Studying for Your Inspection: What Are Home Inspectors Not Allowed to Do?

If you are about to get a home inspection, you’re on the home stretch of buying your new home. The home inspection process — from hiring a qualified inspector to reading the inspection report — can be a nerve-racking time, but rest assured that good home inspectors are very thorough, detail-oriented, and well-trained, and they have most likely been in the business for long enough to know what they’re doing.

Home inspection laws vary a great deal state by state, and even by county or city, so it’s impossible to nail down exactly what the process will be like, but there are certain things you can anticipate across the board, including some things that you should not expect from your inspector — because they aren’t allowed to do those things.

Licensing requirements for home inspectors vary state by state, so it’s important to choose an inspector who is a part of a recognized inspection association, like the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), or a similarly qualified professional. A good home inspector will work within their scope of practice — meaning, they’ll do everything that they’re supposed to do, and nothing that they aren’t allowed to do.

When it comes to your home inspection, you probably have a lot of questions. One enormous question: What are home inspectors not allowed to do? After consulting with experts, we compiled a list of things to expect from your inspection, including what home inspectors are and aren’t allowed to do.

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What are home inspectors not allowed to do?

1. Offer services outside the home inspection itself

One rule that home inspectors across state and city lines must follow is that they cannot offer services outside of the inspection.

Many licensed home inspectors have backgrounds in construction, which makes for a great inspection as this gives them the knowledge of what potential issues can look like from the builder’s point of view. However, it is considered unethical for them to fix any problems they might find, even though they might be very capable carpenters or electricians.

The role of the inspector is to give an unbiased opinion on the state of the building they are inspecting. If your home inspector offers to fix issues in your home during the inspection, that is a big red flag; this is not a service that licensed inspectors offer.

2. Renovate or fix a home they’ve previously inspected

It is actually illegal for home inspectors to later be hired to renovate a home that they have previously inspected!

This goes against the home inspection licensors code of ethics, and the inspector should not offer further services after the inspection or offer to assist you with necessary repairs documented during the inspection.

3. Damage the house

One horror story that you might come across while researching home inspections is that a home inspector has damaged a home in order to inspect it: for example, taking down a wall to look at faulty wiring.

Rest assured that this is very rare, and any licensed professional home inspector would not do this —  inspectors are trained to identify potential problems without damaging a building.

4. Risk their safety (or yours) to inspect a house

Inspectors cannot risk their own safety (or yours) in order to inspect a house.

Another part of an inspection organization’s code of ethics is the concept of “duty to warn.” InterNACHI states, “Many inspectors consider it their ethical and even moral duty to disclose to all relevant parties any imminent hazards they discover in the course of an inspection.”

The legal requirement to warn relevant parties (like the seller, the buyer, or current tenants) varies state by state, but many licensed home inspectors’ contracts state that they will disclose any issues that pose an immediate threat to health or safety. If there is something wrong with the building to the point that it’s unsafe to be inside, the inspection will not continue until that major issue is fixed.

5. Diagnose the exact cause behind the symptoms they are seeing

If there are symptoms of problems that require specialized knowledge, the home inspector cannot diagnose the exact cause behind the symptoms that they are seeing.

For example, if they see evidence of mold, they cannot say what type of mold you have (or even confirm that what they see is definitely mold), but they will instead recommend that you get a specialized inspection to diagnose a mold problem.

A person inspecting a house.
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6. Diagnose issues that require further testing

Home inspectors are not scientists, and they cannot tell you the quality of the air, determine the presence or absence of electromagnetic fields, or say whether there are hazardous materials present — like asbestos or lead paint — without further lab testing.

They will, however, send tests out for things like lead paint, especially if your house is built before 1978.

7. Inspect certain specialized installations

You will need a specialized inspection if your new home has a pool, hot tub, solar panels, or any other specialized installations.

Systems like these are outside the scope of a normal home inspection, and your agent can help you find inspectors that are qualified to examine unique systems installed in your home.

8. Test non-working systems

When it comes to the systems in the home, like the HVAC, sprinklers, or garage doors, if the seller has already noted that a system isn’t working, home inspectors will not test this. The non-working system will instead be included in the seller’s disclosure.

Not every state uses seller’s disclosures, and some only ask sellers to disclose certain pieces of information, such as the presence of former mining operations in Virginia. Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming have the loosest seller disclosure laws (or no disclosure guidelines at all!).

9. Estimate when working systems or components (such as the roof) will need to be repaired or updated

The home inspector will not give estimates on when components of the home (such as the roof) will need repairs or updates — and actually, many states have changed the language of inspections to completely refrain from rating the level of operation of its systems.

Pat Tasker, a Wisconsin-based agent who works with over 71% more single family homes than average agents in her area, says, “Our state of Wisconsin just changed so that home inspectors must say that something is a ‘defect’ if it’s not working. That coincides with the language we use in our offer, and the buyer can only complain back to the seller about defects found.

“In the past, the home inspector would rate things on how they were working by listing them as working, satisfactory, marginal, and not working. Now they only use the term ‘defect.’”

Remember, the home inspector is there to give their straightforward opinion on the current condition of the home, not to reveal potential future issues.

10. Move large items (furniture, cars) or hazards (snow, ice) in order to access the house

Inspectors also cannot be required to move large items, like cars, furniture, or even snow and ice, to inspect parts of the home. So before the inspection, work with the seller to clear any items that might be in the inspector’s way.

This responsibility can fall on either the seller, buyer, or current occupant of the home, which can vary depending on the state you live in and the exact situation of the purchase.

11. Offer opinions about a home’s cosmetic or aesthetic condition

Home inspectors won’t comment on the aesthetic conditions of the home, so they can tell you if your popcorn ceiling has water damage, but they can’t tell you it’s outdated (or retro-chic!).

A good rule of thumb is to remember that the job of home inspectors is to assess the functionality of the home, not to comment on variables that might affect its value. (That’s the appraiser’s job!)

12. Tell you which engineer or contractor to ask for more help

Home inspectors cannot give recommendations for contractors who could fix issues in your home, as this would be considered unethical. Even though home inspectors probably know a lot of competent contractors and carpenters, it is not their job to give any opinions or recommendations on who can work on your home.

13. Outline property boundaries, easements, or encroachments

Inspectors can’t outline property boundaries, easements, or encroachments, or give any opinion on the size of your property. This instead would be the job of a land surveyor.

Home inspectors know about the mechanics and the components of a house, and that is what their opinion is on, not if the buyer should buy it or not buy it. Even if there were a lot of things wrong with it but the buyer ends up getting it for the right price, who is to say that’s not a value?
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14. Suggest whether you should buy the house or walk away

Repeat after me: The job of the home inspector is to determine the current state of the building! It is not the role of a home inspector to determine if you should buy the house in question or not.

There are always pros and cons when buying a property, and you might not be buying a house with the intention of immediately moving in. Tasker says: “Home inspectors know about the mechanics and the components of a house, and that is what their opinion is on, not if the buyer should buy it or not buy it. Even if there were a lot of things wrong with it but the buyer ends up getting it for the right price, who is to say that’s not a value?”

15. Give an ‘official’ opinion about whether the house is worth what you’re paying

To add to our discussion in the last section, inspectors can’t give any kind of opinion about the price you are paying for the home, or tell a buyer if the home is “worth it.” Trained real estate appraisers will determine the value of the home in its current state.

16. Condemn a house

It isn’t legal for inspectors to condemn a house, and they cannot make a judgment as to if the house is “livable” or not.

Only a “condemning authority,” such as a building inspector employed by the city, has the legal right to condemn a house, and condemnation is the jurisdiction of either federal, state, or local governments.

17. Issue a certificate of occupancy

On the flip side, home inspectors can’t issue a certificate of occupancy, either, as this is also the role of the city, state, or federal government.

18. Enforce local building codes

Similarly, the inspector cannot enforce any local building codes.

The local building codes are managed by the same government agencies that condemn and register certificates of occupancy for homes and buildings. Although your home will need to meet its local building codes, the role of the home inspector isn’t to enforce these codes (unless a building poses immediate health or safety hazards, as discussed earlier).

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19. Say whether a house is insurable or not

Home inspectors cannot deem a house “insurable” or “uninsurable.”

Understanding the insurability of a home is between you, your mortgage lender, and any insurance companies who offer coverage quotes (or decline to do so). When a home is deemed “uninsurable,” this means that it does not qualify for mortgage loans because of the need for extensive repairs.

Your inspection report will be given to your mortgage lender and your insurance company, but it is their decision to deem it insurable, not your home inspector.

20. Say whether a house passed or failed the inspection

Most importantly, don’t get worked up about a home inspection receiving a “failing” grade. There is a lot of misinformation out there about homes “failing” or “passing” an inspection, but this is plainly untrue — it’s not a pass/fail thing! Homes aren’t given A+s or Fs; instead, inspectors document a thorough description of the current condition of a home’s many components and systems.

Don’t go into a home inspection worrying that you won’t be able to buy a home based on the inspection. Unless there is something in the home that causes immediate danger and stalls the inspection itself, the inspection is just another step toward the sale. You should look at it as an opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of your home — and that’s exactly what a good home inspector will give you!

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