I am looking at purchasing an older home and it has been suggested that I hire a structural engineer to do an inspection of the house. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that the foundation is the most important aspect of the home to inspect. If there is a problem in these areas, the very high cost of repairs may be too much to handle. I know that evaluations by home inspectors are normally done prior to purchase, but do I also need an engineer?
The reason that I posed this hypothetical question, which is often asked of me when potential clients call for information, is that a very recent development in Manitoba will now answer this very issue. This week, the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors – Manitoba (CAHPI-MB) and the Association of Professional Engineers & Geoscientist of Manitoba (APEGM) will be entering into an agreement outlining the roles of both groups in the inspection of residential properties. This agreement is a first in Canada and will improve consumer protection for homebuyers by defining ways that both groups can cooperate to better serve the public.
To answer the above question, APEGM members will now recommend that CAHPI home inspectors be hired to perform Pre-purchase inspections on residential properties. These inspections will include a limited visual inspection of the foundation and structure of the home, as per the CAHPI Standards of Practice. If significant issues are found with the foundation or structure during the inspection, the home inspector will then recommend further evaluation by a Professional Engineer. In this way, the roles of members of both associations, with relation to homebuyer services, will be clearly identified.
Home inspectors view themselves as generalists with good knowledge about all the systems in a house, but they may not necessarily be experts in any of these areas. To use a common analogy, engaging the services of a home inspector is similar to going to your family doctor or general practitioner. If the general practitioner identifies a health issue that may be beyond their scope of expertise they will recommend you follow up with a specialist. Similarly, the home inspector will recommend a licensed trade person or professional when a significant issue is seen in one aspect of a home. In this case, the proper recommendation for evaluation of structural issues is a Professional Engineer who specialized in structural or geotechnical elements of buildings.
In the recent past, many APEGM members did pre-purchase inspections of homes, which were similar to the limited visual ones done as a regular part of a typical home inspection. Over time, less and less engineers had the desire to offer this service because of the increasing liability and the limited market. There was a concern on the part of APEGM, CAHPI, and consumers that engineering services for residential properties were becoming difficult to obtain. One part of the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between APEGM and CAHPI-MB should solve this concern. As part of the agreement a list of both engineers and home inspectors will be developed, by the respective groups, to allow a mechanism for recommendations to consumers. In this way, CAHPI inspectors recommending further evaluation of structural components will have a list of qualified professional engineers to provide to their clients. Conversely, APEGM members will have a roster of properly trained and registered CAHPI home inspectors to recommend for complete pre-purchase inspection services. The CAHPI list is currently available at www.cahpi.mb.ca.
The true benefit of this new initiative is to help simplify an often confusing situation for homebuyers at a time when they have to make quick decisions, which may have significant financial implications. Buying a home is normally the single largest investment the average person will make during their lifetime. With a hot real estate market, like that seen in the last few years, there often is very limited opportunity for homebuyers to obtain a home inspection before closing of their offer to purchase. To make an attempt to complete a home inspection and engineering inspection in this short time span only compounds the anxiety of the situation. Thanks to the vision of the members of both APEGM and CAHPI, the proper course of action is now easily obtainable by the consumer. The joint recommendation to hire a CAHPI member for the “first line” of home inspections followed by a structural inspection by an APEGM member, if structural issues are identified, eliminates the confusion.
This unprecedented cooperative effort is a Canadian first, as no other agreement between Professional Engineers and Home Inspectors has been signed in any other Province or Territory. This historic document will be signed on February 26th, at the APEGM offices, by officials from both groups. The MOU will include the development of a free brochure, available to all consumers, with details about this process as well as information on engaging the services of members of both Associations. The brochure will soon be available by contacting members of either Association and on the respective websites of both groups.