If you’re in the home inspection business long enough, sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a situation where you just can’t inspect something that you’re supposed to. So what happens then?
Most Standards of Practice (SOP) lay out clear guidelines stating that inspectors aren’t responsible for moving the home owner’s property. For example, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) SOP say that inspectors are not required to move “personal property, furniture, plants, soil, snow, ice, or debris” in order to inspect any part of a home.
But how does that align with providing a thorough inspection? It’s all up to the inspector.
Deciding What’s Accessible
As a home inspector, you’re hired to inspect accessible elements of the home. But the critical word is “accessible.” If there’s a padlock on the breaker box, isn’t that inaccessible? Isaac Peck for Working RE magazine says it is, but failing to inspect the panel leaves out an important part of an inspection.
When you can’t access a room or a panel or even an appliance, you aren’t required by any SOP to make a valiant effort to do so. And there’s good reason. In the process, you could cause injury to yourself or you could damage the home owner’s property. It’s a judgement call on whether to proceed or stop and think it over.
Gaining Permission Where You Can
What many inspectors decide is to make a phone call and ask permission. Maybe it’s cutting the padlock off the box, or maybe it’s removing clothes from the washing machine so that a cycle can run. Moving a sofa might also merit a call, because you never know if it’s propped up on a wobbly leg and one false move could cause it to break.
Asking can let you continue with the inspection, and you’ll run less of a risk of angering the home owner or breaking something. But where gaining access on your own could cause injury, such as moving a load of heavy boxes, no one should fault you for citing “not readily accessible” on the report and moving on with the inspection elsewhere in the house.
Another Option: Full Disclosure
One way that some inspectors deal with inaccessible areas is full disclosure beforehand. This protects the inspector and the home owner, because everyone understands the expectations before the inspection happens.
A simple disclosure statement can tell the home owners what will be inspected, and that all of those areas should be free from obstructions. That way, the responsibility is on the home owner. Then if you arrive and some areas are blocked, using “not readily accessible” is the best course of action.
Landing Someplace in the Middle
Some inspectors will always make valiant efforts to inspect a home. And some strictly adhere to a policy where they’ll only inspect what they can see and reach without obstruction. But for many others, it’s really more of a case-by-case judgment.
If a sofa is blocking an outlet, moving it a few inches makes it accessible. And if there’s one lightweight box blocking an electrical panel, moving it out of the way lets the inspector get on with his work.
Deciding whether to use a “not readily accessible” disclaimer in the home inspection report is always up to the inspector. Every Standards of Practice that you’ll read agrees, so a blank area on a report isn’t actionable.
But the question of whether leaving anything out does the customer a disservice still remains. One way to avoid that issue is full disclosure up front.
Make sure that your customer understands what you intend to inspect, and the kind of access that you’ll need to perform the inspection. You don’t need a lengthy conversation, just a form that you make in advance for all customers. That way, the customer won’t feel shortchanged, and you won’t have to worry about whether or not you’ve done a good job.
If you haven’t enrolled in a home inspection course, now is a great time to start. You can finish in as little or as long as you like, because it’s a self-paced course. And once you’re certified, you’ll be ready for licensing, memberships, and most important – work. Enroll now and start your new career in as little as a few weeks.