Limitations of a home inspection – CYA’s
Home inspectors are unable to document all defects in a home for the simple reason that not all defects are visible and therefore able to be observed by the inspector.
For this reason most reputable home inspection strive for transparency and full disclosure up front and their reports usually come with a fair amount of “qualifiers.” Qualifiers are anything that has to be added to cover somebody’s butt—whether it is the buyer’s, the agent’s or the inspector’s. These are affectionately referred to in the industry as the CYA’s of the report.
These CYA’s can be broken into two categories:
Universal CYA’s are anything that limits the inspection. Universal CYA’s apply to all homes inspected. For instance, the fact that the inspector cannot see inside walls (to check plumbing pipes) or under the ground (to check foundations of drains) would both be considered a fixed CYA.
Home specific CYA’s
Home specific CYA’s are anything that limits the inspector’s ability to observe and document defects in a specific property or at a specific time. Home specific CYA’s vary from home to home and are also affected by the weather.
For example carpeting over wooden floors limits the ability of the inspector to tell the client much about the condition of those wooden floors (although rotten or “bouncy” flooring could still be detected).
Storage and furnishings in various areas of the home can also limit inspection of the areas they cover. Vehicles parked in the garage or in the driveway might limit inspection of these areas. Inaccessible areas of the roof cavity may also be a CYA.
Rain at the time of the scheduled inspection can also be a seriously limiting factor insofar as properly inspecting the exteriors of the home and also the roof covering. However, rain during the inspection does provide the inspector with the opportunity to better observe ground drainage and roof leaks (from inside the roof cavity).
While no inspector likes to use these CYA’s, it is for the benefit of everyone involved in the transaction to be on notice that there could be hidden concerns related to both of these types of limitations. Not every house is going to be empty at the time of inspection and those that are partially vacant may still have some rooms which are locked at the time of the inspection.
Inspection fees are usually very tightly costed and if it rains during the scheduled inspection it is generally uneconomic for the inspector to visit the property a second time. Therefore it is sensible and ethical for the inspection report to record the weather at the time of the inspection and to note any limiting factors as a result of rain or high winds.
Then if problems later rear their ugly heads, and the inspector is asked why he didn’t report, for instance, on the condition of unviewed areas of the roof surface, or the borer ridden floor boards (hidden by a carpet), then the inspector should be able to rely on the transparency of his report – which specifically stated in the report why inspection of certain areas was limited. Including photographs illustrating the limiting factor in the report is always prudent.