Over recent years, I’ve seen notable improvements in home inspection reporting. Reports now include photos, pictures with arrows to delineate reported issues and some very helpful descriptions, details and advice. They’ve even gone from black-and-white to color and from 10-12 pages to as many as 72 pages.
Although inspection reports have taken these strides forward, it seems they are also tiptoeing back a bit since the proliferation of “red ink” has taken over the process. No longer do inspection reports simply confirm that a home is good quality.
Now, they are riddled with disclaimers stating that, although the home appears to be ready for move in, there could be undetected issues in every room. And it’s all too much.
Inspecting old homes
In northern New Jersey, the area my real estate business serves (and the so-called home of New York’s bedroom communities), most of the homes were built in the mid 20s to mid 30s, making them close to 100 years old.
This means they are generally solid and built with better materials than today’s homes — and it also means they are susceptible to age-related issues with their roof, operational equipment and the like. A home inspection should be reflective of the quality of such a home, and it should do whatever it can to address concerns.
The challenge is that these same reports are now starting to include visible wear-and-tear items that are generally viewed as upgrades, such as cracks in the driveway, older windows instead of thermal pane windows and two-prong outlets.
Where the problem starts
When my team represents buyers, we try to inform our clients that reports will point out a combination of easily identifiable defects, potential defects, contrasts to current building codes and upgrades. The latter two items can be where tension in a transaction often starts.
At the same time, I am now seeing an awful lot of red ink — and by that I mean disclaimer language built into almost every section of the report. This takes a report and throws the proverbial gasoline on a burning fire.
I am all for accurate and detailed reporting, but to conduct an inspection, tell the clients it looks like a good quality home, and then throw everything into question in the written report is something that is making buyers very anxious and even angry.
As an example, advising that the structural beams tested solid and showed no signs of cracks but reporting that there may be unseen structural damage is like a meteorologist saying there is a 50 percent chance of rain or snow or sun or clouds today.
The red ink has gotten so bad that I’m tempted to include a bottle of Visine with every buyer’s induction kit to prepare them for the extensive CYA (cover your ass) language that is being included to protect home inspectors from what they can’t see.
Inspectors are not superhuman. They don’t have X-ray vision or tools to measure stress loads or see inside walls. So if there are any possible concerns that arise, it’s good practice to then have a second-level inspection performed. This is where a professional in a specific field — plumbing, chimney, electric, sewer line, etc. — inspects a certain area of the home to ensure its safety and functionality.
To make it clear, I’m all for a report that states that a further examination of the property might provide more detailed information that assures buyers that they are purchasing a quality home (or that certain repairs are truly necessary). What concerns me is including red ink that acts as a disclaimer to every written passage throughout the report.