Home inspectors are the quiet heroes of real estate, providing unbiased information that can help their clients make an informed decision about purchasing a property. We love our home inspectors, and it looks like HGTV is jumping on board by giving this profession its moment in the spotlight. The network’s new show, Home Inspector Joe, features a dynamic duo of an inspector and a designer that team up to make sure families get the home of their dreams.
That’s a familiar formula on HGTV, and it’s a lot of fun to watch, but it doesn’t correspond with the real life work of a home inspector. On TV, Home Inspector Joe takes families through houses and to uncover extensive issues — and then proceeds to work on tearing out the bad and rebuilding it “better.” In real life, however, home inspectors are subject to specific rules about what they can and can’t do during an inspection. When you’re hiring a home inspector — or perhaps even considering becoming a home inspector yourself — it’s important to remember what the job is really all about.
So let’s dig into the details of what you can — and what you can’t — expect from a professional home inspector.
Top 10 “don’ts” for home inspectors
1. Home inspectors don’t destroy or demolish property
Unlike what you may have seen on TV, a home inspector can’t do whatever they want to the property to take a closer look. That means no drilling into wood to check for rot, no pulling up carpet to look for moldy underlayment, and no pulling back drywall to see if the studs are correctly placed.
What a home inspector can do is to make a careful scan of all visible areas of the home. This includes interiors and exteriors, structural elements, home systems, and even some appliances. (For a list of items a common inspection covers, see our post, ”Tips for Creating a Home Inspection Checklist.”) If a problem is suspected, the inspector investigates as closely as possible without causing any new damage and then notes findings in detail in the report so that the buyer can make an informed decision about the risks moving forward.
2. Home inspectors don’t repair or remodel houses they’ve inspected
Here’s where real life is very different from TV: home inspectors can’t perform work that would be considered a conflict of interest. This includes repairing problems they uncover during an inspection.
The reason for this is so that home inspectors maintain a neutral, trustworthy stance. After all, if an inspector told you the wiring was bad, and they immediately offered to rewire the house for a certain price, wouldn’t you be a little suspicious? Even though most inspectors are very honest and wouldn’t just try to drum up extra business this way, state licensing bureaus are clear that they have no tolerance for even the appearance of shady practices. Likewise, home inspectors are also held to a strict code of ethics by their professional organizations, so this type of “double dipping” is out of the question.
Pro Tip: A home inspector generally can’t work on a property within one year of inspecting it.
3. Home inspectors don’t diagnose issues that require a specialist
Think of a home inspector as a family doctor. If a specialist is called for, a home inspector is going to recommend that you seek the insight of a licensed plumber or electrician, rather than give you a diagnosis based on the symptoms the home displays.
4. Home inspectors don’t enforce building codes
A home inspector is someone who works in private business, not for a city or municipal government. The inspector’s job is to be an expert set of eyes for home buyers (and sometimes sellers), uncovering potential problems in the building.
This is often confused with building inspectors, who work for local government entities to enforce official building codes. These are the people who come out to inspect progress on construction that requires a building permit, and they need to sign off on the work to make sure it meets legal building codes.
Oddly enough, meeting code doesn’t always guarantee safety or quality, and the rules change often. That’s why home buyers need their own inspection, which provides up-to-the-minute information about the state of the home they’re interested in.
5. Home inspectors don’t give failing grades
There’s a big misconception that home inspectors can condemn a building or somehow “flunk” a house. Home inspectors don’t actually make this type of judgment call. They aren’t umpires calling strikes on a building and killing your real estate dream when they get to strike three.
It makes more sense to understand that a home inspector is a documentarian. It’s the inspector’s job to explain everything they see in the house, and interpret what all that information means. The inspector won’t tell you how to react to the information they provide, and what you do with the report is up to you. The inspector will work hard to give you all the information you need to make an informed decision on your purchase — but that decision is ultimately yours.
6. Home inspectors don’t appraise houses
Determining a property’s value is a specialized skill, and it’s one that will definitely come up during a real estate transaction — usually twice. First, the real estate agent will do some comparisons and come up with an asking price based on market conditions as well as how the home presents to the public — its curb appeal. This is part art and part science.
Lenders are often likely to ask for an official property appraisal to get a sense of what the home will sell for. They need this as proof that they’ll be able to sell the house and get their money back if the eventual buyer defaults on the mortgage. This assessment is made by a professional real estate appraiser.
Home inspectors, on the other hand, do not give their opinion of a home’s value. They’re there strictly to note its condition, but they’re not trained to determine how that condition should affect the price. That’s something that the buyers and their real estate agent should work on negotiating directly with the seller. Our repair request list tool, known as the CRL, is great for that part of the process.
7. Home inspectors don’t predict the future
One of the biggest questions home inspectors get is about how long something will last. The simple truth is that inspectors aren’t psychics, so they can’t accurately predict what is going to happen after the inspection is complete. Nobody can! What they can do is alert you to something that’s actually broken or missing.
8. Home inspectors don’t do “heavy lifting”
Your home inspector might be a hero when it comes to protecting you from making a down payment on a house with a cracked foundation, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to move piles of junk to get to the back of a crawlspace. This type of physical labor just isn’t part of the job description.
That’s why it’s crucial that home sellers make sure their property is ready for inspection. That means clearing pathways of debris and making sure all areas are easily accessible. It’s also a good idea to drop your pets off elsewhere during the inspection (for their safety and the inspector’s safety). For more detail on getting ready for an inspection, check out our blog post, “What Should I Do to Prepare for a Home Inspection?”
9. Home inspectors don’t mark property borders
In real estate transactions, it’s common for questions about the exact boundary of the property to come up. This may seem obvious on the surface, especially in areas with fences, hedges, and other border plantings. But land deeds are highly specific legal documents, and any questions about property lines need to be dealt with by a professional land surveyor. Your friendly neighborhood home inspector won’t even make a guess, because this is way outside their wheelhouse.
10. Home inspectors don’t give home decorating advice
This should go without saying, but a home inspector is a building professional, not an interior designer. Still, you’d be surprised how many people ask what it might cost to remove a wall for an open concept kitchen or whether a bay window is outdated. It’s not that your inspector doesn’t have opinions — they probably do! It’s just that taste is personal, and they’re not being paid to spitball design plans. (No matter what HGTV would have you believe.)
Looking for more helpful tips? HomeGauge is here for you, whether you’re a new home buyer or thinking about pivoting to a career as a home inspector. Find out more by visiting our Learning Center today!