Don’t be afraid to attend home inspections.

Don’t be afraid to attend home inspections.

As a real estate broker, I attend all home inspections. I’ve had so many real estate agents tell me they’re afraid to attend them. Why? Some don’t like to attend them because they don’t feel like a competent source if clients ask them a question. The best way to learn what a house is made of is by seeing it from an inspector’s point of view. Even then, you’ll want to look the property over with your own fresh set of eyes.

I have a bit of an advantage with home inspections because I’m also a Virginia state contractor with over 40 years experience in the trade. My electrical contracting company is in the field every week fixing home inspection issues. Today, was one of those days.

Home inspections: Pointing out issues

One of the frustrations I have with home inspections, is the tendency for some inspectors to swallow a camel and choke at a gnat. In other words, I see home inspection reports that call things problems when there is nothing wrong at all. The worst of those mistakes are when inspectors point out electrical issues. Area Realtors email home inspection reports to me weekly looking for guidance and second opinions and estimates of what repairs would cost. In those reports, about 40% of all electrical issues cited are in error. That’s a lot.

Today, my contracting company went out and addressed the problems cited in a report, but we didn’t fix the problem cited, we fixed the real problem immediately above the cited problem. Not only did the inspector miss the real problem, but he categorized a problem as a safety hazard while completely missing the real fire hazard within millimeters of his cited problem.

Home inspections: Missing the real issues

In this panel box, the inspector pointed out rust at the bottom of the electrical panel. His report stated that it was a safety hazard because you could stick your fingers through the rust and get electrocuted. He was wrong on both counts. The rust was surface rust, and you would have to have 10′ long banana fingers to get to the buss bars to get shocked.

Ironically, just above the rusty panel bottom was an entire side of the panel that was at the point of catching fire. The electrical meter box connector on the top of the meter had gotten old, hardened and had started to allow water to seep into the meter. The water would drip down through the internal center of the meter and follow the ground wire from the meter into the sheathing of the service feeder. It was inside the insulated conductor, so it was invisible from outside of the sheathing.

Where it showed up as a problem was in the main electrical panel. The water was traveling down the ground wire onto the connections down the right side of the panel box. Every breaker including the right main lug on the panel main breaker had heated up, cooled down by the water, heated again and melted the insulation on the conductors and in the process, had weakened every breaker on the right side of the panel. That was a genuine safety hazard, not a little surface rust on the bottom of the panel.

Home Inspections: Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, insert opinions and seek clarity before an inspector writes his report that could torpedo a deal for no real reason. This panel box today was actually dangerous.  All of the inspectors I use know I’m going to be there, and they know I’m going to be looking over their shoulder. If they miss something that is wrong, I’ll point it out. If they point out something that is right, I’ll question their concern. Your presence is important. Don’t be afraid to attend home inspections. Missing them can be worse.