A Property Inspection is designed to reflect, as accurately as possible, the condition of the property at the time of the inspection, based largely on a visual appraisal. Conditions at a property for sale can change radically in only a day or two, so a Property Inspection is not meant to guarantee what condition a property will be in when the transaction closes. It’s not uncommon for conditions to change between the time of the inspection and the closing date.
What does ‘Visual Inspection’ mean?
A ‘visual inspection’ means that a Property Inspection report is limited to describing conditions in those parts of a property that an inspector can see during the inspection. Obviously, parts of the property that are permanently hidden by wall, ceiling or floor coverings are excluded, but so are parts of the property that were inaccessible during the inspection for some other reason. Some reasons might include lack of an access point, such as a door or hatch, or a locked access point, or because an occupant’s belongings blocked access, or because of dangerous or unsanitary conditions.
There can be many more reasons. The point is that if an inspector can’t see a portion of the property, the inspector can’t assume responsibility for ensuring that a safe and proper condition exists or that systems are operating properly in that hidden space.
Safety can be a matter of perception. Some conditions, such as exposed electrical wiring, are obviously unsafe. Other conditions, such as the presence of mold, aren’t as obvious.
In the example of the possible existence of mold, it’s difficult to accurately call it out during a general Property Inspection because mold sometimes grows in places where it can’t be readily seen, such as inside walls, making its discovery beyond the scope of the inspection. Also, the dangers to human health are from the inhalation of spores from indoor air.
Most people with healthy immune systems have little or no problem with inhaling spores. A few people whose immune systems are compromised by lung disease, asthma or allergies can develop serious or even fatal fungal infections from mold spore levels that wouldn’t affect most people. Every property has mold and mold colonies can grow very quickly, given the right conditions. Mold can be a safety concern, but it often isn’t. The dangers represented by mold are a controversial subject. Other potential safety issues also fall into this category.
Although the majority of the inspection is visual, the InterNACHI Middle East Standards of Practice does require inspectors to operate most of the building’s systems such as space & water heating, AC system, light switches, and faucets etc. providing it can be done without damaging the equipment or the property.
Inspectors will also examine the major accessible components of certain systems as required by the Standards of Practice such as fire alarm system.
A Property Inspection is not technically exhaustive, meaning that systems or components will not be disassembled as part of the inspection. For example, an inspector will not partially disassemble an AC unit to more accurately check the condition of the heat exchanger.
Asbestos, mold, lead, water purity, and other environmental issues or potential hazards typically require a specialist inspection, and may additionally require laboratory analysis.
Property Inspectors are Generalists
Property inspectors are not experts in every property system but are generalists trained to recognize evidence of potential problems in the different property systems and their major components. Here in the Middle East special training has been given to ensure that InterNACHI Middle East Inspectors are familiar with regional issues, and will know when a problem is serious enough to recommend a specialist inspection. Recommendations are often made for a qualified contractor, such as an MEP contractor and sometimes for a structural engineer.
Very few property inspectors have been in the inspection industry for their entire working lives. Those with a construction background started with a general idea of the systems and components that they might find installed, as well as how those systems age and fail.
This doesn’t mean that inspectors with a background in something other than the building trades are not qualified – only that they started in the inspection industry at a relative disadvantage. Building the skills and developing the judgment to consistently recognize and interpret evidence correctly and make appropriate recommendations are things that can be improved with practice and continuing education.
Part of a property inspector’s job is to manage the expectations of their client. This is especially true when a client has never dealt with a property inspector before. Explaining the limitations of a Property Inspection to a client will help them develop realistic expectations concerning what to expect from a Property Inspection report, and what lies beyond the scope of the inspection.
When a property buyer is interviewing inspectors, the buyer should ask about how the inspector handles special safety concerns.
Disclaimers are portions of an inspection agreement or report in which an inspector notifies the client that the inspector will not accept the responsibility for confirming the condition of a portion of the property or of a particular system or component.
Creating realistic expectations in a client’s mind will help prevent misunderstandings and promote smooth real estate transactions.