Most people in the market to purchase a new home trust that a professional home inspector will perform a thorough evaluation of their potential new property. In fact, the majority of people are so familiar with the idea of home inspections that they seldom think twice about where the concept came from in the first place.
The truth is home inspections in their current form are actually relatively new to human society. Our modern understanding of the home inspection process has only been around for around half a century at best. Before that, home buyers were very literally left on their own.
So how did the home inspection process get its foundation in our modern world? And when it comes to more specific issues, what systems are in place to protect today’s home inspectors from negligence and liability cases?
How Professional Home Inspections Began
If you wanted to buy a home in any time period from the beginning of private property up until the past hundred years or so, you had little choice but to inspect the property yourself before paying the seller. If you weren’t well-trained or experienced enough to notice minor details like a sagging or damaged roof, you were simply out of luck.
And if your newly-purchased home collapsed around you a month later, that was nobody’s fault but your own. The Romans had a term for it: Caveat Emptor, or “Let the Buyer Beware.”
This system stayed in place up to the early 20th century, when buyers’ rights began to slowly take shape in the legal systems of civilized countries worldwide. Soon, professionals known as “home inspectors” began lending their services to real estate agents, buyers, sellers, and others involved in the sale of residential properties. But this popular new system was not developed fully until several important court cases helped define the industry as we know it today.
Lingsch v. Savage
In 1962, a real estate broker sold a property “As Is” to a group of buyers. The property was in such a state of disrepair that proper officials had placed the structure under condemnation. The buyers sued the real estate broker, saying they were led to believe the property was in “legal tenantable and properly repaired condition, as required by law.” This led to Lingsch v. Savage, a court case that determined an “As Is” sale does not relieve real estate agents from their “duty” to perform a full inspection on a property.
Easton v. Strassburger
In 1984, a case called Easton v. Strassburger set a precedent for all states to look to in litigating disclosure cases related to home inspections. The reason the case was brought forth was simple: a homeowner sued her real estate broker when massive earth slides on her property destroyed part of her driveway and damaged the foundation of her home. The decision in the case cemented the Case Law that real estate brokers are responsible for investigating and disclosing any defects they discover in a property they list for sale – also known as Civil Code 2079.
After Easton v. Strassburger, the home inspection profession began to resemble its modern-day form – however, too few practices were standardized to establish what each home inspection should include. Associations like the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) were created to publish standards of practice, but they were neither widely known nor strictly adhered to by real estate brokers. Instead, those brokers would use contractors or engineers for specific purposes, which eventually led to a far more decisive case in how home inspectors could legally operate: Wilson v. Century 21 GWR.
Wilson v. Century 21 GWR
After the Wilson family purchased a home in 1987, they discovered some severe foundation problems and sued the seller’s real estate brokerage for fraud. However, the defendants from Century 21 GWR argued that they had indeed used professionals to perform inspections and therefore should not be held responsible for the results of those inspections. The appellate judge ruled that real estate agents using professionals to conduct inspections for disclosure must ensure that the information they produce meets the requirements of Civil Code 2079, thus relieving sellers and selling agents of further duty concerning those items of information. However, they were still liable for any items not inspected or disclosed by themselves or a professional, which led to Civil Code 1102.4 and the expanded use of home inspectors.
Home Inspections: The New Norm
These days, home inspections are performed in the vast majority of sales of residential property. If you are a home inspector, you are most likely a very busy professional – an integral part of the real estate process.
However, the case of Wilson v. Century 21 GWR created a severe legal burden for home inspectors, as they can now be held liable for errors and omissions in their inspections. Instead of Caveat Emptor, we now have Caveat Inspector: “You Inspect It, You Own It.”
Home inspectors must remember that they are generalists. In other words, it’s their responsibility to “Refer and Defer” when they suspect there may be an issue with a property’s foundation, structure, roof, electrical, plumbing, or otherwise.
Civil Code 1102.4 states clearly that “…the expert shall not be responsible for any items of information or parts thereof, other than those expressly set forth in the statement.” This means that home inspectors must be extremely careful about every word they write in a report and always defer to the experts regarding specific aspects of the inspection.
The Home Inspector Referral Process
Home inspectors are only required to report what they see at the time of the inspection. They are generally under no obligation to make predictions or to report on future expectations. In other words, if they see a structure that could collapse in the future but is standing strong at the time of inspection, they only need to say that it is currently standing in their report. If they see a roof that could possibly leak within a certain period of time, they only have to report that it is not currently leaking.
That’s why home inspectors who wish to protect themselves from liability lawsuits related to future issues refer out to professional contractors to inspect the many different aspects of each home. But in the past, there were no clear channels or standards for home inspectors to follow concerning the professionals whose expertise they should refer. When it came to thorough and professional inspections for roofing systems, the NRCIA® was created.
What is the NRCIA?
In 1995, the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association (NRCIA) was born. As the industry leader in roof inspections and certifications, the NRCIA has created the next steps in the evolution of the home inspection industry.
When home inspectors refer out through the NRCIA, they can dramatically lower their risk for a negligent referral because they are referring to a professional association, not a specific individual. Plus, roofing inspectors associated with the NRCIA are trained to be both transaction- and inspector-sensitive. This means that home inspectors will find peace of mind that the roofing system on the property they are responsible for inspecting will be in good hands.
NRCIA certified roof inspectors perform in-depth inspections, examining interior walls and ceilings, accessible attics, attached garages, perimeters, and rooftops for visual evidence of leaks and provide thoroughly written inspection reports with complete photographs. Then, they determine whether or not the roof in question has a likelihood of leaking within a given period of time, establishing a LeakFREE® certification for two to five years, depending on the state of the roof.
As we move further into the 21st century, we may see even more developments in the home inspection industry. For now, we can all breathe easy knowing that trustworthy, talented professionals are available to ensure that properties everywhere are fully inspected for their safety and their value. And with associations like the NRCIA on their side, home inspectors can feel confident that every aspect of their inspections is thorough and professional – every time.
Join the NRCIA
Are you a home inspector interested in becoming a member of the NRCIA? Joining the NRCIA means gaining an increased competitive advantage and a new source of revenue for your business. Whether your goal is to perform roof inspections as part of a comprehensive home inspection package or simply as a standalone service, your membership with the NRCIA will naturally complement your position as a home inspection professional. All home inspectors qualify for Affiliate or Certified Roof Inspector membership levels with the NRCIA. For more information on becoming a member of the NRCIA, visit our website at www.nrcia.org/membership or contact a representative from the NRCIA today.