It is often said that buying a home is the most expensive and most important transaction of your life. Contrary to most other purchases that you make, the home you just purchased doesn't come with a money-back guarantee or return policy if you are not happy with it. Once you become the owner, you are responsible for maintaining and repairing your home; you need to anticipate problems and pay the bills. This is why it is important to find out as much as possible about potential problems before you commit to buying a house.
By reading the advice given below, you will learn how to protect your investment and what to do so that your home remains a safe place where you will enjoy living.
If you do not feel capable of performing some of the maintenance work described below or if you lack the equipment (for example, a ladder), perhaps you should consider hiring someone who can help you do the work.
What does a home inspector do?
One of the best ways to find out the condition, livability, and safety level of a house is to hire the services of a professional building inspector.1 An inspector who has received the appropriate training will examine your house considering it as a whole, so as to predict the impact of any of its components on the operation or useful life of any other component. Home inspectors visit the property and perform a comprehensive visual inspection to assess the condition of the house and all its systems. They indicate which components are not working properly, as well as those whose useful life has been reached or those that are unsafe. They also identify elements that might require repair or those that may have had problems in the past. The results of the inspection give the client a better understanding of the condition of the property, based on what could be observed at the time of inspection.
An inspection following a conditional offer on a house of between 165 and 205 m2 (1800 to 2200 ft2) normally takes about three hours and costs around $500. After the inspection, the buyer is given a written report that shows all the details of the inspection. The home inspector should be able to answer all the buyer's questions and should specify the limits of the inspection to prevent any misunderstanding. The CMHC recommends that potential buyers accompany the inspector during the inspection, because this experience can be very rewarding.
Scope of your home inspection
The purpose of a home inspection is to gather information about the state of the systems and components of a home at the time the inspection is conducted. It will enable you to make an informed decision.
The home inspector will perform a visual inspection of the house by examining all its components, including interior and exterior elements. He/she will check the roof, flashings, chimney, gutters, downspouts, wall surfaces, windows, doors, foundations, and the grading of the land around the house.
If the inspection takes place in winter, it should be noted that the roof and foundations might be hidden by snow and ice, and will not be fully visible. The home inspector will make every reasonable effort to carry out an inspection of the roof, but for safety and insurance reasons, he/she is not required to climb up on a roof covered with snow or ice. This inspection may, however, be performed from the ground or another vantage point. The same is true for the chimney and downspouts.
If the inspector finds problems or defects that exceed the scope of the inspection, he/she may recommend carrying out further analysis.
Here is a list of the internal components that will be checked by the inspector: electrical, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, insulation, flooring, ceilings and walls, as well as doors and windows. Please note that home inspectors do not have the skills required to perform a verification of wood-burning appliances such as open fireplaces or wood stoves, unless they have Wood Energy Technology Transfer (WETT) certification. Many inspectors have this certification, but do not perform a WETT inspection during a normal home inspection unless they are requested to do so. This is a special request that extends the inspection by at least one hour. To perform this inspection properly, the chimney must first be cleaned.
As for the exterior of the house, inspection of the interior elements will be visual, which implies that the inspector cannot see behind the walls or under the floor.
Unless specifically requested, a normal inspection does not include the following: a real estate evaluation, an estimate of repair costs, or an assessment of compliance with the building code. The inspection does not provide guarantees.
Choosing a building inspector
The inspection of residential buildings is a discipline that requires training, knowledge, and specialized communication skills.
However, there is currently no mandatory certification and no legal obligation for a home inspector to follow a training course or to pass exams. Anyone can claim to be a home inspector. That is why it is important to choose your inspector carefully.
Trustworthy home inspectors usually belong to a provincial or regional association. These associations have adopted standards, some of which are recognized by provincial governments. Some associations have developed categories of members based on their competence. In most provinces, a member cannot promote his/her membership in an association before achieving the minimum level of competency required of a practicing member. Requirements may vary from one province to another.
The Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors (CAHPI), with the support of the CMHC, Human Resources and Social Development Canada and the Construction Sector Council, have developed a voluntary national certification program to ensure the skills and professionalism of home inspectors. An inspector who meets the requirements of the National Certification Program is designated as a National Certificate Holder. The questions and answers below have been prepared to help you choose a home inspector.
1. How can I find a building inspector?
Check the websites of associations, the Yellow Pages, or look in magazines that deal with the housing or construction trades. Talk to your friends and family. Your real estate agent might be able to suggest an inspector, but beware. Regulations in some provinces and the Realtor® Code do not allow them to recommend or give the name of only one inspector. However, they can provide you with a list of home inspectors.
A home inspector should only be linked to his/her professional association, and his/her only allegiance should be to the client.
2. How long has the inspector been in business?
A building inspector's competence can be expected to improve with the number of years he/she has been in business and the number of inspections performed. Experienced home inspectors will be better prepared to assess the condition of a house.
3. What are the home inspector's qualifications?
Look for people who belong to a provincial association and who have taken courses in defect detection, building science, or home construction. Professional home inspectors are usually governed by a strict code of ethics and they must adhere to specific standards of practice. Competent home inspectors must have a general knowledge of all the components and systems in a house. Many of them have practical experience or a background in engineering, construction, or in building trades.
You must keep in mind that, at the current time, anyone can become a member of a property inspectors' association. Many of these associations have developed different levels of skill for their members. Being a member of an association does not necessarily mean that the member has completed the certification process. Make sure the inspector has successfully completed his/her association's certification process.
4. How do I know if a home inspector is qualified?
You should ask to see proof that the inspector belongs to one of the provincial associations. In most provinces, a member can't advertise his/her membership before meeting the minimum standards for practicing members. The association in your province will be happy to tell you about the different categories of members and the level of competence attained by a particular member. You can ask if the inspector meets national standards.
5. Can the home inspector provide three references?
All qualified home inspectors should be able to provide this information on request. Call the people given as references and ask them if they were satisfied with the services rendered by the inspector. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau.
6. Can a home inspector be hired to make repairs and improvements?
Many home inspectors' associations have a code of ethics that prohibits its members from offering their services to repair or improve homes they have inspected. Although they are able to provide professional advice based on their experience, we recommend you obtain three bids from qualified contractors.
7. Do home inspectors carry out inspections in the evening?
Conducting inspections at night is not recommended as many important exterior components cannot be properly inspected.
8. Where can I get more information on a home inspector or his/her business?
Home inspectors can direct you to their company website or association; they can give you more information about their business or their skills or they can describe the range of services they can offer you.
9. Is the inspector obliged to produce a document after the inspection and when must he/she send it to me?
The home inspector should send you, within 24 hours, a written report that reviews all major components of the house.
10. Should I hire a home inspector to inspect a new house?
An inspection prior to occupation may be mandatory when purchasing a new home. During this inspection, the buyer and the manufacturer inspect the home to ensure that both parties are satisfied that the conditions of the purchase agreement have been met, and that all the work to be completed and any defects or deficiencies of elements covered by the guarantee have been spotted. If you think you do not have the skills to evaluate whether your new home meets the conditions established in the purchase agreement, you could hire a home inspector to help you.
Please note that some manufacturers have guidelines that set out who may be present at the inspection prior to taking possession. So it is best to check with the manufacturer, when negotiating the purchase agreement, whether this is possible.
You should also know that an inspection prior to taking possession is a rather specialized process and that not all building inspectors are experienced in this field. If the manufacturer allows you to be accompanied by an inspector during the inspection prior to taking possession, find out if the inspector in question has the knowledge or experience to conduct this type of inspection.
A last point about inspections
The CMHC does not recommend or endorse any specific association or home inspector. However, it supports the establishment of uniform national standards of competency for home inspectors.
For more information on the National Certification Program inspection industry properties, visit the website of the National Certification http://www.nca-anc.com/
1 This title covers two specialties: residential building inspectors and inspectors of commercial properties. Many of the latter also inspect residential properties.