Charlie excellent analogy> The same goes for a Realtor® and other trades. The roots are there for a reason.

Posted by Surprise Arizona Realtor Jim Braun Sun City Grand Active Adult Communities, Surprise AZ real estate Phoenix West Valley (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Jim Braun Sun City Grand Az ) over 7 years ago

Don, thanks

Rebecca, thanks---we shall see how much sway you have with the AR gods :)

Kathy, the Standards of Practice rarely keep pace with the changing information

Jim, for sure

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

Charles -- of course here in the northwest, it seems that if you don't put some root killer on, you are likely to get another tree from the multiple shoots coming up from the stump.  We should all be like that healthy tree you were describing -- growning and maturing in our fields.

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) over 7 years ago

Mr. Jay says to tell you he agrees with your point of view and loves the analogy!

I, however, love roots period.  Floating foliage is good too, but those roots really rock my world!  And I love it when they grow!

Very kindly,



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

Those that see the SOP as the "The Standard" not be exceeded truly can not see the forest for the trees. Or perhaps it is a convenient way of rationalizing doing the minimum. The SOP should be, is a living standard. To date the standard has been amended once in CT. Amending the standard is, to say the least a laborious process, which is certainly a big reason why it isn't been done more often. And one must ask, is it necessary to change the standard frequently. 

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

Steven, I agree, sometimes those cut off trees can sprout out of control.

Thanks Croakster---nice of you to hop on by

Jim, some how there should be a process for changing the SOP's a little more easily than they are now.

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

So... do you think the ASHI SOP is inadequate?

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

Reuben, it would depend how you define "adequate."  Like most of them it is vague enough that it could be interpreted to allow for anything or (as some would say) restrict us to specifically what it says.

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