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Be Careful Estimating Remaining “Life”

Many home inspectors include in their reports an estimate of how long they think a particular home system will last.
However, statements that attempts to estimate the current age and/or remaining life of a roof or any other property component, is risky and ill-advised.
Remember the case of the home inspector who predicted the roof would “last another 20 plus years if properly maintained”? In his case, the roof was actually over 20 years old and needed to be replaced within months of the buyers moving in. Within less than a year, the buyers of the home had filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the state’s consumer protection act, negligence, and breach of contract.
Ian Robertson, a veteran home inspector and contractor who also teaches home inspection courses in New York, says that this is a mistake that home inspectors make often. “I teach a liability course for home inspectors alongside an attorney here in New York,” Robertson said, “Invariably, we find glaring issues like this where the home inspector will state how new they think the roof is and estimate that it should last five to 10 years with proper maintenance. This is dangerous and is like adding flowers and bouquets to your report, when what you really should do is write down what you can see with your visual observation and move on.”
Some courts in New York have even taken issue with present tense verbs, such as “appears,” Robertson reports. “Some of the courts here have found that the present tense can be perceived as a guarantee, so we always write in past tense: ‘The roof appeared to be functional.’ Don’t make things up. We are not engineers and we are not specialists. We perform a visual inspection, we recognize defects, we report what we see, and we refer a specialist if necessary. Once you go outside of that, you’re asking for trouble,” warns Robertson.
This extends to property components that have a manufacturer’s sticker on them. “If the AC unit or water heater has a sticker showing the manufactured date, I’ll write: ‘According to sticker on side of equipment, the MFG date was 2019.’ This is because I’ve seen where the seller switched out the stickers for entire HVAC system and it brought a world of trouble for the home inspector and everyone involved in the transaction. You don’t know how old components are. Your job is to report what you see,” Robertson says.
As a professional home inspector, it’s not your job to report the precise age of a property component, much less predict how long a particular item will last. As a professional home inspector, you are not a fortune teller and you should avoid making future-predicting statements about how long a particular component will last. It is ok to say that a property component appears to be in good or even excellent condition, or that it is nearing the end of its life, but if you don’t know for certain how old it is, don’t guess. And don’t try to predict its remaining life—you don’t want to take on that liability.
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