I have been a home inspector in the Pacific Northwest (mostly Seattle area) for nineteen years. We have inspected over 7000 properties since 2000, with a total estimated property value of over 2.8 billion dollars. I love inspecting homes of all price points, and I especially like working with first time home buyers. We do all types of property inspections, including inspections on new properties. We have had clients ask if it is important to inspect new homes. I’ll tell you a story about an inspection I performed on a multi-million-dollar new build that helps explain why it can be critical.
Typically, when inspecting high end, new homes, I can expect to find most systems connected, operational, and professionally installed. That was generally the case with this property and the builder was on site during the inspection. I don't recommend the builder is at the inspection for various reasons. And, in this instance I suspect the builder is kicking himself for being at the inspection and saying so much.
The 4000 plus square foot property was near the water with an amazing view. As stated, the work was mostly complete and well done; a painter and carpenter were there doing some touch-ups and finish work.
After I complete an inspection, I typically do a slide show for the buyer using photos on my computer to explain conditions within the dwelling. The builder wanted to be present for the slide show. Nothing of great concern stood out to me except for the roof. The roof was a standing seam metal type. Standing seam metal is an expensive roof. The installation is relatively difficult and requires special bending and seaming tools. Some of the seaming and cutting are done at the factory and some are completed on site.
When I inspected this roof by direct access, I observed multiple openings and incomplete work. Additionally, the edges of the metal at multiple valleys were not bent as is typical. The metal was not cut straight and was loose. I had just inspected a similar metal roof a few weeks prior and after reviewing photos of that roof, sure enough, I saw the angle cut at the valleys was bent and seamed into a corresponding valley metal. The line was straight and neat along the entire path of the valley.
During my review of the roof with the client, selling agent, and builder, the builder informed me that the work on the roof was incomplete. The installer was busy and hadn't been able to get back on site and he specifically stated that a special seaming tool would bend the valley metal after it was installed. I thought this was odd and couldn’t understand how it was possible to do this after the fact. The builder assured me that this was all going to be taken care of. So great, the roof was going to be completed and there were a few other components yet to be installed. Usually reinspections are not requested on new construction. The buyer does a walk through with the seller/contractor to make sure everything is done to satisfaction. In this instance the buyer and real estate agent wanted a reinspection.
Two weeks later I was back on the property re-inspecting the roof. When I arrived, the builder and the roof installer were there. I went on the roof with the installer and found that nothing was completed except for a couple of the loose vent screens loosened by birds were re-installed. I asked the installer about the valley seam metal that was not bent and not cut straight. He said that you can't bend this after it is installed, just as I had expected. Additionally, he asked me if he should install screws to hold down the loose metal. I said don't ask me how to install your roof.
I was doing a lot of head shaking as we got off the roof to chat it up with the builder. The builder was not very happy as you can imagine. I showed them pictures of the roof that I had just inspected and the one that had the nice straight bent metal valley work. Both the builder and installer informed me that their install was okay and that I shouldn’t worry because I wasn’t the one guaranteeing the roof anyway. They also pointed out that the roof had been installed for many months and was not leaking.
At this point I reminded the builder that he had informed me that this was all going to be completed with a special tool. I asked the builder if he had gone up on the roof to look at the work himself, and if this would be acceptable to him if he were buying the house. He told me he had not been on the roof. I informed the builder that I was going to report exactly what I found and that I believed the metal was not installed per the manufacturer’s or professional standards.
The next morning, I started digging deeper into metal roof installation guidelines for various products. I made multiple phone calls to various installers and did find out the name of the manufacturer of the roofing material. I called the buyer to reach out to them with the additional information, and we all agreed that the manufacturer should be contacted to review the installation. The manufacturer would be able to determine whether the installation met their guidelines, and the manufacturer would be a neutral specialist. I breathed a sigh of relief and completed my reinspection report. The report stated incomplete work (specifically that the builder had misinformed us regarding the valley metal installation) and that the buyer should get two additional inspections - one from the manufacturer of the product and an additional one from an independent metal roofing installer.
Two weeks later I was out inspecting a different property with a new buyer but same real estate agent. The agent had news about the previous inspection. The manufacturer had failed the installation for many reasons and would not honor the product warranty. The builder had then agreed to tear off and replace the entire roof. This roof was approximately a sixty-thousand-dollar project.
The takeaway of this experience for me is that buyers should always get a home inspection by a qualified inspector, even on new construction. Additionally, we inspectors should never be afraid to bring up suspect conditions, even if we’re not sure and even if the products are new. If it doesn't look right to you, trust yourself, do a little research, and get it in the report. The worst-case scenario, even if you’re wrong, is that the builder or seller will have to do some follow-up. This is so much better than your client finding out later that a system or component is failing because of an unprofessional installation and has to be replaced on their dime.