DEAR BARRY: We’re selling our home, and the buyer wants his brother, a contractor, to do the inspection, instead of hiring an actual home inspector. We’ve never heard of this kind of inspection and are not sure if we should allow it. What do you think? –Amy

DEAR AMY: If your buyer chooses an inspection by someone who is not a professional home inspector, he is the one on the short end of the stick — not you. Many people assume that home inspectors are merely contractors who inspect homes instead of building them. That idea is about 10 miles short of the truth and needs to be reconsidered.

Those who liken home inspectors to contractors might just as well equate a police detective with a patrolman on the beat. The detective probably began as a patrolman but then attained the specialized skills of a crime investigator. Patrolmen are skilled in law enforcement, not in criminal forensics. In the same way, most home inspectors began their careers in the building trades but then specialized in property defect evaluation. Contractors are skilled in construction techniques, not the discovery of damage, deterioration and other building defects.

When a relative or friend who is a contractor conducts a home inspection, the result is a walkthrough inspection by someone who is not an expert in property evaluation. Construction knowledge is essential when checking the condition of a home, but a comprehensive inspection is much more involved and far more complex than a mere walkthrough overview, even when done by a contractor.

A home inspection, if properly done by a qualified pro, surpasses a contractor’s walkthrough inspection in countless ways. Just to list a few: A home inspector removes the covers from breaker panels, tests the grounding and polarity of electrical outlets, verifies GFCI compliance at outlets, and operates and evaluates the plumbing fixtures, drains and supply valves, the heating and cooling equipment, built-in appliances, fireplaces, garage door openers, and more. A home inspector walks on the roof, traverses the attic, belly-crawls the foundation area, and evaluates safety compliance regarding smoke alarms, water heaters, garage firewalls, chimneys, gas piping, railings, decks, stairways, etc., and checks for signs of faulty ground drainage, for general physical damage, and for operation defects affecting doors, windows, foundations and more — much more.

Contractors typically report conditions that happen to be noticed in passing. A qualified home inspector employs discovery processes specifically developed and refined by home inspection professionals since the 1970s. These methods are the routine, daily practice of home inspectors who have mastered their profession.

Choosing a contractor instead of an experienced home inspector denies a buyer the full benefit of comprehensive defect disclosure. For sellers, the one disadvantage is liability if undisclosed defects are discovered in the future. To lessen that risk, you should recommend in writing that the buyer hire a qualified, full-time home inspector. If you make that recommendation and he fails to heed it, you will have a strong defense if unknown defects are discovered after the close of escrow.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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