Hey Grandfather, is that you?
A recurring debate that I have witnessed since the beginning of my home inspection career is on how to accurately record and categorize inspected items that are not meeting the current residential home code. A provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases. Those exempt from the new rule are said to have grandfather rights or acquired rights, or to have been grandfathered in.“Grandfathering”. The “Grandfathered” debate sounds similar to this: Inspector A “I inspect a house as if my family would live in it, and I would want ALL safety concerns fixed” vs. Inspector B “I inspect a house and base my evaluations on the construction practices common for the age of the home” Inspector A: “I inspect a house as if my family would live in it” I believe this statement and belief hinders our industry. Because of laxed requirements to work in the industry, such as little to no construction knowledge or experience, virtually anyone can become a home inspector. This statement is often used by inspectors who do not have substantial construction experience as way to justify their lack of experience with an emotional statement to give credence to their services. Using this statement implies that the inspector will identify everything “wrong” with the home using their opinion instead of the trades’ standards of practice and code regulations. When I was in my state required training class, over half of the trainees had no substantial construction experience. In fact, there were greatly varying degrees of knowledge, experience, and skills. It is still very much like the “Wild West” in today’s inspection industry. A diligent and determined person can overcome the lack of construction experience by researching code and construction processes. Although it is not a requirement to be a code expert, it is imperative that an inspector have knowledge and be well versed in the industry standards/practices as well as when they were implemented. Inspector B: “I inspect a house and base my evaluations on the construction practices common for the age of the home” This belief is often referred to as “Grandfathering” and is used in every trade that follows code regulations. This is due to the constant cycle of updating and reviewing construction methods/materials. In other words, materials and methods that previously met code at the date of installment are NOT required to be upgraded in order to sell a home. That being said, everything is negotiable, but it is not a home inspector’s place nor is it ethically correct to make that decision for the client. This applies to in-person, verbal recommendations as well as transcribed in a report. However, it is the responsibility of the home inspector to inform the client about the condition of their home, recommendations for maintenance, and to identify any “SAFETY CONCERNS”. This phrase "SAFETY CONCERN" is at the heart of the debate between Inspector A and Inspector B. "The road to success is always under construction."–Arnold Palmer Topic of Debate: What dictates a safety concern? Inspector A “A safety concern is anything that could potentially cause harm to the occupant of the home” vs. Inspector B “A safety concern is an item that is not installed correctly, not working correctly and may cause harm to the user” Example: 1960’s home that does not have GFCI’s outlets installed in current code required locations. Inspector A's methodology does not have a standard of practice and is different for every inspector. This inspector will categorize items that don’t meet current code requirements as a “SAFETY CONCERN”. This is the cause of the wide range of inspection findings and reports. This is also why some inspectors are referred to as “Deal Killers”. Inspector A says: “GFCIs are not installed and this is a SAFETY CONCERN which must be upgraded.” This type of statement causes the buyer to throw up a red flag and through their perspective, believe something is wrong with the house and should be upgraded by the seller even though it was not required when the outlet was originally installed. Just because a currently required safety function is not installed does not necessarily mean this is a Safety Concern. Should the Inspector recommend that the outlets be upgraded? Absolutely!! Is it the responsibility of the seller to upgrade these outlets to GFCIs if they are working as originally intended? Absolutely NOT! Inspector B uses the “Grandfathering” way of thinking which sets a targeted standard for inspections by educating oneself on the industry practices at the time the system was installed. Inspector B says: “Although likely not required when the receptacles were installed, GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) protected outlets/breakers are recommended to be upgraded for the bathroom electrical circuits. Upgrading the outlets or corresponding breakers is recommended for added safety.” This type of statement identifies that, although the outlets are out of date and recommended to be upgraded, it does not place the burden on the seller. Buyers and Sellers are made aware of the outdated components but does not SCARE the client into thinking something is wrong. "Life is like a highway, no matter what they say, the construction is never finished. There’s always gonna be bumps in the road and detours every now and then."–Nishan Panwar Inspector A’s rebuttal: “I am not a code inspector, so I am not required to know code because I am simply wanting to address the “SAFETY CONCERNS”. What constitutes a “SAFETY CONCERN” is going to be different for everyone if an inspector is not following the standards in place of when the item was installed. Since construction materials and practices are constantly changing, one cannot require a homeowner to update their home due to an ongoing change in code regulations. Inspector B is versed in the standards of practices for the trades and approximately when they were implemented to identify if regulations were not followed when the systems were installed. Inspector B will still advise the buyer to upgrade their system for their own safety but knows that upgrading a home to current code standards is a burden and may cause a real estate transaction to fail unnecessarily (often called a Deal Killer). THINK ABOUT IT Scenario: Elderly Client is trying to sell their 1960s home, which has never been upgraded. Should the elderly seller need to spend money to replace the original electrical system, plumbing only because of their age before selling his/her home? OR Should the buyer, knowing they are purchasing an older home, plan on upgrading the dated systems on their own accord after purchasing the home? As a prior investor and current homeowner, I understand everything is negotiable: however, it is NOT the responsibility of the Home Inspector to be involved in the negotiation process. It IS our job to evaluate, identify, and report the facts. "Never worry about the delay of your success compared to others, because construction of a palace takes more time than an ordinary building." - Unknown Did you know? #1. The national construction trade code is evaluated and updated approximately every 3 years #2. States/Cities/Counties/Parishes will generally update their code requirements 1-7 years AFTER the national construction code is changed. Conclusion: Home Inspecting is not for the faint of heart as we walk a fine line of being fair to a seller all the while protecting our clients. We correspond with tradesmen who are trying to stay within budget while making a profit, realtors who need the income from selling houses to live and buyers/sellers who have a lot of emotion wrapped up in a home. This is in addition to a potentially volatile economy and the large mortgage loans. Good inspectors know that their comments/advice carry a lot of weight, so it is important to be fair to everyone involved in the transaction. The best compliment I have ever received was from a seller of a home who also read my report and expressed how fair my inspection was to them and the buyer. As a result, they hired me to inspect their new home! I believe the reason I am considered fair to a seller is because I consistently follow the local code that was in place when the home was built. I will always recommend upgrading the home to the best known practice. Just remember! It is NOT the responsibility of a seller to bring a house up to current code as long as: 1. Code regulations were followed at the time the home was built 2. There isn’t anything broken/defective. 3. Items that have been replaced/repaired are brought up to the current code at the time of repair/replacement. What I typically see in my area is a 6 or 7 year delay from the national code change to my local area code change. For home buyers, sellers and Real Estate Agents, it is important for the Home Inspection industry to unite together to standardize this process. To standardize this process, there has to be a consistent baseline of standards followed by every Home Inspector for every home inspection completed. I believe this is the only way to remove bias/opinion from the inspection process. The ASK: In every construction trade there is a “Grandfather” clause. I believe it is time for the Home Inspection industry to also adopt this methodology. I am asking for my fellow Home Inspectors to consider the “Grandfathering” methodology and to help set the standard for our industry. I am asking the public and the real estate industry to demand this from Home Inspectors. Let us raise our industry standards for ourselves, our clients, and those that rely on our expertise.