HOME INSPECTIONS ARE NOT BUILDING CODE COMPLIANCE INSPECTIONS.

By
Real Estate Agent with Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate 303829;0225082372

HOME INSPECTIONS ARE NOT BUILDING CODE COMPLIANCE INSPECTIONS. 

There appears to be an ongoing debate about home inspectors citing to the local municipal building codewhen identifying certain existing conditions in resale homes undergoing a home inspection for purposes of a real estate buy/sell transaction. 

Glen Fisher, a home inspector in New Jersey, appears to advocate citing to the municipal building code as a foundation for writing defects in the condition of existing resale homes that do not comply with the present day municipal building code.  The title of his article in ActiveRain today, Building Codes and Home Inspection Standards Intertwined Mr. Fisher evidences his belief that home inspectors may or should fail existing homes for non-compliance to present municipal building codes. 

My question to Mr. Fisher is,

  • What is your mission?  Are you performing a visual home inspection or an inspection for compliance with the building code??? 
  • What does the Home Inspection Contract say?? 
  • Did the home buyer hire the inspector to learn the condition of the property, or to find out if the home meets present day building code?? 

I ADMIRE AND RESPECT HOME INSPECTORS and recommend a home inspection to every home buyer.  In fact, if an active duty military home buyer is short of funds, I'll happily pay for their home inspection.  I incorporated the recommendation of a home inspection for my buyers long before it was routine in my area of Maryland and Northern Virginia.  I have no hesitation to recommend that a buyer void a contract when the home inspection reveals defects that the seller refuses to cure or that would cause a long term loss of property value.  Of course, matters of safety are paramount when determining whether to seek a cure of defects or void the contract. 

IT'S A MATTER OF RISK.  

Risk of safe occupancy and loss of value to the home buyer when buying without a home inspection

Risk to the broker/agent is significant when selling homes without a home inspection or with known defects.

As I understand it, the purpose of a home inspection is to provide a visual inspection and testing reportof the property structure and performance of the systems, i.e. heating, cooling, appliances, electrical, etc.  once the home inspector reaches into the purvue of the municipal (county/state) building codes, the only logical result would have to be . . . . . . . .  ANY HOME THAT DOESN'T MEET TODAY'S MUNICIPAL BUILDING CODES SHOULD BE DEMOLISHED AND REPLACED WITH NEW CONSTRUCTION. . . . .   Is that what we want????  It may seem like a stretch to say that, however, what other purpose would it serve for a home inspector, when inspecting a 10, 20, 50 or 150 year old home to reference the building code?? 

The AMERICAN SOCIETY OF HOME INSPECTORS' Standard of Practices states:

2.1  The purpose of these Standards of Practice is to establish a minimum and uniform standard for home inspectors who subscribe to these Standards of Practice. Home Inspections performed to these Standards of Practice are intended to provide the client with objective information regarding the condition of the systems and components of the home as inspected at the time of the home inspection.  (emphasis added) 

The inspection should cite in the report:

  1. those systems and components inspected that, in the professional judgment of the inspector, are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives.  

THERE IS NO REFERENCE IN THE STANDARD OF PRACTICES FOR ASHI APPROVED HOME INSPECTORS THAT THE HOME INSPECTION REPORT in any way relies or should cite to the Municipal Building Code.  Are home owners required to subscribe to the changing building codes and continually remodel and upgrade their existing home to remain in compliance with the building code????? 

WHEN DOES THE MUNICIPAL BUILDING CODE APPLY TO AN EXISTING PROPERTY?

1.  REMODELING A HOME.  Generally, when the home owner wishes to improve or remodel.  Sadly, many home owners are negligent when making improvements to existing properties.  They, or the contractor whom they hire, violate the law when making certainimprovements, i.e., decks, perimiter fencing, electrical wiring or panel upgrading, some plumbing installation, most structural changes and far too many to list.  A visit or telephone call to the local building permit office will verify whether or not a permit is required. 

2.  TEAR DOWN PERMITS.  Actually, I have been advocating "rotating the crops" of older dilapidated homes and replace them with new construction on a house-by-house basis for decades.  In my area, many older neighborhood homes are sought by consumers and builders for the purpose of tearing down the existing home and building a new home on that site.  This new construction would have to be in compliance with the municipal building code. 

MR. FISHER STATES:  For example, decks are now required by code to be secured to houses with bolts.  In earlier years, most decks were secured with nails as no code specifically addressed deck construction.  As many of us now know, hundreds of decks have fallen from homes as nails were not designed for this type of load.

WHAT SUPPORTS A DECK??  In my experience, home inspectors who inspect decks consider more than whether a deck is secured by nails or bolts.  The home inspector will also look at the condition of the posts/beams on which the deck is supported on the concrete footers.  When inspecting the condition of the supporting beams, the existence of concrete footers and the manner in which the deck is attached to the house, the condition of the deck flooring and railings (curling, wood rot, popped nails or missing screws) the matter of soundness and safety is sufficient without the home inspector citing to the municipal code.  In fact, if the home inspector cites to the municipal code, it would logically follow that any repairs made to an existing deck would have to be inspected by a municipal code inspector.  What a tangled web we weave when we go outside the scope of our mission.   

I submit that by relying on the Home Inspection Contingencyor home inspection paragraph in a Contract of Sale, the home inspector is fulfilling their duty to accurately report on the condition of a property.  Further, by citing to the municipal building code, a home inspector introduces an unnecessary complication into what is a simple fact, the home inspector observed, tested and found certain defects which, when described through the Home Inspection Report, can be used by the buyer and their agent to require the seller to fix, decide to fix themselves, or void the contract

STICK TO THE MISSION. 

Home inspectors have a hard enough job without attempting to go outside their contractual mission.  Let the home inspectors inspect the house and let the code inspectors inspect new and permitted remodeled and improved properties. 

Real Estate agents have a hard enough job getting necessary repairs made by sellers who, if they cared about property condition would have made repairs prior to listing, without having a home inspector introduce the further complication of the (extra-contractual) municipal building code.

Home buyers have a hard enough job understanding the home inspection process without the intimidating and scare tactic of "THE CODE" as a concern in a home they wish to buy.

Courtesy, Lenn Harley, Broker, Homefinders.com, 800-711-7988, E-mail.

                                                       Home Inspections

                                        "I'm here and I'm beautiful.  Inspect me"

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Re-Blogged 3 times:

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Rainmaker
249,457
Christopher Watters
Watters International Realty, LLC. - Austin, TX
Austin Real Estate (512-298-4010)

I just closed on new construction condo. It sat on the market for a year. Buyers got an inspection done.. what do ya know? Didn't pass building code! lol

Jan 14, 2010 11:59 PM #37
Rainmaker
231,851
Tom Bailey
Crystal Coast Realty & Home Services, LLC - Atlantic Beach, NC

I recently learned that here in North Carolina the only liability that a home inspector has is the fee charged. No matter what is missed the only recourse that the buyer has is to recover the fee paid, nothing else.

Jan 15, 2010 12:03 AM #38
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Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Lenn, why would any inspector cite the "minimum" standards of the building code when looking at a home.  I would hope that they would want to look at it with a broader brush than that :)  I can't imagine a defect in a home that I could not write about without citing code----it amounts to laziness in a way to simply quote code and honestly I don't know any inspectors that do that.  We are NOT code inspectors and even though many of the defects we find may be code violations they may also be worse.  I am more interested in reporting the condition and what the implications of that condition are----leave the client to decide how important that information is to them.  Code need not enter the picture.  If something meets code and still might get someone killed I am going to report it.  If something is ancient and doesn't meet current standards and is going to get someone killed I am going to report it.  Again, code need not enter the picture.

Jan 15, 2010 12:21 AM #39
Anonymous
Anonymous

First off, I think it's very interesting that we have a Realtor who purports to know exactly what a home inspection is and is not. Heck, we home inspectors don't even know that, which is why there are seven national home inspector trade associations, any number of state home inspector trade associations, independent home inspectors who belong to no trade association, and home inspections that are regulated by some states.

You quote the American Society of Home Inspectors, which only has about 6,000 members. Industry estimates are that there are about 50,000 home inspectors in the Unites States and Canada. But let's use the ASHI standards.

You quote them: "2.1  The purpose of these Standards of Practice is to establish a minimum and uniform standard for home inspectors who subscribe to these Standards of Practice."

Two key phrases in there:

  1. "a minimum and uniform standard"
  2. "for home inspectors who subscribe to these Standards"

When was the last time you as a Realtor only provided a minimum standard, Lenn? I've always seen you as one who goes above and beyond. It's possible, then, for a home inspector not to subscribe to those standards, and it's also possible for a home inspector who does subscribe to them to go above and beyond those minimum standards. In fact, many home inspectors are choosing to become code certified by the International Code Council so that they have a better knowledge of the minimum CODE standards which are much higher than the minimum HOME INSPECTION standards. Would you not want a home inspector who provided a service that was better than the minimum?

Next, you quote "The inspection should cite in the report:

  1. those systems and components inspected that, in the professional judgment of the inspector, are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives.  

The key phrase in there is "in the professional judgment of the inspector." That leaves the inspector free reign to go above and beyond the minimum standards.

Next, you quote, "THERE IS NO REFERENCE IN THE STANDARD OF PRACTICES FOR ASHI APPROVED HOME INSPECTORS THAT THE HOME INSPECTION REPORT in any way relies or should cite to the Municipal Building Code.

You obviously don't understand the foundation upon which the home inspection industry is built. That foundation are the various international building codes, United States building codes, individual state building codes, electric codes, gas and plumbing codes, chimney and fire codes, engineering codes, etc.

No, home owners are not "required to subscribe to the changing building codes and continually remodel and upgrade their existing home to remain in compliance with the building code." No code requires that. However, as I like to tell my Clients, what was safe 50 years ago may not be safe today. In fact, in 50 years, lots of deaths, injuries, and property damage has caused the codes to change, usually every three years. I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't recommend upgrading unsafe practices from 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, even 5 years ago to today's standards. That doesn't mean that it has to be done, but when the prosecuting attorney calls and wants to know why I didn't recommend upgrading the electrical outlets in the kitchen and bathroom to GFCI protection, I want to be able to say, "I did. It's Item C-13 on page 9 in the home inspection report." Absent being able to say that, I'm on the hook for death, injury, or property damage for gross negligence and professional negligence. If you've ever been sued for gross negligence and professoinal negligence, you know that there are punitive damages involved, and punitive damages in today's world are off the scale. There is not enough E&O insurance to pay fo punitive damages if a judge and jury find me liable for gross negligence and professional negligence in the death of a Client or a member of his family.

My attorneys here, and I suspect Mr. Fisher's franchise attorneys since he is an NPI franchise, keep me well informed of lawsuits throughout the nation that involve home inspectors, and the results of those lawsuits, even when they are settled out of court and don't create any case law, do cause home inspectors to change the way we do things, sometimes overnight.

If you'll read all of the ASHI Standards of Practice, as well as those of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (which has about 3,000 more members than ASHI), the National Association of Home Inspectors, and others, you'll find a section that says that members must abide by local, city, county, and state rules and regulations, and/or that such regulations will supersede any trade association regulations.

You and Glen going at it is a great example of where the Internet fails us. You are trying to convince Glen that he doesn't know what he is talking about, yet he is in New Jersey. Do you know all the New Jersey rules and regulations that might affect him and his business? Does he know what rules and regulations might affect home inspectors in Virginia and Maryland? I suspect the answer to both questions is no.

Sorry, Lenn, but I think you should stick to real estate in Virginia and Maryland and let us home inspectors and our trade associations fight it out amongst ourselves as to what a home inspection is or is not. If by chance you don't like a particular home inspector, certainly you don't have to use him or her.

Realtors are not home inspectors, and home inspectors are not Realtors. They are two different professions, and neither will know everything there is to know about the other.

Jan 15, 2010 12:35 AM #40
Rainer
34,249
Ben Schern
Target Building Inspections LLC - Scottsdale, AZ
AZ Home Inspector

Interesting why your post is sponsored and Glen's is not...After-all, you are mearly responding to his post... quirky point system...

Jan 15, 2010 01:30 AM #42
Rainmaker
208,893
Terrylynn Fisher
Dudum Real Estate Group - BuyStageSell.com - Walnut Creek, CA
HAFA Certified, EcoBroker, CRS, CEP Realtor, Etc.

For a period of time some of the loans required a look at the home inspection and I understand if requested they could have a look now.  How would that complicate the loan process!!  Probably not moreso than just reading the report, but then building code compliance was  part of the VA CHFA type loans in the old days.  A tangled web for sure.

Jan 15, 2010 02:08 AM #43
Rainmaker
215,147
Debra Leisek
Bay Realty,Inc Homer Alaska - Homer, AK

As a Realtor it is frustrating when you get a home inspection and the report says to bring itmes up to current code... not for safety or health reasons... ususally just to show they know the codes...or cover themselves... It is impossible in my area to bring a 1980 home to 2010 code... and the lender sees that and it starts big problems,,,, I believe the Realtor should be the Realtor and the inspecotr should be the inspector... but here the inspectore think they know what makes a home finance or not... so they are being underwriters too... the appraiser should be calling out what is necessary for the loan type... not the home inspector...

we all want the home to be safe and sound for the buyers... we want to know if the foundation is ok and the roof doesnt leak.... but if they want a home at 2010 buiding levels and inspections they should hire a builder and get it done... otherwise they need to know what the condition of the home they are buying is in and how to maintain that home...

Jan 15, 2010 02:23 AM #44
Rainmaker
73,228
Glen Fisher
National Property Inspections of Southern New Jersey, LLC - Oaklyn, NJ

Hi Lenn.  My only question is do you ever sleep?

Jan 15, 2010 04:10 AM #45
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Glan.  Sure.  A lot.  About 8-9 hours each night.  However, since I work from home, I have a lot of time to devote to networking with real estate friends each day.  Thanks for stopping by.

Debra.  My home inspector does not cite to the code.  He knows his job.  If the buyers select a home inspector, we have a chat before the inspection to let him know that we are not doing a code inspection.  Sometimes a meeting of the minds prior to the inspection can avoid problems.  I make sure that the inspector knows the limits of the "inspection contingency" in the Contract of Sale.

 

Jan 15, 2010 04:29 AM #46
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Terrylynn.  We've had lenders request a copy of the report.  Which is why we insist that the inspection report stick to the contract, meaning inspection matters and not code.

Ben Schern.  I believe you are incorrect.  Both posts are "Featured" if that's what you mean by sponsored.

 

Jan 15, 2010 04:35 AM #47
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Russell Ray.

You wrote:  "You obviously don't understand the foundation upon which the home inspection industry is built."

I don't have to. 

However, I understand that the home inspection is performed pursuant to the Contract of Sale.  It is the Contract of Sale that permits access to the property for the home inspection.  It is the Contract of Sale that provides the peramiters for the Home Inspection Contingency.  Nothing in the Contract of Sale nor the Home Inspection Contingency provides for a code inspection unless the buyer asks for it and the seller grants it, which none, in my experience, has ever done.

New construction is quite different.  When one of my buyers has a home inspection performed for new construction, it involves several inspections, usually, foundation/pre-drywall, pre-settlement and post settlement.   If the home inspector sees a matter that is not code compliant, it is written, presented to the builder and has always been, in my experience, corrected, sometimes before and sometimes following a quick walk-through by the county code inspector.

There is nothing in the Contract of Sale or the Home Inspection Contingency that permits a home inspector to write matters in a home that he believes were not compliant to the code when the home was built. 

Homeowner improvements are quite different.  They must be code compliant when the improvement was made and our home inspectors will write that the buyer should investigate the matter of a building permit for the improvement.  The home inspector only writes this when he observes conditions that are not code compliant.  Still, the inspector doesn't cite to the code.  They recommend obtaining verification of a building permit (which would have been code inspected). 

No need to take offense with my post.  I would suggest that, if a home owner hired a home insepctor to inspect a property for their own information, which we suggest but they rarely do, the inspector can cite to the code all day long.  There is not Contract of Sale.   However, once there is a Contract of Sale, that is the agreement between the buyer and seller to which the home inspection must comply. 

Jan 15, 2010 04:55 AM #48
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Charles B.  Thanks.  I agree completely.  In fact, when I write the "HOME INSPECTION NOTICE", the matter of SAFETY is paramount and the home inspector's report will be quoted.  Depending on the severety and identification of the SAFETY matter, my buyers are likely to void the contract if significant SAFETY matters exist. 

We're not afraid to send a NOTICE to the seller that the buyer is voiding the contract.  We don't even have to state the details.  If, however, the buyer seeks repairs, the SAFETY matters will be identified in detail.

I write a mean repair addendum.

 

 

Jan 15, 2010 05:00 AM #49
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Tom B.  There is case law whereby the buyer has been awarded significantly more than the inspection fee if the home inspector was negligent.  I know that's what's in the home inspection contracts, but, if the inspector is negligent, judges aren't impressed with that "limit of liability" clause.

Christopher.  New construction inspections and resale Home Inspection Contingencies are different.

Roger.  You wrote:  is that they are citing "violations" as they are to today's codes, not to the standard at the time the home was built.

Right you are. 

Jan 15, 2010 05:04 AM #50
Rainmaker
533,845
Jim Lee
RE/MAX By The Bay - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Realtor, Portsmouth, NH

I don't see it as a home inspector's job to "pass" or "fail" a home but rather to point out any defects to potential buyers.

Not realistic to expect a 30+ year old resale house to conform to current codes.

Jan 15, 2010 07:18 AM #51
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Jim.  Agreed.

That's what I tell them when we meet, just write it and I'll know what to do with it.  However, just write what you see, not how it relates to current code.

I believe it's important for buyers, agents and home inspectors to have a meeting of the minds before the inspection. 

Some home inspectors appear to take offense at this thought, but contract management is my job.  Their job is writing what they see.

Jan 15, 2010 07:24 AM #52
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Joe Pryor
The Virtual Real Estate Team - Oklahoma City, OK
REALTORĀ® - Oklahoma Investment Properties

This simple to me. If a home inspection was about current code compliance, and all homes had to meet the current standard, then home inspectors as well as Realtors would be out of business. Homes would not sell. Home owners could not possibly pay the price of this, and also, since code changes constantly, this would get out of control because for instance, I had a sprinkler system installed in 2005. At that time you could not put the works underground. The in 2006 the system burst, and the code had changed, so it had to go underground. Now the code has changed back. I agree that if a code was obviously violated, and a danger exist, changes should be made. But a house built in 1939 brought to 2010 codes, no way.

Jan 15, 2010 09:00 AM #53
Rainmaker
191,418
Gregory Bain
Mezzina Real Estate & Insurance - Little Egg Harbor, NJ
For Homes on the Jersey Shore

Good Information. When I started out in Real Estate I had a company that would do the job for less. During the inspection - not to be labeled a "deal killer" - the inspector would find something wrong and state, "don't worry, they won't be able to get a Certificate of Occupancy without correcting this or that.

Well, the owner did get a Certificate of Occupancy and the buyer had no choice but to accept the house with the flaws. I don't think the inspection company is in business any longer (never see their trucks) but, I do make sure I am present during the inspections and have the buyers identify everything they want or need to have fixed in writing to the owner. Regardless of any building code inspections to be made by the township.

Jan 15, 2010 09:23 AM #54
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Gregory.  The statement that they couldn't get a U&O with the defect is not correct.  U&Os are routinely issued when there are defects remaining.  The U&O usually means that the property is SAFE to occupy.  Code inspectors don't inspect the whole house, they check on a particular part of the building permit. 

We've had many new homes with U&O and some items on the punch list remaining.  That's why we do punch lists.  Then the builder usually has about 30 days to complete the punch list.  Most construction supervisors will want to clear the punch list because they often have a bonus attached to getting the buyer's signature on the punch list even if items remain.

Folks who sell new homes will learn what the buyers can do and what they can't do in terms of closing.

Joe P.  That's the only thing that makes sense.  One of the home inspectors that we stopped using wrote a basement window that was 6 inches higher than the code.  GEEZ!  The house was 200 years old.  We cautioned him about writing it, but he wrote it anyway.  GEEZ!

Jan 15, 2010 09:31 AM #55
Rainmaker
71,021
David Selman
Selman Home Inspections, Inc. - Dallas, TX
Certified Master Home Inspector

Lenn - You are exactly right in your post. While some "Standards of Practice" for a given area or state may be different, Home Inspectors ARE NOT code enforcement. As a home inspector myself, it is my job to know and understand building codes. Not to site them or report on building codes, rather as knowledge to perform a home inspection comparing the property (visually) to "perfect" conditions. 

When a defect is noted in a home inspection report, the "code" should not be sited (In Texas). But knowing and understanding the effect of a given building code helps a good inspector know how best to describe the defect without alarm or giving the impression of "Passing or Failing" code. For anyone interested, I back up my stance online to help educate my North Texas clients.

Great Post Lenn!

David Selman
Selman Home Inspection Company
"Accurate Investment Protection You Can Trust"

Jan 15, 2010 11:14 AM #56
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Great comment David S.

Thanks.  It isn't really too complicated.  We all have equally important jobs to do.

Jan 15, 2010 12:11 PM #57
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