It’s a well-known fact: the biggest investment that many people will ever make is the purchase of a house. For this reason, the prospective buyer of an existing home must always make the promise to purchase conditional on a proper inspection.
Why an inspection?
There are two reasons why a pre-purchase inspection is essential. It enables the prospective buyer to:
- obtain the most comprehensive and objective report possible on the general condition of the building; and
- learn about any defects likely to adversely affect the liveability of the house as well as its value.
Specifying the condition on the promise to purchase
A promise to purchase that is conditional on a home inspection should include:
- a deadline, ideally between 7 and 10 days, for conducting the inspection and reading the inspector’s report; and
- a clause stating that the buyer must be satisfied with the findings of the inspection report.
After reading the report, the buyer may be released from the obligation to purchase if he or she is not satisfied with the findings, and may be provided with latitude to renegotiate the purchase price.
Choosing the right building inspector
Surprising as it may seem, there is no regulation that governs training for the profession of building inspector. This means that in practice, anyone can claim to be qualified to do the job. So whom should you entrust the inspection to? The surest way to know you are dealing with someone who has the required skills is to choose an inspector who:
- holds valid liability insurance covering errors and omissions; and
- is a member in good standing of a relevant professional order.
In Quebec, many architects, technologists and building engineers offer their services as home inspectors. They are members of professional orders, which are mandated, among other things, to protect the public by controlling the practice of professions.
You can check whether an inspector is a member of a professional order by contacting the order in question, and verify insurance coverage by contacting the insurer.
In addition, you should never hesitate to ask for references. Normally, no seasoned inspector will object to that request.
Good to know: you should expect to pay about $500 for the services of an inspector. The cost may vary, however, depending the type of building (size, age, etc.).
What is the scope of the inspector’s mandate?
A building inspection entails the careful examination of all its systems as well as its visible and accessible components. It is a strictly visual inspection.
Quebec’s professional orders of architects, technologists and chartered appraisers have jointly developed standards of practice¹ for residential building inspections. They define the content and scope of inspections conducted by their members. Everything requiring examination, both inside and outside the house, is specified: the structure of the property, the land, the building’s cladding, doors and windows, roofing, plumbing, electricity, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, etc.
If it proves impossible to inspect a particular component or system, the standards require that the inspector explain why in the report. For example, a component may be out of sight in a ceiling or wall cavity, buried underground, or hidden under snow.
The results of the inspection: a detailed report
After completing the inspection, the inspector provides the prospective buyer with a report: a comprehensive, detailed written account of the findings, supplemented by photographs.
The report must also include clarifying comments for the buyer about any defects observed—especially those that require urgent or major repair work, or a more in-depth expert opinion.
A “Seller’s Declaration” form may also accompany the inspection report. It allows the current owner to disclose information on the condition of the main components of the property, including renovations and repairs that have been done, any existing issues, and so on.
At the end of the day, a pre-purchase inspection conducted by a professional (who has the required skills and whose practice is regulated) will provide you, the prospective buyer, with an objective opinion on the quality of the building you are interested in.