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Home Inspectors And The Re Inspection

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Frequently a home inspector is asked to re-inspect repairs at a house where that inspector had previously performed an inspection. This is typically done at a fraction of the cost of the original inspection. On the surface, this process sounds simple enough but, in fact, home inspectors are often very uncomfortable doing re-inspections. While this might seem strange to the casual observer, the reasons for this reluctance on the part of the inspector are described below.

An inspector, and this is the primary role of the position, is expected to go in to a home and find visible defects -- some of which might be subtle. The inspector should recommend that the repair work be done, and that the system be evaluated for upgrades, by a qualified party: a licensed electrician, a licensed plumber, a licensed contractor, a licensed roofer, a licensed HVAC professional, etc. So far, it seems simple enough but then reality sets in. The seller or a friend, or someone free, cheap or casual labor, will end up doing all the work at a fraction of the cost one would pay to a qualified professional. While that might be satisfactory for some smaller maintenance or cleanup jobs, the big problem comes in when this same party works on complicated repairs, projects or systems. For example, let us assume that the inspector initially found melting insulation on solid-strand aluminum wiring in the main electric panel. The inspector later comes back to re-inspect and finds that somebody has snipped off the charred ends and put the same wires back in the same panel on the same terminals. Even if some better than average amateur repair was done at the melted wires, chances are that the aluminum wires are also corroded, melted and unsafe at the terminals at the other end where they connect to the wall outlet. The non-electrician, who did the work, had no clue that the problem in the panel was merely the tip of the iceberg. He or she missed the big picture which is equally, or even more, dangerous. Similar situations, where defects can be concealed by shoddy work, occur in plumbing, roofing, HVAC and other parts of the home.

Home inspectors are generalists, who know a fair amount about many different systems. The inspector is not, usually, an expert on any one area. Inspectors work hard to detect problems but then will, to make sure the repair is done correctly, refer work to specialists: licensed plumbers, electricians, contractors or HVAC technicians. That way the component or system called out as faulty, and anything more complicated in that system, will be detected and repaired by the specialist and that leads to an extra margin of safety for the consumer.

Trying to discern if work is done correctly is actually harder than finding the initial problem, especially if anyone involved in the repair is sneaky. That is the reason an inspector wants to see specialized work done by qualified and licensed parties. That policy, of recommending professionals, protects the inspector to some degree and is a kind of insurance policy. If it ends up that a licensed electrician, plumber or contractor did a lousy job, in a concealed area, that company is responsible for the problem that remains. On the other hand, if some fly- by-night worker with no skill or license only half does the work, then that can get an inspector into hot water. Take for instance, a worker who replaces visible galvanized steel supply pipe but replaces none of the rusted pipe that runs inside the walls. Six months later, as water begins to gush through holes in the pipes, the buyer is mad at the inspector for not guessing that the handyman didn't replace the rusted pipes that were hidden inside the walls. If a professional plumber had been in that equation, and did such poor work, the buyer would be able to complain to the plumber. But since the repair was done by an unlicensed party, who might have even vanished into thin air, the easiest person to get mad at is the inspector who is still around, insured but certainly could not see inside those walls.

Obviously, in a re-inspect, a wise inspector uses defining and exclusionary language. Also, a number of inspectors just flat will NEVER sign off on any electrical, plumbing, roofing or structural work unless invoices prove that all of the work was done by a qualified and licensed party. That policy applies regardless of how good the work might look on the surface. This kind of strict, and non-flexible policy, is always frustrating to the sellers or the realtors involved. Regardless, agree or disagree with this kind of policy, now you know why home inspectors feel that they have extremely high liability during re-inspections.

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