Learn More About the Home Inspection Process
Over 20 years, Harmony Home Inspection of MA has amassed a great amount of expertise regarding home construction and repair, as well as quite a few questions that our customers often ask us.
Please read through these FAQs and then call us at 774-249-0352 if you want to schedule an appointment or have other questions of your own.
1. I AM STILL LOOKING FOR A HOUSE AND AM NOT QUITE READY FOR A HOME INSPECTION. IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT I SHOULD BE WATCHING OUT FOR?
There are so many different components in a modern-day home that this is a difficult question to answer. I have figured that I observe and evaluate several hundred different items during the course of a formal home inspection, any one of them being a potential safety hazard or significant cost concern. I would suggest a trip to your local library/bookstore. There are a number of good books written on the subject and geared for the home buyer. My friend Jim Morrison has written a good one called “Home Buying in 30 Minutes” (2017) available on Amazon as a paperback and also on Nook as an ebook. Jim was a home inspector for 25 years, and his book talks about aspects of home buying such as mortgages, working with real estate agents and attorneys, hiring a home inspector, negotiating, as well as the technical considerations when buying a home. Here’s the link: Home Buying in 30 Minutes by Jim Morrison
2. HOW LONG DOES A HOME INSPECTION BY HARMONY TAKE?
A home inspection by Harmony takes anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours depending on the size, age, and condition of the home. A large older home or a “handyman’s special” could possibly take even longer. Three and a half to 4 1/2 hours is typical.
3. DO I NEED TO BE THERE?
It is highly recommended that you be present for the inspection. Not being there is like buying a car without test driving it.
4. I HAVE A RELATIVE IN THE CONSTRUCTION BUSINESS, SO WHY SHOULDN’T I JUST HAVE THE HOME LOOKED OVER BY HIM?
Most contractors will know quite a bit about a home but may be deficient in certain areas. Home inspectors are trained in assessing all of the many areas of concern in a home. If your relative is a specialist in a certain area and, after the inspection, that area comes up as a major concern, by all means, have your relative offer his professional advice.
5. I AM BUYING A NEW HOUSE. SHOULD I HAVE IT INSPECTED?
Yes, definitely. New homes have different problems than older existing homes. Most problems relate to items missed, not properly installed, maladjusted, or overlooked due to today’s fast-paced construction schedules. New homes usually come with a one year builder’s warranty, so the home buyer should have the house inspected prior to the lapse of this warranty. It is recommended, however, that the new home be inspected before closing, since it may be easier to get the builder to make any necessary modifications before they have “moved on.”
6. WHY DO I NEED A TERMITE INSPECTION?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions I get from prospective Clients. The termite inspection or WDI (wood destroying insect) inspection is a critical aspect of inspecting a prospective home. Termite infestation/damage is fairly common, and also one of the most upsetting and most expensive-to-fix defects that can occur in the home. Yet, the MA Standards of Practice do not mandate that a home inspector look for termites and other wood destroying insects. A termite problem is also the number one cause for litigation against home inspectors. And so it becomes a business decision whether the home inspector wants to take on this liability. I have!…because I think it is an important technical loophole to close. So I maintain a WDI registration from the NEPMA (#070053) and I carry specific insurance for termite inspections. I also charge an extra fee for the inspection. You can also call a pest control firm to do the inspection separately, but you should cover yourself in either case. And sometimes you may not need one: if the home is newly constructed or you are buying a apartment style condo unit on the fourth floor, for example. Besides termites, a WDI inspection covers carpenter ants, carpenter bees, powder post beetles, and other wood boring beetles.
7. I WANT AN INSPECTION DONE ON A HOME WITH A PRIVATE WELL AND A SEPTIC SYSTEM. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE BESIDES THE BASIC HOME INSPECTION?
In Massachusetts, a septic system inspection, known as a Title V inspection, is the responsibility of the seller and should have already been performed. However, keep in mind that the Title V inspection is for protection of public health and the environment. A system will either pass or fail or pass conditionally, regardless of its age. Be aware that the average life of a septic system is on the order of about thirty years, and may vary widely with type of soil, loading, and whether it’s been pumped regularly (tanks should be pumped every two years). These systems can be expensive to replace if the system fails. I recently replaced my own tank for about $10,000. I have a not-too-distant neighbor who had to spend over $30,000 for a new septic system. It is always a good idea to double check with the local Board of Health.
Private wells can also be a major expense to repair or replace. If the well flow and water quality have not been tested within the last year, it is recommended that these tests be performed in addition to the home inspection. Harmony Home Inspection of MA conducts four-hour pump testing to determine well flow and quantity. Harmony also takes water samples for quality analysis and hand delivers the water sample to the testing laboratory. The water testing laboratory that is used has an extremely timely response with complete results in just a few days.
8. SHOULD I GET A PUMP TEST?
If you are thinking of buying a house with a private well, your lender may indeed require a water quantity or “pump” test. Also, if the well flow has not been checked within the last year or two, a pump test is strongly recommended. The results of a pump test are essential information, in that if something is wrong, the cost of well repair or replacement may prove expensive.
There are a few standards we use. The FHA performance standard is that the water supply provides a minimum of 5 gallons per minute (gpm) of flow over a four hour period for a total of at least 1,200 gallons pumped without any observable drop off of flow. This is an old rule of thumb which I only use for evaluating FHA sponsored properties. It is unfortunate that the Commonwealth of MA has no practical standards for evaluating existing wells. I have found through taking workshops, that the New Hampshire Dept. of Environmental Resources is much more savvy in this area, and has very practical and clear guidelines for evaluating existing wells…and so I use their guidelines.
Their guidelines require an average of 5 gpm or more during a two hour period, and an average of 4 gpm or more during a four hour test period (or a total of 960 gallons pumped). Be sure to check with your lender if they have any specific requirements in this area. The pump test is done during the inspection using a variety of hoses, a calibrated water meter, and a water flow gauge.
9. WHAT WATER TEST SHOULD I CHOOSE?
If you are testing a private well and have no other recent (within a year) test data from the owner, we recommend the comprehensive test, which includes a variety of metals, inorganic substances, and about 60 toxic organic chemicals. The comprehensive test also includes radon in water, which has recently come under scrutiny at the EPA. If the home is located near a farm, apple orchard, or recreational lake, it is advisable to consider testing for pesticides as well.
A standard water analysis is the bare minimum accepted by FHA/VA loan requirements. In homes that have city water, there is less concern with contamination, but some people choose to have their water tested anyway. Whether city water or private well, there are trace amounts of lead that leach into standing water from the solder used in your piping system. It is recommended that you run your water a few minutes in the morning before you drink it to remove any stagnant water, which may contain trace amounts of lead.
10. HOW MUCH DOES A HOME INSPECTION COST?
Fees for a home inspection vary, depending on the property’s type, age, size, and “extras”. When you call for a quote, I will ask you a number of questions so that I give you a totally accurate price quote. Most Buyer’s want two additional services, a termite inspection and a radon test. I give you ALL costs up front, so there are no hidden fees that “creep up” after you have already booked the inspection.
11. IS A RADON TEST REALLY THAT IMPORTANT? WHAT IS RADON?
Radon is a radioactive gas that is a byproduct from the decay of naturally occurring uranium deposits in certain underlying rock formations. It has been designated a cancer-producing agent by the EPA and corrective action is recommended when radon levels exceed 4 PiC/Liter in indoor air. Many companies jumped on the moneymaking bandwagon in the eighties touting the dangers of radon and selling the way to fix it. Public opinion was negatively swayed by this opportunism to think that the whole thing had been blown way out of proportion. A 1998 Harvard University study still rated radon as the #1 health and safety risk in the home, causing a projected 15,000 deaths a year in the US due to lung cancer. Harmony believes getting a radon test is indeed important.
12. HOW ACCURATE IS THE RADON TEST?
Please note that any testing done before you actually move in will be preliminary in nature. Radon levels may vary according to season, barometric pressure, and other factors. It is always recommended that further testing be conducted once you occupy the house. Highest levels in the house can be expected in the winter when the heat is on and the ground is frozen or snow covered.
13. SHOULD I GET A LEAD TEST?
Many homes built before 1978 will contain lead-based paint (the manufacture of lead based paint was banned by the EPA in 1978). You should also realize that there was lead-based paint on the shelf for a short time after 1978, so even some post-1978 homes could possibly have lead- based paint. The older the home, the greater chance that lead paint was used. If you have children under six years of age, are planning to have children, or are planning to rent the house to tenants, you should be concerned about lead. Contact a lead paint inspector. A number of qualified lead inspectors can be found on the ASHI New England chapter website: www.ashinewengland.org.
14. WHAT ABOUT MOLD TESTING?
Toxic black mold and other molds can be a health hazard and could occur in your home. My experience tells me that most homes may have a very small amount of mold and are generally not a problem unless you have extreme allergies to these substances. There are a few homes I’ve come across that had a definite and potentially dangerous mold problem, and they are far and few between and usually obvious. Harmony Home Inspection of MA does not perform mold testing but would refer you out to a specialist if a problem was suspected. If you are a mold-sensitive individual, or prone to allergies generally, it may be a good idea to test your new house for the added peace of mind.
15. WHAT’S THE STORY ON THERMAL IMAGING?
Thermal imaging is useful in energy conservation work and could possibly be an advantage in a few specific instances, such as leak detection and possibly detecting a large insect infestation. There are a few inspectors out there that use this technology. Some are using it as a selling point and that’s fine. But be wary of negative advertising that discounts inspectors with years of education, experience, professional affiliation, and well-thought-out professional quality reports. Thinking you have X-ray vision does not make you SuperInspector. The real heroes in this business are the ones who choose their integrity above their wallet, know that time is required for a good home inspection, and have gained a wealth of experience through hard work and constant education.
16. WHEN DO I GET THE REPORT?
You will be able to download your report directly from the internet by the next day. Many times, you may even obtain your report on the same day as your inspection, as my schedule permits. When your report is completed, notification is e-mailed to you, with simple instructions for downloading the report at your convenience. I recommend you print your home inspection report on paper with a brightness index above 90, which optimizes the digital photography. If you do not have this type of paper handy, don’t worry because I supply paper with a brightness index of 98 in your home inspection folder.
17. DO YOU PROVIDE REPAIR COST ESTIMATES IN YOUR HOME INSPECTION REPORT?
I’m sorry but we can’t. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts prohibits MA licensed home inspectors from providing cost estimates for needed repairs….and rightfully so! We are not the specialists, so we could easily underestimate or overestimate the repair cost. This is a gap in the home purchasing process that requires homework on your part. If you are working with a good and experienced Buyer’s Agent, they can probably help you with this. You may be able to get some ballpark estimates on certain repairs by searching the internet or telephoning a contractor. Some repairs will require more detailed estimates that will require a site visit by a contractor. If I mention in the report that I recommend you get a cost estimate before you finalize purchase of the property, then this is a tip off that the repair cost is expected to be significant or even major, but unfortunately we can’t get more specific than that. For more extensive repairs, I recommend getting three estimates from contractors but this may be difficult during the home buying process. Most homebuyers get one, maybe two estimates for a specific repair (for negotiation purposes) and then follow up with more estimates when if they buy the house and do the repair.
18. WHAT ABOUT A GUARANTEE OR WARRANTY?
Harmony conducts a limited visual inspection of the premises in accordance with the regulations set forth by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the ASHI Standards of Practice. During the course of the inspection, it is nearly impossible and not the intent to detect every possible thing that could go wrong in the future, but we hope to provide you with as much information as possible in the short time we are there. Knowing the limitations of the inspection, If you move into your new house and find you are still not satisfied with the work done by Harmony, we offer a refund of up to the amount of your inspection fee. Harmony is fully insured to cover potential situations where substantial financial loss occurs as a direct result of damage, error, or omission during the course of the home inspection.
19. ARE YOU LICENSED?
Yes, Paul Rogoshewski, owner of Harmony Home Inspection of MA, holds Massachusetts Home Inspector License #243. Licensing, which was enacted in 2001, has been a huge step forward in creating more accountability and professionalism in the home inspection field. However, recently the State has relaxed the requirements for continuing education to only 12 credits per two-year license period. This was a move backward, in my opinion. It is important to realize that ASHI-certified inspectors have more stringent educational requirements to maintain their certification than the average MA-licensed home inspector.
20. DO ALL MA HOME INSPECTORS COVER THE SAME THINGS?
Yes… and no! The MA Standards of Practice for home inspectors are very specific about what areas should be inspected, but there are some interesting nuances. For instance, a home inspector is not required to go up on the roof. As a result, most home inspectors do not carry anything but a 12-foot ladder and a pair of binoculars, and if they can’t see the roof with binoculars, it is perfectly within the regulations to claim it was not visible for inspection due to height and refer you out to a roofer. I disagree with this tactic, and though I don’t walk every roof, I do carry a 28-foot ladder that can access most roofs as necessary. Another nuance is that the regulations require the inspection of only ONE electrical outlet per room and only ONE window per room. About five years ago, I attended a Board meeting about revisions to the Standards of Practice. I proposed that the above regulations be changed to require an inspection of every accessible window and every accessible outlet per room. I was shot down for some reason unknown to me. Lately, I’ve heard that they are revising this regulation to every accessible outlet. Still not sure about the windows!
21. WHAT IS ASHI?
ASHI is the American Society of Home Inspectors, the oldest and most-respected professional organization of home inspectors in the country. Membership in the society is limited to inspectors who have met rigorous professional and educational requirements through testing and a membership-review process. Full membership in ASHI is difficult to obtain and requires many hours of study. For more information on ASHI and the local chapter, ASHI New England, click on the icons displayed on this website.