Question: My partner and I are looking to buy a house and we are becoming frustrated with the process. With the hot real estate market, we are being told that a pre-purchase home inspection condition in our offer is a bad idea, by many people, including our realtor. They say that any conditions in the offer will make it less attractive to the seller, making it almost impossible that they will accept ours, if there are any competing ones. With the offer acceptance date normally a few days after looking at most houses, we thought we would be able to do the inspection before making an offer. That would prevent this dilemma, but still allow us to learn more about the condition of the home. While this has been a possibility on some homes we were interested in, others said it would not be allowed, partially due to COVID restrictions. Because only one group of people is allowed in the house at one time, the seller’s agent won’t give us the required two to three hours for the inspection.
Our realtor has suggested that some clients are opting for shorter walk-through inspections, that are normally done in under one hour. Most selling agents are agreeable to these, as they are not much longer than a typical showing. Are these a good idea and what are the risks? I have inquired with a couple of reputable home inspectors who say they will not do a walk-through, while others with lower online ratings say they will. Can a proper inspection be done in an hour?
Thanks, Betty Buyer.
Answer: Limiting the time for a proper home inspection, whether done pre-offer or as a pre-purchase conditional inspection, is a bad practice for all involved in the transaction. Not allowing the inspector to do a complete, thorough inspection according to Canadian Association Of Home & Property Inspectors (CAHPI) standards can lead to future, costly problems that may not be seen in a limited walk-through. This can be even worse than no inspection, as it may give the buyer a false impression of the true condition of the home, and increase the liability for the seller and agent who would not allow a complete home inspection.
I posed the above question from the hypothetical respondent as a compilation of the multiple verbal inquiries I have received on this topic, in the last year or so. Anyone who has perused the numerous forms of modern media available in this time frame knows what is going on across the country in the real estate markets. Homes are selling more quickly than ever before and for much greater values. A combination of the demand from people working and sequestering at home due to COVID, and record low interest rates, makes for an unprecedented seller’s market in many areas. Because of this, many buyers are forgoing any and all conditions on their offers to purchase, to make them more attractive to those few selling. The most noticeable of these conditions is for the proper due diligence included with a thorough home inspection.
A proper home inspection done to the standards of CAHPI normally takes a minimum of two hours and can last up to four hours for a very large home. That amount of time is required to inspect all the major systems in a typical home, including running the HVAC systems, all plumbing fixtures, and accessing the roof and attic. For homes with crawlspaces, especially with structural wood floors, entering these confined spaces and inspecting requires even more time. To ask the inspector to complete this process in under an hour is completely unreasonable and would be like asking a new home builder to complete their work in a month.
The risk associated with a walk-through for the buyer should be obvious. What things will be evaluated and what others left out? Do you want me to look at the foundation, but ignore the roofing and attic? Do you want to check the air conditioner but pass over the furnace and natural gas distribution system? Taking the cover off the electrical panel, and inspecting for serious fire and safety issues, will hardly be possible during a time-restricted walk-through. When I field an inquiry of this type from a prospective client, I ask them if I see something in a system that was supposed to be omitted, do I tell them about the issue or just walk by?
The other major issue, which is rarely discussed, is the additional risk which may be assumed by the buyer according to the inspector’s contract. All home inspection contracts that I have seen will have some limitations, but most will require the inspection completed to a certain standard of care. In a walk-through inspection the client may be asked to sign a contract that limits the inspector’s responsibility even more. Worse yet, less reputable operators may not even bother with a contract, or written report, for walk-throughs. In that situation, the potential purchaser of the home has no proof that the home was inspected, and no recourse if major defects are later discovered. In that situation, the seller may have highlighted some issues in the property disclosure statement, but omitted others that would have been discovered during an inspection. That opens the seller up to a larger chance of legal action after possession, by an uninformed and disgruntled purchaser.
Declining an offer to purchase with undesirable conditions is well within the rights of anyone selling a home, but limiting the time a buyer’s home inspector can access the property is improper. Denying the inspector the ability to do their job properly, by limiting their access time, creates an environment where the liability is increased for all parties involved in the sale. Doing a walk-through in place of a thorough home inspection can lead to more potential problems than omitting it all together.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.