Reuben Saltzman

Does a long home inspection mean bad news?

If a home inspection takes a long time, is this good or bad news for the seller? Or neither?

Great question. The quick answer is there are so many variables that affect the duration of a home inspection that the time of the inspection alone won’t give much meaningful information when it comes to determining the condition of the home. I’ll discuss several of these variables to help better understand what makes a home inspection take longer.

With all of the items listed below, the assumption is that all other things are equal.

The House

Large houses take more time to inspect than small houses.

Old houses take more time to inspect than new houses. Part of the reason is that the house has had time for components to fail, rot, or reach the end of their life. Used houses typically have many different components in different stages of their life expectancy, and it’s the home inspector’s job to let the client know about components at the end of their life expectancy.

Remodeled/renovated houses take longer to inspect. When new systems are mixed in with old systems, the house gets more complex. This frequently means additional HVAC systems, electrical subpanels, etc. All of these additional components considerably add to the time it takes to inspect a house.

Complicated houses take longer to inspect. The more types of roof coverings, siding, windows, floor coverings, etc., the longer the inspection will take. Several small rooms will take significantly more time to inspect than one large room.

Attics and crawl spaces add to the inspection time. Multiple attics and/or crawl spaces considerably add to the inspection time.

Tall buildings take more time to inspect than short buildings. This is because it’s more work to access the roof. It’s a piece of cake for a home inspector to pull a Little Giant ladder out of their vehicle and hop onto the roof. That works great for shorter buildings or buildings where the upper roof areas can be accessed from the lower roof areas. It’s a lot more work to unstrap a 28′ extension ladder from the truck and set it up, then carry it back and strap it onto the truck when done using it.

For example, I spent nearly an hour inspecting the roof surfaces at the home pictured below because I used different ladders, and I took many photos of the roof.

Long Roof Inspection

Houses with deferred maintenance (aka – “no maintenance”) take a lot longer to inspect. It takes time to document problems, and these problem areas then need to be further inspected to help determine what else might be wrong.

The Inspector

One inspector could easily take twice as long as the next inspector to inspect the exact same property. Sometimes, this is a direct reflection of the quality of the inspection.

Inspector F might inspect the crawl space by looking into the opening, inspect the roof from the ground with binoculars, and say the attic was obstructed with personal items and could not be inspected.

On that same house, inspector A might inspect the crawl space by crawling through it. Before doing so, she might have to set up a tarp outside the crawl space so as not to make a mess when coming out, go out to her vehicle and change into some coveralls before going into the crawl space, spend ten minutes inspecting the crawl space, then clean everything back up. This same inspector might not have any problem moving the sellers items to gain access to the attic, and would surely walk the roof to inspect it. Just these three items could easily add an hour onto the inspection time.

Some home inspectors produce their inspection reports on-site, which adds considerable time to the inspection. At least, it should. If a home inspector says that producing a report on-site doesn’t add much time to the inspection, they’re probably producing a poorly written inspection report filled with generic disclaimers about everything under the sun and lots of sentences ending with “for its age” (eg – “The 30-year-old roof was in normal condition for its age”).

And some home inspectors talk more.

The Client

Clients with tons of questions make the inspection take longer. Especially the “why” questions.

Engineers take more time. They’re usually not satisfied until they can successfully explain a problem back to us

Inspections for first-time home buyers often take longer than inspections for experienced homeowners. First-time home buyers often need to have the basics explained: what a furnace is, how it operates, how to change the furnace filter, etc.

Multiple clients at an inspection will usually make things take longer. More questions, more conversations.

The bottom line

Don’t put too much stock in the amount of time that a home inspection takes. The duration of a home inspection is affected by too many variables for a home seller to draw any conclusions. A long home inspection isn’t necessarily bad news.

5 responses to “Does a long home inspection mean bad news?”

  1. Marianne Zura
    July 9, 2013, 7:28 am

    Great article! So then is it better to quote an hourly inspection rate, or one lump fee? Do you have a scale of fees according to size? When there are outbuildings, like sheds and barns that are habitable/usable and the client wants them inspected, what is an appropriate charge for this? I’m new in the industry out in Wyoming, a generally underinspected or “coded” state, and am wondering how to properly charge aside from just looking at what the other inspectors are charging.


  2. Reuben Saltzman
    July 9, 2013, 12:01 pm

    Marianne – No hourly rates; the price should be quoted up front. We base our price only on the finished square footage of the home; sometimes we get paid well for our time, other times we don’t get paid nearly enough. If I were a one-man-shop, I would base my fee on how long I thought the inspection was going to take. I would want to look at photos of the house, I’d want to know about crawl spaces, attics, remodels, age of the house, size of the house, etc… and then I would quote some arbitrary price based on how I felt that day.

    For you just getting in to it, you’re probably better off just copying what everyone else in your area is doing until you’re well established.

  3. Andrew
    July 9, 2013, 9:02 am

    I would add, as a perspective home buyer, it is important to be on-site during an inspection.

    As it is mentioned that a long inspection is not necessarily a bad thing, a very short one may be. I’d be curious what Reuben’s “minimum” time expectation would be.

    Personally, I was burned badly by a crappy inspection (in Florida — shock!) on my first home, since I didn’t have a clue what to expect. Later on, I found out that a 45 minute full inspection was a red flag.

  4. Reuben Saltzman
    July 9, 2013, 12:04 pm

    Andrew – agreed. I wrote about that here:

    The minimum time for an inspection would be a brand new, small house in perfect condition. No basement, pristine attic, no clients to talk to. Maybe 90 minutes? I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen, but it’s conceivable.

  5. Andrew
    July 9, 2013, 12:15 pm

    When I bought my second house, the approach I took was to contract inspections myself (as opposed to via the selling broker or my buyers agent) directly.

    I also ended up hiring separate inspectors for the house, the septic, and water system. The irony was that nothing was amiss, but I felt much safer.

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