Defects and material defects aren’t necessarily the same thing to a certified home inspector. Generally, inspectors focus on locating material defects. But what’s the difference, and does it matter?
Defects mean something isn’t as it should be. It’s broken. It’s damaged. It’s defective. But a material defect takes the idea one step further. It refers to a defect that negatively alters the way a home system is used, puts a homeowner at risk or requires repair or replacement right away. Material defects are major defects. Here’s what you need to know about them.
The Law Defines Material Defects
According to 15 USCS § 6602 (4), [Title 15. Commerce and Trade; Chapter 92, a material defect is defined this way:
“A defect in any item, whether tangible or intangible, or in the provision of a service, that substantially prevents the item or service from operating or functioning as designed or according to its specifications.”
To a home inspector, material defects may cause a home system to either operate poorly or not at all, at least not the way the system was intended. For example, a material defect on a backyard deck could put the structure at risk of collapse. With an air conditioner, the system might fail to cool the air or to turn on at all.
An ordinary defect might detract from the aesthetics or prevent a system from functioning at peak efficiency, but it probably won’t cause anyone harm.
Home Inspectors Don’t Often Differentiate Between Defects and Material Defects
To a certified home inspector, a defect is often a material defect. It’s not common to use “material” in the report. There’s no rule against reporting ordinary defects, but inspectors focus on the ones that cripple the function of the item inspected, cause financial or physical harm or both.
The law states that if a defect has an insignificant effect on the system or only affects one part of a system without damaging function, it’s not a material defect. For example, ripped wallpaper or dirty carpet look ugly, but they don’t affect the integrity of the walls and floors. However, they’ll probably affect the buyer’s impression of the house.
Material defects must be reported; ordinary defects can be reported. To stay on the safe side, it’s better to include any obvious defect, material and otherwise, that you find. If you include ordinary defects in your report, you could protect yourself against accusations of an incomplete inspection.
Sometimes, it’s a Balancing Act
If you only report material defects, you’ll one day find a grumpy customer who thinks you didn’t do a thorough job. If you give every defect, material and ordinary, the same emphasis, you might confuse customers or give them unnecessary anxiety. Part of a home inspector’s job is judging what matters and what doesn’t. Even then, it’s easy to skew too far in one direction or another. A safe bet is to report what you see.
Buyer’s Choice Inspections says that ultimately, the home buyer is the one whose opinion matters most. Lacking a crystal ball, there’s no way to know what matters and what doesn’t.
A buyer might panic at the thought of an inexpensive electrical repair, they explain. At the same time, they might not worry about a material defect that has the potential to cause significant damage to the home. It’s all about perception, so it’s in the buyer’s best interest, as well as the inspector’s, to report every defect that’s observed.
A defect isn’t always just a defect. Material defects, by definition, either put a home system, the home or the homeowner at risk now or they could in the future. Ordinary defects are more often annoyances. When performing an inspection, think about it like painting a picture. The customer can only see what you write in your report. If something stands out to you as defective, chances are your customer will feel the same way once they move in.
If defects and material defects sound complicated, ICA School can clear the murky waters. Out education program teaches you how to detect home defects, write reports, and many other aspects of being a certified home inspector. Enroll now and start learning about this and more today.