The Contractor Myth
Home inspection really is an area of specialty.
Some consumers believe that if they hire General Contractor or an
Engineer for the home inspection, they are hiring the very best there
is for the job. It is a common mistake, and can lead to problems in
the world of real estate. More on this later.
I am a specialist. My Clients benefit from my having a much broader,
working knowledge of every major system in a home. General
Contractors and Engineers usually have a limited working knowledge
of only a few areas. Professional Home Inspection is an area of
specialty. Background is important, and the ability and desire to do
the job RIGHT is paramount. Hawaii has NO regulations yet for this
industry; it does not require private Professional Home Inspectors to
be (or have been) a General Contractor, or to have any special
credentials. Let's expand things a bit:
PROFESSIONAL HOME INSPECTOR -VS- GENERAL CONTRACTOR
A thorough, experienced Professional Home Inspector will quickly find what an average
General Contractor or Engineer misses, if they inspect the very same house or
condominium. Trust a typical General Contractor to do the inspection, and there is no
guarantee the inspection will be performed properly, or to any standards except their own.
There is also no guarantee you will be given a quality report of any real use. Furthermore,
many everyday contractors etc. (be it a roofer, electrician, etc.) will be reluctant to put their
findings in writing. As a HAHI Certified Inspector, I am bound by the toughest Standards Of
Practice and Code Of Ethics in Hawaii and arguably the nation for Professional Home
Inspectors, set forth by the Hawaii Association Of Home Inspectors.
Post inspection Clients also have to watch out for the contractor or handy-person who
comes out after our services for second opinions or bids, where "talk is cheap". It is not
uncommon for these folks to minimize or argue our findings verbally, but just try to get them
to put those same comments in writing. They usually won't, especially when they know it is
incorrect advice, such as to save a deal for an Agent, etc. I have even heard contractors
come out during an inspection and give the Client the option to get permits, or not permit a
job, that required permitting. The one that comes to mind was a home in need of complete
rewiring. This is what you can encounter folks. Your safety and financial well being may be at
stake if you are not careful. Non permitted work can be dangerous, expensive to remedy,
and it can hold up a sale.
YES, HOME INSPECTORS DIFFER, TOO
The truth is (especially in a state that has yet to regulate the home inspection industry),
home inspectors differ. Things like experience, ethics, honesty, background, training,
personality and credentials can (and usually do) differ tremendously.
Some folks enter this industry thinking all they need to do is take an online test, or read a
book on home inspection to be qualified. Would you get on a Boeing 767 if you knew the
pilot had only read a book on how to fly it, or got his or her license issued through a non
supervised online test? Consumers are at high risk if they do not do their homework. Oahu
has a handful of good inspectors. Unfortunately, it's hard for consumers to differentiate.
Interesting story: When I was a new Realtor in Vancouver, I had to attend home inspections
as part of my Realtor training. I attended an inspection put on by supposedly the very best
inspector in the area. Because of my background as an experienced home inspector, I was
really shocked what this guy failed to mention. It was very disappointing. He missed serious
structural, electrical, and other problems. I asked him many questions along the way, and his
answers were very disappointing to the point of being incompetent. He was a very nice guy,
and suspected I was a builder, or contractor or something with all of my questions. I pulled
him aside at the end so as not to embarrass him, and told him about my background. I can
only hope his getting caught doing a superficial inspection was cause enough to step up and
become a better inspector. I would hate to think he is still out there doing inspections for
consumers, missing so many important things.
ISSUES JUSTIFY THE NEED FOR AN EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL HOME
There are many construction related problems in Hawaii. I believe the problems range from
the use of unskilled labor, lack of pride in work, lack of on-site supervision, cost-cutting
measures, poor material or system choices, poor design, out-of-date building codes,
improper or no permits, as well as a lack of consistency and thoroughness from many of our
Municipal Building Inspectors. Land costs are extremely high too, making profit even tougher
for many. Until all of these areas improve tremendously, current trends and problems (and
related litigation) will continue. Better regulation and enforcement is needed for the building
industry here. And, my industry (home inspection) would also benefit from regulation, to
better protect Hawaii's consumers.
Are their some good quality homes here? You bet. But not as many as one would expect.
Hawaii's fine homes are typically multi-million dollar homes, but they often have numerous
issues. Track housing is fairly predictable, with many in-common inexcusable defects. The
situation is compounded by folks 'flipping" houses, were the focus is often on bottom line
profit, not necessarily on quality, or your safety. These are some of the worst homes I have
A FEW MORE THINGS TO CONSIDER:
CODES ARE NOTHING MORE THAN MINIMAL STANDARDS. Please do not rely on codes to
insure your home will be as safe as possible, or as well built as possible. Things can always
be done better. Similarly, if unreasonable emphasis is placed on "code" in general during a
home inspection, problems will arise. Some inspectors make this mistake. Many of Hawaii's
existing homes would fail this test miserably. Consider too, that many structural items and
other systems and components of a home are concealed when finished. Concealed items
are generally an exclusion of anyone's report as they cannot be inspected. Codes are as
good as the enforcement, and in many cases codes in Hawaii are inexcusably "behind the
times" when compared to other areas. No home is perfect, and nobody has x-ray vision. A
proper home inspection is a delicate balance between code knowledge application and
practicality, keeping occupant safety in mind.
I have taken my profession as a Home Inspector seriously from day one. As a HAHI Certified
Inspector, I'm a specialist who has met the toughest criteria for certification, and that I'm also
required to maintain it by continued education. The fact that I'm not a contractor or repair
person insures you will receive an honest, thorough inspection with no hidden motives or
The majority of the problems I find are caused by the actions, inactions, or errors of a
General Contractor, or by sub-contractors under their watch. The balance can be attributed
improper care by homeowners, or substandard homeowner renovations.
How about all those contractor horror stories we read about, or enjoy seeing on HGTV like
my favorite, HGTV's Holmes Makes It Right? They are true. And they keep Lawyers busy. So
obviously, a home inspection is a small price to pay for peace of mind. The key is finding an
inspector you can trust to do the job right.
Mike Holmes, a man I deeply admire, really says it best:
“I’ve been fixing a lot of sloppy, lazy and dangerous work for the past two decades. I think it's
time to expose the work of these so-called contractors and help some homeowners make
informed decisions. I want to take the word ‘minimum’ out of the construction industry and
stop the slow death of craftsmanship".
-Mike Holmes (HGTV's Holmes Makes it Right and Holmes Inspection)
Mike is an example of an outstanding Contractor. Individuals like him are the exception to the
rule. I respect him; he inspires me to speak up and tell the truth in what I see.
Mikes Son, Mike Holmes Jr. says it well too:
"As you all know there are a lot of pretenders out there, pretending to be something they are
not. In this case, I call it a protender".