Re-inspections… Worthwhile, or Worthless?

We have had a larger number of requests for re-inspections lately. Re-inspections usually happen when we find a problem during a home inspection and the home purchaser asks the seller to make certain repairs prior to completing the purchase. While not uncommon, this hasn’t been a noticeable part of our business in the past. When we were trying to figure out why there has been sudden uptick in the number of re-inspections, we had a discussion in our office about the various reasons for these requests. Basically, we decided that it has come down to the realization that most people simply don’t feel qualified to determine whether a repair was done properly. They rely on us to verify that the repairs were done properly by the seller of their new property. That’s understandable when the repaired item is of a technical nature, or if it is out of view.

Repairs are rarely done properly…

In past blog posts, we have discussed the large number of people who use our inspection service to “work over” the seller. In most cases, the purchaser is asking the seller for money, or a reduction in the price of the home. Whether or not the purchaser actually makes the repairs is unknown. However, there are some people who ask the seller to make some basic repairs prior to completing the purchase of their new home. That’s when the re-inspection comes into play.

It has been our experience that there is rarely a re-inspection that goes smoothly. The 5 or 10 item list of repairs always seem to have 2 or 3 items that weren’t done properly, or at all. It’s never clear whether the seller intentionally didn’t do the repairs properly, or if it was a simply a misunderstanding of what they had agreed to repair. We would like to think that most of the time there has been a misunderstanding of what was to be repaired, but are sorry to say, in some cases it’s clear that the seller is taking the easiest (and often cheapest) route to performing the repairs.

So, what do we recommend?

From a home inspector’s point of view, re-inspections carry a lot of liability. When we re-inspect something, we are basically accepting that the repair was done properly, and assuring our client of this. In cases where the repairs are concealed, we can’t look through walls to verify that the repair was completed properly. In cases where the repair involves structural repairs, we are not qualified to design, or accept that the repair is “good”. There are a whole host of these types of items that we have to be careful for.
As a result, we have come up with an internal policy that requires us to follow a specific procedure in order to get a successful outcome at a re-inspection. Without going too deep, our policy requires that we get a specific list of items to be re-inspected and get copies of work orders or specifications from the contractor who performed the repair.
By having a specific list and having specific work orders provided by tradesmen, we can verify that the repairs were done properly. Too often, we get a copy of a work order or receipt that says something like “fix toilet leak”. As you can imagine, this is not acceptable to us. We need to know specifically what was done to repair the leak. Did a licensed plumber perform the work? (they should) Did the work involve replacing the wax ring that seals between the toilet and the waste piping? Did the work involve replacing the flush mechanism? The list goes on. We don’t want to take the responsibility to accept work that we cannot verify.

What can I do to protect myself?

Below are some basic guidelines that you can follow to ensure a successful re-inspection:

  1. Ask the seller to get a building permit for the repair, if it’s necessary. In most jurisdictions, a permit is required to do any plumbing, electrical, HVAC, roofing, or structural alterations. Simple repairs may not require a permit. In a nearby suburb,  the village building department has a very helpful list of what requires a permit. You’d be surprised what requires a permit. Most municipalities have similar requirements.
  2. Make sure that the request to the seller has specific language about what needs to be done. Don’t simply ask the seller to “fix the roof”. Make sure to ask that a licensed roofing contractor makes repairs to the leaking roof. The contractor should provide permits, inspection records, appropriate waivers, and an explanation of what work was done. We have first hand knowledge of how being vague can backfire. When Jamie was purchasing his first home back in 1987, he asked the seller to replace the non-functioning dishwasher. Being that this was prior to the start of his home inspection career (1989), he wasn’t specific that they replace the dishwasher with a new dishwasher. He was surprised when he found out that the seller found a used dishwasher to replace the existing one. To make matters worse, when he turned on the dishwasher you couldn’t carry on a conversation in the same room. It was noisy! Not wanting to make waves, he accepted this as “replaced”. Looking back, he was young, naïve and got taken advantage of by someone with more experience. If they’re reading this, they know who they are. Shame on them.
  3. If the work is of a particularly technical nature (electric, HVAC, plumbing), you may want to ask the seller for specifications or a specific list of how the work is supposed to be done from their contractor. Structural repairs, in particular, require this. In some cases, an architect may need to draw up the repairs so that a contractor can properly make them.
  4. Request that the repairs be done at least 1 week prior to completing the purchase. You don’t want to have to accept a shoddy repair at the last minute because your furniture is on the moving truck and there are 5 guys waiting outside to move your furniture into your new house!

In closing, re-inspections aren’t for every situation. If you are specific about what the repair requires, are specific that the repairs are done by professionals, are specific that the necessary permits were approved by the municipality, then re-inspections probably aren’t necessary. If the repairs were done by the seller or a handyman that they hired, we recommend a re-inspection. We encourage you to be careful of repairs you are asking for during a home inspection. You may not get what you bargained for.

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