To protect themselves and their clients, a building inspector should follow these guidelines when inspecting a residential property.

The first and most important step is to form an agreement between the client and the inspector prior to the inspection. This can be in the form of verbal instructions over the phone, or face to face, with the agreement to be later be put into written form.

Such agreements should include the purpose and the scope of the inspection and agreed acceptance criteria. If clarification is required, then the written contemporaneous notes taken at the time of the phone call can be included in the reporting document or scanned and emailed to the client for such clarification. Any changes to the original criteria agreed to by the parties must follow this same procedure at the time of the secondary call or request.

The Inspection

The intent of the inspection is to allow for identification of any minor or major defects and anything else the property inspector feels necessary to report to the potential buyers.

The inspector should be allowed entry to all accessible areas. Key areas are:

  • the exterior
  • the interior, room by room
  • the roof exterior (subject to height restrictions)
  • the sub floor (subject to height and access restrictions)
  • the site
  • the out buildings (within a 30-metre distance of a main dwelling)
  • the boundaries, retaining walls and fencing
  • the roof interior

The inspector needs to document a written and photographic report so a story is described in descriptive terminology.

Limitations can only be identified at the time of the inspection, which will need to be photographically described. The inspector may be able anticipate some known limitations and advise the client to allow and prepare for access. Such limitations are to be written up in the inspector’s reporting document.

The property report is to identify any other areas within the property that prevented inspection like areas covered by insulation, air-conditioning ducting or associated pipework.

The inspector is to document all major and minor defects as follows:

  • Damage: visual disruption resulting in loss of value or the impairment of usefulness
  • Distortion, warping and twisting: a change in the shape of an image resulting from imperfections
  • Water penetration: the egress or entry of forms of water and dampness
  • Material deterioration: alteration and a decline of the products original intended finish
  • Operational: not fit for proper functioning and/or ready for intended use
  • Installations and appearance: inappropriate fitting and finish of a product’s intended use
  • Incomplete works: works that are yet to be completed as was originally intended and lacking in part
  • Safety: a duty to report on these issues to bring it to the attention to the homeowner, such as a photo of non-compliant stairs
  • Defective works: marked by subnormal structure or function and a general word for a kind of imperfection
  • Non-Compliant works: works that are to be completed as per relevant Australian Standards and or Codes
  • General maintenance works: works that are to be carried out by the homeowner
  • Inconsistent works: items not the same throughout and having self-contradictory and conflicting elements

Finally, building inspectors need to be aware of applying too many disclaimers within their reports as it is a common belief that lawyers and legal representatives don’t like reports with too many disclaimers and advise their clients to steer away from property inspectors who use them. A disclaimer should only be put into place when areas of an inspection are limited or hindered, for instance if an inspector cannot see behind wall linings or a heavy wall unit or similar issues.

  • Well written Howard, however there is room to add.
    The first and major problem is the gulf between owner's expectations and that that can reasonably be delivered by competent inspection and that seldom is there such thing as a "perfect inspection" There will always be limitations to inspection from accessibility and safety issues. OH&S is not negotiable so that is that. Then what do you do in a furnished home where there are personal items in full wardrobe, I for one don't want to be accused of sniffing someone's bra. So my company policy is to inspect as found and we don't move anything. If you moved as mall item of furniture you could be accused of negligence for not moving larger one (where does it stop?) What do you do if access hole is slightly smaller that in AS 4349.1
    do you send inspector into undersize space knowing that if he gets into trouble a well built paramedic may not be able to access him in time. I don't like the prospect fronting coroners inquiry and being accused of criminal negligence.
    Then there are limitations on expertise, yes I am building expert but not also a licensed plumber and electrician and aircon technician etc etc. That is why there are expertise disclaimers to define scope of inspection and report.
    So to overcome the gulf it is vitally important that as Howard says there is a pre inspection agreement where customer has the chance to read and understand limitations and disclaimers before ordering inspection.
    In my experience, insured inspector will follow insurers report format and disclaimers.
    Finally I would like to add another class of defects not mentioned. After defective ceiling insulation that I detect with thermal imaging, illegal construction is most common residential defect.

    • Branko, I agree with your thoughts and response. Unrealistic expectations by clients, real estate agents and conveyancer's are a real issue in the property inspection market, hence the real reason WHY it is utterly important to obtain a signed and acknowledged fee and inspection agreement. This way the client gains a better informed decision whether to proceed with the inspector. An pre inspection agreement in place removed all doubt and proves acknowledgment by the client.

  • Howard, what your article states seems to me to closely follow the Codes for Building Inspections AS 4391.1.

    But as I've stated in my recent article, this code is grossly inadequate in its definition(s) of defect, at least for new houses and those still under a 6.5 year warranty. What is needed is a well spelt-out definition of defect to include manufacturer requirements and time-related elements (and workmanship / compliance with contract documents, the Building Code of Australia and pertinent current standards, so that all components are inspected with a view to their lasting a reasonable lifetime.

    There are legal liabilities on the inspector (building consultant at least in Victoria), to list all defects in the house being inspected.

  • Hi Mick,

    Yes, nearly everyone in the industry (at least in VIC) is calling building consultants building inspectors… incorrectly, because the term Building Inspector actually refers (in VIC at least) to certifiers who act on behalf of building surveyors to mandatorily inspect certain aspects of the construction of buildings under construction… even though it's been pointed out so often… even to Sensis who allow building consultants to advertise under the heading Building Inspections… see the fine distinction? So everyone thinks that building inspections must be carried out by building inspectors… far from correct.

    I think you'll agree that something needs to be done to avoid this confusion… perhaps change the name of Certifiers to Building Certifiers or something similar.

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