What I'm Seeing Now


Nothing About This Staircase Meets Code - What Does The Inspector Do?

Nothing about this staircase meets code - what does the inspector do?

But wait!

It is beautiful!

It is a work of art!

It is placed with architectural and landscaping purpose!

It is one of three such renderings on the property!

It is extremely expensive and made from local materials!

It is green!

It is the first thing the buyers mentioned to the inspector when they showed up - how much they loved, loved, loved the staircase as an introduction to their new purchase!   And enthusiastically!

So, really, what does the inspector do?

Should he point out how all three such staircases are not to code?

Look, the stairs are not of even height.

Look, they are not of equal width.

Look, there is no handrail.

Look, one side of the bridge has a deep fall.

Look, the stairs are not level or smooth.

Look, some of the stairs are not firm.

Look, the thing cost a bundle.  All three of them did.  In fact, the landscaping around the yard was very, very professionally done.  It makes the house fit into the location (on a wooded hill with a creek behind) and together the house and property are beautiful.

I know what this inspector did.  What would you have done?

My recommendation:  we all have our jobs.  It is the job of the home inspector to observe and report.  There may be a little opinion mixed with the report, but still, to observe and report is the goal.  The house is the house.  The report is the report.  How things are said, however, may be very important.

If one lover looks into the other loves' eyes and said the following, which would you prefer to hear:

When I look into your eyes it's as if time stands still ...


Your face could stop a clock.

Both say exactly the same thing.

Remember, observe and report (says he with a twinkle in his eye).



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comment balloon 49 commentsJay Markanich • November 16 2013 02:30AM


For sure, that's not a staircase I'd want to walk.  Especially if some of the slabs are not firm. 

Were I a home inspector, I suspect I'd simply report that some of the steps were not firm, not even and not safe.

The rustic look may fit the landscaping but there are other designs that could have been used. 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 6 years ago

Well it seems like the inspector's role is to report. It's then up to the client to decide what to do. It they love it, they can have it.  their insurance may be a bit higher if someone actually comes to the house, but they rarely do that.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 6 years ago

This is the only entrance to the house Lenn.  It comes off of a round driveway with a humongous rock garden and tree display, so this staircase continues that natural-stone motif as one moves toward the house.  You can kind of see the edge of that garden to the left of my car.

Debbie - I assure you these folks did not care about any codes!  And all the codes were reported.  I actually had them visualize their grandmother walking toward the house ... and the lesson began.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Morning Jay as you indicated I think it would not matter what code said they fell in love with the place

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty) over 6 years ago

Good morning, Jay.... this is not for unsteady or older folks....but that stairway cost someone alot of money to have a piece of equipment on site moving those slabs....winter must be a challenge!!!

Posted by Barbara Todaro, Marketing Agent for The Todaro Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) over 6 years ago

There was over 6000 square feet to fall in love with James!

Barbara - lots of equipment for a long time!  Everything is a work of art.  Does that trump any dangers?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

It is what it is. They are not going to change it. I might suggest firming up any loose steps, beyond that, I don't think I would have much to say. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

I think a stylish, metal handrail is in order Jim.  I can deal with the weird steps, and we pretended I was the old grandfather and with a handrail I think everyone would be safe.  They understood completely.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

There are some stairways made to look at...others to walk on...apparently ...have a great weekend !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 6 years ago

I can see why the buyers loved the staircase. I hope a contractor can make some improvements to it to bring it upto code and safe.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) over 6 years ago

Hi Jay,

I'm with James on this one. Re stabilize the steps for safety reasons. Other than that, nothing else matters for the owners or the buyers.

Have a good day in Bristow.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 6 years ago

Other stablizing the stairs, there isn't much you can do beyond replace the whole thing. It is interesting to look at. 

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 6 years ago

Sally - we have furniture in our living room I am not allowed to sit on.  Is that the same thing?

Gita - it won't be possible to meet all the codes, but a handrail would make it much safe-r.

Falling matters Clint!  Handrail is in order.

See the comments I made above Mike!  The architect, apparently fromt the Frank Lloyd Wright school of nature/house design, would NEVER change anything for these buyers!  They will have to make their own changes, for sure.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

I'm sure it's one of the reasons why they're buying the house. I would be much more concerned if you had a code violation with stairs inside the house.

Posted by Aaron Hofmann, aka Mr. Smyrna Vinings (Atlanta Communities) over 6 years ago

Jay, The difference between success and failure are just a few well chosen words

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 6 years ago

The seller is an architect Aaron - the inside is fabulous.

Ed - and a few well-chosen rocks?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Jay, you have to report what you see. I hope they don't shoot the messenger.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 6 years ago

They took it all in stride Mike.  They knew going in the stairs didn't look safe.  But I think they can be improved.

Personally, I'd keep'em!  But add a handrail.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Let's hope that the lender doesn't DEMAND a stair rail, totally destroying the aethestic. 

Posted by Curt Hess, Luxury Home Consultant, Team Leader & CEO (ExecuHome Realty) over 6 years ago

As you said, you have to observe and report.  What they do with the report afterwards is not your ballywick. 

Posted by Marc McMaster, Putting my clients before myself (RE/MAX Centre Realty) over 6 years ago

As a home inspector, you gotta tell it like it is!  BUT, that staircase is likely to be seen as gorgeous by many, including me!

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) over 6 years ago

I believe I would make mention that the walkway was not to code and that code requires the handrails, evenly spaced steps, and no loose steps and let them do what you know they're most likely going to do, nothing. The worst thing in my opinion is the loose steps, shore them up and it's a cool, natural setting.

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 6 years ago

I wish all inspectors could go to the Jay Markanich school of tact. Yes a handrail is a good idea, but if you had stood there and beat the deficiencies to death, it would have either made the buyers uncomfortable, or ruined the deal.  Ya did good!

Posted by Joetta Fort, Independent Broker, Homes Denver to Boulder (The DiGiorgio Group) over 6 years ago

Just like you hinted at I think the best road to take is observe and report the dangers. You can sleep at night know that you spoke up about safety.

Posted by Chuck Mixon, Cutler Bay Specialist, GRI, CDPE, BPOR (The Keyes Company) over 6 years ago
Jay, You did your job. Point out the issues and concerns. It's up to the buyers from that point.
Posted by Bill and MaryAnn Wagner, Jersey Shore and South Jersey Real Estate (Wagner Real Estate Group) over 6 years ago
I love the natural steps - but I can imagine what a home inspector would say about it.
Posted by Carol Zingone, Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty) over 6 years ago

Yes to this post and its premise...The emotions in seeing something so attractive to the eye can blind us to reality

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 6 years ago

I think I agree with you that a stylish handrail would add safety and hopefully not take away from the great look.

Posted by Connie Harvey, Realtor - Nashville TN Real Estate (Pilkerton Realtors) over 6 years ago

I don't usually comment on code but does your local jurisdiction have a code for landscape stiars? This looks more like a set of landings then stiars. Typically if the stairs are not attatched to structure or for a direct path of egress or public way they are not held to any code. This point can often be argued again by saying the driveway in the main path to the front door so the stairs are not needed or secondary.

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 6 years ago

Good morning, Jay. However; the steps are what they are. I see this quite often in my area. I wrestle with this. No they are not right, they are functional and if the buyer wants to change them, have at it. Sadly this is becoming such a CYA business.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 6 years ago

Great post Jay & the stairs are beautiful... So how did you break it to them gently that the natural path was a dangerous one? I know you wrote about being gentle, but how did they take the news?

Posted by Peg Barcelo, The FlufftasticStager from Summerland, BC (Fluff My House! Home Staging Inc. 250.486.6369) over 6 years ago

You tell them the safety issues and let them decide what they want to do. I'd leave them, and possibly ad some natural type of rail.

Posted by Joni Bailey, Your Huntsville / Lake Livingston Area REALTOR® (101 Main St. Realty) over 6 years ago

Interesting....  I worry less about the outside then the inside.

Posted by Debbie Holmes, Gets the job done! (John L. Scott) over 6 years ago

Jay, I am pretty sure that stairs like that are "fair game" in residential construction.  While it might not be "best practice" I know of no codes that would come into play for stairs and walkways not attached to the house.  It probably should in some cases, but until we get into multi-family structures affected by the IBC requirements the IRC would have nothing to say about it.  I of course make any recommendations I feel appropriate per given installation---for safety.  This is another example of the codes being a minimum standard.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

When the project was being planned is the time they needed someone to tell them what they needed to know.  Looks like a situation that is going to need periodic maintenance.

Posted by Dwight Puntigan, Dwight Puntigan (DRP Realty, LLC) over 6 years ago

Seriously? Why is this even a question?

Its not inside the home and is not a functional requirement to be addressed or even used as a health safety issue for the home! It may never even be used by the homeowner but if it is WHO CARES! they could also trip on a rug in their home or slip on the stairs at what point does common sense come into play?


Dont mean to be so harsh but I just ran into this almost identical thing where some IDIOT appraiser stated a handrail was needed for an outdoor patio that had ONE STEP and was about 30 feet wide!?!?!?! A) you dont need a handrail for one step B) if he got his way how would you propose to accomplish the handrail every 5 feet??? STUPID!!!! I blasted him and that foolishness went away.

Anyway sorry Jay my frustration at this is NOT directed at you personally!


Posted by David Shamansky, Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg (US Mortgages - David Shamansky) over 6 years ago

I see your dilemma  but it is beautiful!  Love it!

Posted by Lori Williams, Lake Wylie, Gastonia, SW Charlotte, Homes for Sale (Lake Wylie, Charlotte, Gastonia Homes for Sale ABR, CDPE, SFR, ASP, Lori@LoriWilliamsRealty.com) over 6 years ago

Let's hope Curt!  I expect the lender will never see the joint!

Marc - the report said everything, but, as you say, it is up to them what to do.

Myrl - I loved the stairs!  But they are dangerous!

Fred - all that made it into the report, but again, we talked about everything and they understood.  Personally, all I would want would be a handrail.

Joetta - I pretended to be the grandfather and had the lady escort me down the stairs.  The need for a handrail became very apparent!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Chuck - believe me, it all got talked about.  But how it is brought up is important too!

Agreed Bill.  It's going to be their house!

Carol - it all should be talked about.  They understood what the report would say.

Richie - there was a lot of beauty in and around this house to draw the eye and blind it!

Connie - a clever metal worker can cook something up!


Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Rob - to further complicate it, the house was built in 1979!  Who knows what was thought then!

Michael - I wanted to demonstrate that the stairs are dangerous, but at the same time they are gorgeous!

Peg - see my answer to Joetta above!  An object lesson was in order.

Joni - but the rail has to be strong too.  I thought basic metal, but cleverly done.

Debbie - I bet you wouldn't if grandma fell off that little bridge!


Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Jay~ Touchy situation. The staircase is beautiful. I'm sure the buyers aren't too terribly concerned about it being to code, but they did pay to have it inspected!

Posted by Donna Foerster, Metro Denver Real Estate Assistant (HomeSmart Realty Group) over 6 years ago
I agree. You are simply doing your job of reporting the facts and opinions regarding property condition. You can't get easily sucked into the homeowners biases.
Posted by Rosie Moore (Serving Sugar Land, Richmond, Rosenberg, Missouri City) over 6 years ago

Charlie - the standards for one would apply to the other, for me anyway.  But as you say, they are minimums!

And to further complicate this, the house was built in 1979.

Dwight - that time would have been a long time ago - 1979!

David - this is the entrance to the house!  People will use this at night, in the ice and snow, and the old and young!  Of course it's an issue that must be addressed by people who live there.  The left side of that bridge toward the bottom is 35" high.  That's a serious fall for most people.  You're right that some accidents are planned for (!), but I saw this as an immediate problem when I drove up!  You have to think safety as a home inspector.

I do too Lori.  My solution is a handrail, but still, more light could be helpful too.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Donna - I am always thinking of others during an inspection.  But nobody can foresee every scenario!

Rosie - the biases were mine!  I loved the thing!  But still I can see the dangers.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

It does look great but I would be worried even with just a light rain that it would become slick and hazardous. The fact that it is part of the primary entrance is a huge issue. 

Posted by Gerard Gilbers, Your Marketing Master (Higher Authority Markeing) over 6 years ago

Jay, the job if an inspector is to inspect and report; I understand and respect that... you must do your job as we must do ours.

Posted by Ralph Gorgoglione, Hawaii and California Real Estate (310) 497-9407 (Maui Life Homes / Metro Life Homes) over 6 years ago

Wow! I can only imagine that being super injury magnet supreme! Good luck regardless.


Love and light,


Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) over 6 years ago

Gerard - I think there are all sorts of dangers there, especially when icy!

Ralph - what I said did nothing toward scaring them off.  They understood completely.

Laura - and what about the wheelchair bound!  Actually someone in a wheelchair could not make it around any aspect of this property!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

I did not realize this was the ENTRANCE to the house!?!?!? OK while beautiful that changes everything and now I cannot agree with you more. I thought this was landscaping stepping stone to add beauty to the yard and provide easier access no the front door walkway.

Yes this is a major issue as I think (each state may vary) but 5 steps or more requires a handrail.


Posted by David Shamansky, Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg (US Mortgages - David Shamansky) over 6 years ago

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