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Do You Want A Home Inspector Or An Engineer?

I had a call from a prospective client.  She needed a home inspection.  Her first question was, "Are you an engineer?"

What can I say?  "No, I am not.  Do you think the house needs to be seen by an engineer or a home inspector?"

She didn't know.  "All I know is my boss told me to get a home inspector who is an engineer."

"I am sorry, I don't know any I can refer you to.  I know a lot of engineers and work with a few.  And I know a lot of home inspectors.  But I do not know anyone who is certified as both.  You probably only need an engineer if there are specific structural or soil issues that need examination.  Is that what you need?  I can refer to you engineers for that purpose, but they don't do home inspections.  In fact, one engineer I have known for over 10 years called me to do two inspections on his new home - a pre-drywall structural and a final walk through."

"What does a home inspector do that an engineer does not?"  Now, there's a good question!

"As a certified home inspector, I am trained and have long experience in the construction industry.  In addition to structure, I also evaluate the exterior, roof, all the indoor systems, ventilation, appliances - well, many things.  You should think of a house as you would a living organism - there are many systems that all work together to create a healthy house.  Sometimes those systems or parts need repairs or replacement,  But they certainly need a complete evaluation from time to time.  That is where I come in.  I give you as complete a snap shot as I can of the condition of the home on the day we look at it.  Then I give you a thorough report that describes my findings."

"Don't engineers do that?"

"Not unless they are certified as home inspectors."

"Well," she repeated, "all I know is my boss told me to get a home inspector who is an engineer.  I guess I need to keep checking around."  She did not call back.  Maybe she found what she was looking for.  Likely she found an engineer who said he does home inspections too.  But he is probably not a home inspector ... and she will probably never know the difference.

People don't know what they don't know.

The engineer acquaintance I referred to above called me do perform a pre-drywall analysis on his new home.  I was surprised to hear from him!  "What do you need me for?  You know more about structure than I do!"

His answer was very smart and very circumspect.  "Four eyes are better than two.  And I know you have a good eye.  Plus, you look at other things too."  And guess what?  I found some things, structural and otherwise, that he had not seen, agreed with and wanted corrected.  That's how it works.

So, do you want a home inspector or an engineer?  Personally, I don't know!  Which do need?

My recommendation:   A structural engineer is likely not a trained home inspector and few home inspectors are trained as engineers.  Neither is likely to do a report that would satisfy the other's criteria during an evaluation.  So, hire what you need!  But when you need a structural engineer, don't call a home inspector.  Engineers are great at what they do.  And, when you need a home inspector, you are likely to be disappointed by an engineer's point of view.

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

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

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 21 commentsJay Markanich • March 04 2009 09:17AM

Comments

There could be an issue with the purchase contract also.  If the contract specifies a home inspection with in a certain time frame, legally a licensed home inspector may be the only report that qualifies. Hope she had no problems or got both the engineer and inspector, with in the time frame.

Posted by Lois Castleberry (RE/MAX Affiliates) over 9 years ago

Lois - That's a good point!  I don't know, but hope so for her sake.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, I have done lots of inspections for both architects and engineers.  Most recognize that what they do, while related, has very little to do with what we do.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charlie - same here!  I do know of one engineer in this area who does "home inspections", but he is not on any inspector directory of affiliated membership.  I don't know what that means in terms of people's contracts, but he probably does not meet most contractual requirements. 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay,

More on what Charlie said. I have done a number of inspections for PE's, who felt they did not know enough general information about homes. That is a good answer, if you have done that. You can say, gee, I am a guy engineers hire to look at their homes.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Steven - it is fun to be able to say that!  On a home inspection a couple of weeks ago, to which an engineer friend of mine was also invited by the buyer (and not referred by me), the engineer said, "Jay did my home inspection!"   That was pretty cool to hear... 

What you said about PE's feeling they have specific and not general construction knowledge, remember what Clint said, "A man's gotta know his limitations..."

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Thanks for the lesson! One more difference is that engineers write their "fours" like little flags (up, over, across) and their "nines" like a pea in a cradle.

Posted by Susan Gonzalez Faux painting murals atlanta (Marietta Mural & Decorative Design) over 9 years ago

Susan - that's how I make my fours but my nines are just a circle with the straight, downward slash!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Would it be safe to say that we home inspectors in general are "Jack of all trades, Master of none".

Posted by Tad Petersen / Home Inspector, Mpls (Safeguard Home Inspections, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Tad - I have heard of Master's degrees, but never Jack degrees...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Mr Jay,

In my area, with the reputation I have developed, more and more people do not want an engineer or a home inspector. They want a certifried home inspector's assistant.

Nutsy

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Go Nutsy...

Go Nutsy...

Glad to see you got a special mask for your long face, so to speak.

"So," said the bartender to the horse, "why the long face?"

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay,

Some people think that Nutsy looks like Charlie. I think it is the other way around. We sure know which one is the best looking, of that there is no doubt at all.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Thanks Steve, I am surprised that you would make such a statement having to work with Nutsy and all.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Suddenly I can't tell them apart!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

What if I need a home inspector who is also a Redskins fan?

Posted by C-Biscuit over 9 years ago

That would be me...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, I had a very similar call from a woman not long ago. I however had a different result. She hired me.

I explained that believing a home inspector and engineer are one and the same is a common misconception. I went on tell her that there are many diverse disciplines of engineering and almost none of them have anything to do with homes. The example I gave was a civil engineer. They might be able to give expert advice on the road and driveway, but I think they might be a little lost on the electrical.

Anyhow after educating her she decided I was the person for the job.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 9 years ago

Hi James - yes, that has happened too.  But sometimes they have a thing in their mind that will not be swept away!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Hi Jay.   You're right to the point!  The client needs to communicate the task that needs to be accomplished and decide upon the list of professionals required to accomplish the task.

I do not like the arguments where there is an assumption that a structural engineer will not know about other areas of the house.   Similar as to a home inspector that may not know about structural integrity.  There are inspectors and engineers that satisfy both sides of this argument.

I prefer the argument regarding the scope of the task.  Do you want to evaluate the house as an entire system or just the structural component of the house? 

There are people that can do both jobs, and do them well.  Typically these people do not recommend that they perform both jobs on the same house.   I think the Doctor analogy applies in this situation.  Why do Doctors recommend second opinions?  Typically so they can discuss/debate the possible causes and treatments for a problem.

I feel this also applies with a Home Inspector and Structural Engineer.  If you know you already have a problem with the structure, then engage a structural engineer first.   If you have a broken arm, you will go to the emergency room instead of making an appointment for your primary care physician.

If you are concerned about the house, including the structure, then engage a home inspector.  Similar to if your arm hurts, you will make an appointment with your primary care physician.  The primary care physician may recommend X-rays or other test based upon their diagnosis.  Similar that a home inspector will recommend further evaluation based upon the signs of defects.

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) over 9 years ago

Jim - I often see structural issues that need further evaluation.  And I recommend that the client engage an engineer for that - I am qualified to point them out, but not any evaluation therewith. 

Most states have SOP's that prohibit an engineer from making a home inspection evaluation unless certified.  That is not to say they cannot, but their final product may not satisfy the contractual needs of the client.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

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