When to Say "Could not Inspect" in a Home Inspection Report
You find yourself under a house, trying to decide if you should squeeze between the plumbing pipes to get to that back area of the crawl space. You’re at the top of a ladder, trying to determine if you can step onto the roof without falling off. You’re in an attic, wishing you hadn’t carefully crawled across the insulation-covered rafters in order to take a look at that attic fan in the back wall.
When you start your home inspection business, it is amazing how much responsibility you suddenly carry. There’s so much to inspect in so little time. Beyond the obvious liability you carry in this industry, you also run into those tough situations where you’re not sure you can safely access or see what you need to inspect.
Let me just start by saying that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. You need to make these decisions for yourself (and perhaps with the help of a lawyer).
Ok, that’s out of the way! Now, the reason these situations are tough is because you feel that your decision to not inspect could have major consequences. Let me suggest that you make decisions based on this simple priority list.
1. Your Safety (Highest Priority)
2. Your Client’s Safety
3. Your Business (Lowest Priority)
Your safety should be the number one priority while on the job. It’s simply not worth it to climb on the roof if you have that gut feeling that you might fall off. It’s up to you to know when a situation is too dangerous. If you have all of the necessary equipment and it still doesn’t feel right, listen to your feelings!
Your Client’s Safety
Hopefully it’s not a surprise to you that your client’s safety is more important than your business’s liability. If it IS a surprise, you might want to re-think your business model. If you go into the home inspection business and your number one goal is to make sure you don’t have to pay for any mistakes, you’re going to (A) do the bare minimum and (B) always be looking over your shoulder.
If you are in a situation where you need to inspect something and it is safe to proceed, and you have nothing in your contract that says you do not inspect that particular item, then in my opinion you should inspect it. And (more importantly) you should do so for your client’s sake. They are paying you what is in their eyes a steep price for some peace of mind, and it is your job to do everything you can to give them that piece of mind.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to operate a business that is not profitable, because you are probably in the business to make money. It’s up to you to determine your pricing structure, and it is possible to offer more thorough inspections for more money (depending on which state you are in). For example, you could charge a lower fee for your basic inspection and require an additional fee for inspecting things like washers and dryers, or exterior fences. Again, this depends on your state and what is already required in a typical home inspection, but an example of a common pricing decision is to charge extra for a pest and dry rot inspection.
This allows your client to decide how much peace of mind they want to buy, while saving you time and potentially generating more profit for your business.
Though your inspections should be thorough for the sake of your clients, there comes a point when it is not feasible to inspect a particular component because it does damage to your business. In some states an example of this is cutting into siding to see if there’s dry rot behind it. Would this benefit your client? To a certain extent, it would. But it also puts your business at great risk because now in your client’s mind there’s no reason why you couldn’t dismantle any other part of the house and inspect what’s behind it. This is why it’s important to have a contract stating what you do and do not inspect.
Now, what about the tight plumbing in the crawl space? Yes, it would benefit your client to squeeze through and inspect the back corner of the crawl space, but if it might break or damage the pipes in the process (or if you might get stuck), in my opinion that's a good time to play the "could not inspect" card as the liability risk is too high.
What gives an inspector the most peace of mind is deciding beforehand what is and is not included in the inspection, and making sure this is clear to the client. You can refine this over time of course. Always point out the things you could not inspect in your report, and make sure you explain why you could not inspect them.
In the end, doing your best for the client and conveying that you care in everything you say is one of the best ways to build trust and lower the chances of creating an unhappy customer. After all, it's the happy customers that you want talking about your business!
-October 11, 2016