Rules and Regulations Governing the Home Inspection Industry in Wisconsin

 Tom Kruse and Michael Von Gunten  |    March 07, 2012

The Wisconsin Association of Home Inspectors (WAHI) is a nonprofit organization formed in 1994. Founded primarily in response to state licensing proposals, WAHI helped to ensure that any new regulations included language establishing standards of practice to protect the independence of home inspectors as well as strong ethical requirements to protect the consumer.

State Law Sets Standards

The state standards of practice are the legal guidelines by which all Wisconsin home inspectors must conduct their inspections. By law, the inspection is a non-invasive and non-technical review of the home. Home inspectors are required to “observe and describe” in an objective way, regardless of the personal or professional ramifications of such commentary.

A quick glance at the state standards can help Wisconsin REALTORS® understand in detail what home inspectors do every day. The following quotations and summaries are from Wisconsin Chapter RL 134.01 through 134.04.

According to state statute, “A home inspector shall perform a reasonably competent and diligent home inspection of the readily accessible installed systems and components ... to detect observable conditions of an improvement to residential real property. A reasonably competent and diligent home inspection is not required to be technically exhaustive.” 

The standards also state clearly what inspectors are not required to do: offer a warranty, move snow or leaves or personal items, inspect for pests or hazardous substances, or predict future conditions, as well as nine other similarly explicit limitations.

However, home inspectors are clearly permitted to go beyond the state standards or exclude a component if requested by the client.

Observe and Describe

The law goes on to describe the structural and mechanical components included in a home inspection, such as roofs, exteriors, interiors, foundations, columns, flooring systems, plumbing and electrical systems, heating and central air condition systems, and insulation and ventilation systems.

For each component, the standards describe in detail what inspectors must observe and describe. As an example of this feature in the standards, the roofing section notes, “A home inspector shall observe and describe the condition of all of the following: Roof coverings, including type. Roof drainage systems. Flashings. Skylights. Chimneys and roof penetrations. Signs of leaks or abnormal condensation on building components. A home inspector shall describe the methods used to observe the roof.”

Also in the roofing specifics, the standards clearly state what a home inspector is not required to do: “Walk on the roofing. Observe attached accessories, including, but not limited to, solar systems, antennae and lightning arrestors. Observe internal gutter and downspout systems and related underground drainage piping.”

As you can see by this example, the standards are very specific as to what home inspectors must report on and what they are not required to do or report on. Again, some inspectors do exceed the basic standards in this section by carrying a ladder, and others go farther by walking on the roof when possible.

The Written Report

The standards also state what the inspection report must contain, and how it is to be delivered. A home inspector must submit a written report to the client that lists both 1) the items the inspector was required to inspect, and 2) the items that the inspector did inspect. The inspector must describe the condition of those items, including the condition of any items that, if not repaired, will have “significant adverse effect” on the life expectancy of the item. And the report must list any “material adverse facts that the inspector has knowledge of or has observed.”

The standards also state what the inspector is not required to report on, such as the life expectancy of items, the reason for a major repair, or the methods, materials or cost of any repair.

The standards also state very clearly that an inspector may not report, either in writing or verbally, on the market value or marketability of a property or whether a property should be purchased.

Inspectors Are Consumer Advocates

In our view, the best home inspectors will have two undying characteristics: the understanding that building science is constantly changing, and the humility to never stop learning.

A good home inspector knows that listening and learning come first. When visiting with WAHI members across Wisconsin, we found that these inspectors are committed to both professionalism and continuing education. Above all, WAHI members strive to do the right thing. We speak for the organization when we say that members understand that creditability is a precious commodity that is easily lost and not readily regained.

WAHI has grown a great deal since 1994. What began as a small group of committed inspectors has grown into a consumer advocacy organization where inspectors’ desire for education and sharing our professional experiences serves both our clients and the real estate community as a whole. This commitment to education and professional growth makes hiring a WAHI inspector a wise choice for all parties involved in any real estate transaction.

Tom Kruse is the past President of the WAHI and Michael Von Gunten is the present WAHI President.

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