Questions to ask the seller to augment the Home Inspection.

A Residential Home Inspection is a snapshot in time, visual, non-invasive inspection of a property.   The Home Inspector does not have a crystal ball to allow them to see into the future.  The Home Inspector does not have a time machine to go back in time to see what may have happened in the past.  The Home Inspector certainly does not have x-ray vision to see through things.

Herein lies the problem.   While a Professional home Inspector is trained to inspect what is visible, analyse what they have inspected, identify possible concerns that may affect the property as at the time of the inspection, there is always the past and the future the Home Inspector will not be able to opine upon unless there is visual evidence of a problem.

We frequently hear from our members of incidences of Clients complaining that the Home Inspector “missed something” only to be upset when it is explained to them the limitations of an inspection.

When buying a resale home, frequently the existing owners may be aware of defects that have been fixed or still exist.  They are however not required to voluntarily disclose them unless those defects render the property unfit for habitation or defects which render the property dangerous or likely to be dangerous.   

In Ontario, Realtors have, since 1997, had at their disposal a form called the Seller Property Information Statement (SPIS) which allows for voluntary disclosure statements.   The problem with this form is that it asks questions that go way beyond what a seller is bound by law to disclose, and can often end up in needless litigation because of the complexity of the questions.

A number of the questions on the Ontario Real Estate Agency (OREA) SPIS (Form220) are designed to assist the listing Realtor to establish details about the home.  Things like identifying owners, restricted covenants, rights-of-way, easements and encroachments are really for the listing agent to properly establish value and advertise the home.

Things such as asking if there are any pending developments, road widenings local levies being contemplated and so forth are questions that the Realtor should really be identifying as part of their efforts to investigate the home.  Asking the current sellers releases the Realtor from putting in the effort to perform their job, and relies solely on the seller, transferring and errors and omissions from the Realtor to the Seller.

Some questions on the SPS are so complex, that legal advice is required by the Seller in order to properly answer the question.   But there are some questions on the SPIS which are critical to the decision-making process a buyer needs to make.  Frequently the answers to these questions can not only assist the buyer but can also assist the Home Inspector in better analysing a root-cause for what is visible.   This reduces the number of times an Inspector may have to refer another “specialist” to inspect further.

Below is the list of questions we believe ALL buyers should ask of the Seller, either directly or through the representing Realtors.  both the Questions and answers should be in writing.

Question Reason for asking this
Have you received any notice, claim, work order or deficiency notice affecting the property from any person or any public body?  This question s on the OREA SPIS Form 220. There are a number of items in a home that can affect habitability or safety of the occupants.   These items may have been inspected by Electricians, Plumbers, Engineers or Health and Safety Specialists.   In the case of a serious defect, these items may have been red-tagged requiring immediate replacement or repair.  Knowing of their existence will help your inspector in identifying if repairs to such systems have been properly carried out and properly tagged by the relevant authority.  where there is still a concern, your inspector can alert you to the concern and direct you to who to contact to check further.
Are you aware of any additions or renovations to the property to the property whilst you have owned it? The older a house gets, the more likely it is to have had additions or renovations.   Identifying if these renovations are recent can help your inspector correctly identify what if any would be considered a defect created by modern codes and what would be considered “grandfathered in”.   Your inspector can then report accordingly giving you accurate advice on whether remediations are required or not.
The answer to this question can also direct your Inspector to consider if additions or renovations would require permits and raise this to your attention.   Buying a house with un-permitted modifications can cause you problems later down the line when it comes to selling.
Not asking this question leaves the Inspector to opine blindly on what they have found.  Many additions and renovations are properly constructed but without confirmation, an inspector would have to direct you to seek further information which could create an unnecessary concern for you and delay the transaction.  Asking the question upfront provides your inspector with a background to what they are looking at allowing them to make the right recommendations to you based on their findings.
Are you aware of any problems with any of the appliances included in the listing?  If so have they been fixed?  If so do you have the paperwork? This question should encompass any of the appliances including Washers, Dryers, Cookers, Air Conditioning units and Furnaces.  A Home Inspector, with limited time to inspect, cannot test every cycle of an appliance.  If an appliance fails on one of the cycles not tested, it is likely that this would be known to a seller.   In addition, if a seller knows, for example, that a Washing Machine leaks when used, your inspector will not attempt to test it and cause damage to what is potentially going to be your new home.
Are you aware of any leaks into the property from the outside? If so have they been fixed?  If so do you have the paperwork? This question covers instances where the foundation, basement floor, plumbing or roof might leak.  We frequently see basements that look squeaky clean but in the first major rainstorm, a leak “magically” appears.  A  Professional home Inspector can identify from stains etc. if a leak may have occurred in the past, but if the stain has been cleaned up or covered over it would be considered undetectable in a court.  If the seller has been specifically asked about a leak and denied such a leak occurred, and then during remediation evidence to the contrary is found, you have a legitimate claim against the seller.  By not asking the question, you are left at the mercy of the weather.

These are four simple questions, with a possible four extra ones based upon the answers given.  This is a long way from the fifty-six posed on the OREA SPIS.  They are in plain English and have no complex decision-making requirement and therefore are easily answerable by the seller.

Because you, as a Buyer, are asking the questions, the Seller is bound by law to answer truthfully.  If you and the Seller are being represented by Realtors, you should ask your Realtor to ask the listing agent to ask the seller.  These are not questions for the Listing agent, who can honestly answer “I don’t know” to all of them by not asking the Seller.

Once you have the answers in writing, ensure your Home Inspector has the answers and discuss with them what the answers might mean with respect to the Inspectors findings.   This way you can be sure your inspector has the best information they need to make the right opinions on what is found on the day of the inspection, and you get a report that is not filled with unknowns about the past or future with multiple referrals to other specialist professions and trades.