You hire a home inspector to look over the house you want to buy with a fine-tooth comb and tell you what issues they uncover. A good home inspector WILL thoroughly examine your home and will always find something – but there are limits. Home inspectors are bound by a set of rules that limit what they can and cannot tell you.
Here is what a home inspector CAN’T tell you:
Whether to by this house
You would think this would be an easy question, and I often hear buyers ask this question of home inspectors. Giving real estate advice violates the International Association of Home Inspectors’ code of ethics. Inspectors are required to deal with facts, not opinions. They can tell you whether the roof is damaged or the oven doesn’t work, but they cannot give you an opinion on whether they would recommend you buy a particular home. Don’t even ask. Every buyer’s motivation is different. The inspector is paid to examine the home and determine visible defects only.
What will happen to your yard in a heavy rain
Inspectors can look at the drainage and even look for clues of past flooding, but they are not civil engineers and can’t predict water run-off from your neighbor’s house, nor how fast your yard will drain. They especially cannot predict the amount of water that will accumulate around your house during monsoon rains. They don’t have the tools or the training to predict water flow and drainage, especially during unusually heavy downpours. If they suspect you will have drainage problems they will let you know in the report, but I have seen homes with a normal home inspection report flood during record rainfall events. That is one reason you’ll need homeowner’s insurance.
Problems hidden inside a wall
Home inspectors don’t possess x-ray vision. They can’t see behind sheetrock. They can only inspect what they can see. Hence, home inspectors cannot let you know if you have damaged studs, or termites, or dry-rot that they cannot see. Home inspectors will look for evidence of problems, but if they cannot see any evidence, they cannot predict future problems.
Whether the house has pests such as mice
Unless a home inspector actually sees a mouse during the home inspection – highly unlikely – they cannot tell you if a home has mice. If they see EVIDENCE of mice they can tell you that, but again, home inspectors deal with facts and unless they actually see a pest, they cannot say for sure if a pest is or has been in the home.
A home inspector cannot tell you whether a house has termites. Home Inspectors are not typically licensed to perform a home pest inspection. You will need to hire a licensed termite inspector and just like a home inspector, a termite inspector cannot tell you whether a home has termites unless they actually see termite activity. However, a licensed termite inspector is very good at looking for evidence of termites and past termite treatments and will provide that information in their report. In fact, Oklahoma Termite Specialists will provide a one year warranty after a termite inspection if the home has received a clean bill of health after a termite inspection. If a home they inspected has a termite infestation within one year after the inspection, they will treat the house for free.
While home inspectors can look for evidence of mold or conditions conducive to mold, they are not typically licensed to inspect for mold. If you choose to have a mold inspection, you will need to hire a licensed mold inspector to actually perform a test to tell you if mold is present and provide an estimate to remediate the mold problem.
A special test is required to determine if a home has asbestos, and home inspectors are not licensed or trained to test for or detect asbestos. If you want a home tested for asbestos, you will need to hire a specialist to perform the test and provide you with a report.
Damaged sewer lines
A home inspector will run water in the sinks and tubs, check for proper drainage and water flow, and test for hot and cold water output. But an inspector cannot see underground and detect a damaged sewer line. If the drains back up during the home inspection the inspector will include this fact in their report, but a line can be damaged and not cause a sewage backup and may not be detected until months later.
Internal chimney damage
Once again, a home inspector performs a surface inspection but cannot see inside of a chimney to check for damage or other problems such as a broken flue damper. They will report any obvious damage such as cracked external bricks or a damaged chimney cap, but you will need to hire a licensed chimney sweep to perform a complete internal chimney inspection.
So considering all the things a home inspector CAN’T tell you, why get a home inspection? There are many, many more things a home inspector can and often does find and make you aware of. They will look at the electrical system to verify it is safe. They test your HVAC system to ensure it is working properly. They will inspect the roof for hail damage and wear. Inspectors will check for wood rot, evidence of foundation issues, fogged double-pain windows, and many more potential items that can cause you problems after purchase. I always recommend a home inspection by a professional before a purchase! But don’t expect them to be miracle workers or soothsayers. They can’t see through walls, underground, or into the future.