One of the most unnerving things about performing a home inspection is the possibility of damaging someone else’s property. You’re there to create a report that explains the condition of the entire house, inside and out. But when you’re in someone else’s home, you never know what you might encounter.
So is there a specific protocol for handing a broken item? Not necessarily. But there is a professional ethic that guides you in the right course of action.
Here’s what you should do:
Realize that Things Will Break
The very purpose of a home inspection is to determine the condition and functionality of everything that’s inspected. Not everything will be in perfect condition, and sometimes things do break.
Occasionally, something will break while it’s being inspected. For example, the knob might pull off a cabinet door when you open or close it. Then sometimes, something that’s not related to the inspection will be broken or damaged. Maybe you’ll accidentally knock something off a shelf.
The important thing to remember is that while it’s practically inevitable that something at some time will break, it’s not common, and usually the item isn’t expensive. If you do break something during an inspection, you’re not alone and it probably won’t cost you a fortune in damages.
Put the Broken Item in Your Inspection Report
Bottom line, you are responsible for anything that you break, but that’s all within reason. And when something breaks, you’ll add it to your report. A good illustration of what’s considered “within reason” is given in a March 2014 question posted in Arizona’s Daily Courier.
A reader asked whether his inspector was liable for repairing a GFCI outlet that was working before the inspection, but not working afterward. The response explained that inspectors should be responsible for repairs for anything that’s broken. However, if something breaks during the normal inspection process, then that item was likely faulty to begin with.
Anything that breaks while you’re performing an inspection should go into your report, because you’ll want the documentation and so will the home owner. If you’re clearly at fault, then you should offer to pay for the broken item. But if the item was bound to break, as in the case of the outlet, then you’ll use your best judgment on whether to offer to pay.
Be Honest with the Home Owner or Agent
Adding a broken item to your report is only part of the process. If the home owner or agent isn’t with you during the inspection, you’ll want to leave a note or make a phone call to explain what happened.
This part might be difficult, but it’s important and it speaks to your integrity. If the person who hired you returns to find a broken item, he’ll naturally wonder whether anything else is broken, how effective an inspection you are, and whether he can trust your work.
If you take the initiative and explain what happened, your integrity is intact. You might be asked to pay for the broken item, but again, most breakage during an inspection is relatively minor.
If you’re in the business long enough, something will eventually break on your watch. It’s happened to nearly every inspector, and it’s likely to happen to you. The good news is that by and large, the damage is minor.
The most important things are to document it, and then let the customer know right away. There’s no way to be a good inspector and never risk breaking something. But you can control how you handle it.
Becoming a home inspector could be the best thing you do for your future. But first, you need the training. Get a demo of one of our courses at ICASchool, and see what you can learn from one of the top-rated home inspecting schools in the country.