A home inspector is an individual who, for compensation, examines the observable systems and components of improvements to residential real property that are readily accessible.
Unfortunately, the definition of a home inspection is not universal. The lack of the most basic agreement in the industry about a common description of a home inspection can be harmful to the consumer.
Although the Standards of Practice are similar, there are currently three definitions of the purpose of a inspection, and three types of reports. Each of the three descriptions has its own advocates and each is available in most markets:
1. The engineering evaluation, or contractor's "code-compliance" approach that provides a list of "problems" along with "recommendations" and "cost estimates" for repairs. Sometimes these inspectors also provide follow-up inspections to verify that the repairs have been completed to meet code.
2. The opposite extreme is the 90-Things-in-90-Minutes approach that provides a list of the components with a cursory description of their condition followed by a paragraph of disclaimers, and/or, a notebook that the buyer is supposed to read to understand the issues the report identifies and how to deal with them. By definition, the "90-Things" report falls short of "full-disclosure" because the importance of specific conditions is buried in the literature.
3. The third alternative is a thorough, (minimum 3-hour), inspection of the home that attempts to identify the "Material facts or conditions that affect the value, desirability, habitability, or safety of the dwelling"?; i.e., facts that might impact the buyer's decision. This approach places cost estimates and repair recommendations beyond the scope of a home inspector and refers those steps to a qualified tradesperson but still discloses all of the conditions and their relevance within the body of the report.
I subscribe to the last description as the proper definition of a home inspection because it is a useful tool to all of the parties to the transaction:
The BUYER finds the report useful because it explains the condition of the house regarding the durability and serviceability of the components. Some of these items may need repair and in those instances, the buyer is directed to have a professional tradesperson evaluate and repair the component.
The REALTOR® finds the report preferable because it provides "full-disclosure" but still does not dictate actions and leaves the negotiating to the buyer and seller through their respective real estate professional.
The SELLER prefers this kind of report because it does not recommend solutions, but simply identifies conditions without dictating actions.
Dictating solutions, as the typical engineering/contractor's "code-compliance" inspection does, confounds the sale because it makes the inspector the final authority. For example, unless the items listed in the report are addressed, the sale can not be completed. Which sounds good, but conditions that do not meet code do not necessarily have to be repaired. Examples might be a broken fence, an old water heater, fused electrical breakers, a steep stairway, or a narrow garage. Usually, sellers dislike this type of report because it is frequently used as a negotiating tool to try and reduce the sales price with no real intent to make the code repairs. Realtors hate it because the "code compliance" inspection often kills the deal.
Ethical agents also dislike the "90-Things-in-90-Minutes" inspection because it typically does not provide full-disclosure and because it attempts to pass along the duty for understanding the condition of the components to the buyer through the literature or notebook attached to the report. Some agents, I should admit, love the "90-Things" report because the buyer seldom reads the voluminous literature to discover conditions that should be addressed -- meaning, the sale will close and the agent will get paid.
Prudence, I believe, dictates that the Realtor® and Buyer ask their home inspector how they define their service, and decide into which category their inspection will fall. I have found that only the "Material Facts" approach is consistently a useful tool to both consumers and professionals.
Source: The Uniform Home Inspector's Code Book