If a Home Inspector Misses Something

by Nick GromickoCMI® and Kenton Shepard

It’s not good to miss something on an inspection, but, because we're human, sooner or later, every home inspector is going to miss something. But, believe it or not, this can actually be turned into a good opportunity.

One of the measures of an inspector’s ability is the gravity of the miss. Did the inspector miss a structural issue that was easily visible and will cost $15,000 to correct, or was it a saturated desiccant strip in a double-pane window that may be apparent only under certain conditions? The former is not the good opportunity.

Was it Really a Miss?

Inspectors are sometimes accused of missing something clearly disclaimed in the home inspection contract, especially when they're following InterNACHI's Standards of Practice, such as air-conditioning performance.  That's why it's a good idea to include the SOP in the appropriate section of the inspection report.

As inspectors, we each need to do our best to ensure that, before the inspection begins, the client has a realistic idea of what is and isn’t included. We need to educate our clients.

In addition to giving a brief verbal description of the inspection and its limitations, refer your new clients to a “New Clients” page and include web links to InterNACHI's Standards of Practice, the inspection contract (also developed by InterNACHI), and a “Systems Excluded” page detailing what’s not typically included as part of the General Home Inspection. This page may also mention that you offer some of the stated exclusions as ancillary inspections, if that's the case.

You want clients to read the contract.  Ask your clients to read, then FAX or e-mail you signed copies of the contract and the "Systems Excluded" pages. InterNACHI’s Online Agreement System includes a feature that allows clients to sign and return your contract electronically. Some contract requirements may vary by state.

The first line in InterNACHI's standard home inspection contract explains that it is not an inspector's duty to find every defect: 
"INSPECTOR agrees to perform a visual inspection of the home/building and to provide CLIENT with a written inspection report identifying the defects that INSPECTOR both observed and deemed material."
And you should also consider providing your client a copy of InterNACHI's Now That You've Had a Home Inspection book. It will protect you from future claims.

Was the "Miss" Handled Well?

If you do miss something, there are times when you have to simply admit your mistake, make an apology, and get on with it. There are also times to demonstrate why you haven't made a mistake, but always graciously offer to make things right anyway, and convert the situation into a marketing opportunity. There are also times that will require you to take a position and stand fast because there are a number of situations in which others involved in the transaction may be motivated to make the inspector the fall guy.

Which approach to use involves judgment, and that’s what it finally comes down to in home inspections. This is true not only for handling mistakes, but also in evaluating the limitless combinations of home systems and components, and all the grey areas in between, for which an inspector finds him or herself forced to make a decision that they may be called upon later to defend in court.

As an inspector, good judgment is one of your most important tools, and it’s a skill that can be learned. Reading the InterNACHI Message Boards will help you sharpen this skill painlessly by allowing you to learn from the mistakes and experiences of other inspectors. In addition to providing education, the boards offer inspectors a chance to become part of the world's largest international inspection community that offers opportunities and support during the difficult times many inspectors face in breaking into the industry.