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Published by OREP, E&O Insurance Experts | February 2013

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Jack Feldmann, a home inspector from Tennessee, explains that most Standards of Practice (SOP) for home inspector associations define what is "readily accessible" and allow inspectors to pull the "I can't get to it, so I'm not inspecting it" card if they so choose.

Editor's Note:  Want to know how home inspectors think? This insightful exchange between home inspectors about if, and when, to move a seller's personal property to perform a thorough home inspection will be of interest to both buyer and seller agents.

Playing the "Not Readily Accessible" Inspection Card
By Isaac Peck

From a pad-locked electrical panel to an obstructed attic, sooner or later every home inspector encounters a situation where something is “not readily accessible.” 

Some inspectors say it’s a disservice to their clients to not go the extra mile (including moving personal property) to access items requiring inspection.  Others insist that any extra steps taken by the home inspector to gain access, such as moving personal property or unscrewing an access door, needlessly increase the home inspector’s liability and create added risk. 

Jack Feldmann, a home inspector from Tennessee, explains that most Standards of Practice (SOP) for home inspector associations define what is “readily accessible” and allow inspectors to pull the “I can’t get to it, so I’m not inspecting it” card if they so choose.  Feldmann also points out that most home inspection agreements absolve the home inspector of the responsibility of reporting on items and areas that they couldn’t access.

For instance, InterNACHI’s Home Inspection Standards state: “The inspector is not required to move any personal items or other obstructions, such as, but not limited to, throw rugs, carpeting, wall coverings, furniture, ceiling tiles, window coverings, equipment, plants, ice, debris, snow, water, dirt, pets, or anything else that might restrict the visual inspection.”

ASHI’s (American Society of Home Inspectors) SOP are very similar, stating that the inspector is not required to “move personal property, furniture, equipment, plants, soil, snow, ice or debris.”

Despite this, Feldmann feels that he owes it to his clients to do the most thorough job possible, within reason of course.

He explains, “If the electrical panel or crawlspace door has a padlock on it, I will call the listing agent and ask them to get in touch with the property owner and see if there is a key somewhere in the house. If they cannot get in contact with the seller, I ask permission (from the listing agent) to cut the lock.” In his 23 years of home inspecting, he says that he has never had a seller or listing agent refuse to let him cut the lock.  “Each and every time, I offer to replace the padlock. Most of the time they tell me not to bother,” Feldmann says.

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Feldmann explains that he takes this same approach with crawlspaces that are blocked off. “I have gone to crawlspaces and found the access panel screwed in place and I have always just removed the screws, and replaced them when I was done. According to my SOP, I could have disclaimed getting into the crawlspace, however I would have shortchanged my client by not inspecting one of the most important components of the house,” says Feldmann.

Despite his desire to be as thorough as possible, Feldmann says that he always considers his potential risk and liability before moving anything. And he does occasionally use the disclaimer: “Not Readily Accessible” in his reports. For instance, attic access is frequently blocked by owner’s belongings in the closet. Feldmann says that if the seller or the seller’s agent is present, he will ask them to help him move the belongings, but when he’s alone it really depends on the potential risk involved in moving the items. “If I am by myself, I will make the determination if I want to move their stuff or not. It depends on what is stored and the potential risk for damage/liability. Frankly, I hate doing this!”

Feldmann says that he’s only had one complaint so far-- one seller filed a claim with the Better Business Bureau alleging that he damaged her clothes. Fortunately for Feldmann, he says he was able to settle the claim with an eight-dollar check for cleaning costs. 

Just Saying No
On the other hand, some home inspectors simply refuse to move any of the seller’s personal belongings due to liability concerns.  Aaron Miller, a home inspector from Texas, says that he doesn’t move anything that doesn’t belong to him.  “If it is not readily accessible, it gets disclaimed. I am an inspector, not a moving company,” says Miller.

When asked about his responsibility to perform as thorough an investigation as possible, Miller insists that his approach is as per his inspection agreement and his SOP. “My clients are fully-informed at least a day or two in advance of the inspection as to what the inspection covers and what it does not cover. I explain such things preemptively in my inspection agreement. Everyone is aware of whose responsibility it is to make things accessible for me prior to that time.  My policies are in alignment with the state and ASHI SOP. They are also in place to protect the seller's property and to reduce mine and my client's liability should something become damaged due to my moving it,” says Miller.

Greg Filian, from
Mobile Home Inspectors, says that he tries to take a balanced approach when it comes to deciding what to move. “My policy on moving things is, if it looks like the resident moves the items all the time, I will move them- trash cans, hanging clothes, lawn mowers, etc. If items are never or nearly never moved, like beds, couches dressers, parked car, storage in a closet, I don't move them and disclose it. I have a standard disclosure for this,” says Filian.

Filian explains that sometimes it comes down to common sense and experience. “Let’s face it, sometimes you just can't get to it. No inspection fee is worth me paying for damage or hurting myself. If there are clothes in the washing machine or dryer and no one is there to move them I don't run the appliances or touch the clothes.  Once I shrunk a ‘favorite’ piece of clothing and had to pay for it. I've done this long enough to have learned from mistakes I've made and then incorporate them into my business,” Filian says.

Christopher Chirafisi, Director of Technical Training at AHIT, agrees that common sense plays a very important role in these decisions. “If I am performing an inspection and the electric panel has some boxes or some other personal property blocking access to it, I have a few options.  I can ask the seller (if the seller is home) to move the storage, or I can follow the Standards and document in the report that the ‘electrical panel was inaccessible, blocked by sellers personal property’ and document that the panel was not evaluated. Conversely, I can decide to move the boxes myself and try to inspect the panel,” Chirafisi explains.

Chirafisi says that if it is safe to move the boxes without damaging any of the seller’s personal property, he believes the best thing to do is to move the boxes to gain access to the electrical panel and perform a proper inspection of it. “I can’t speak for every inspector but I think it is the duty of the home inspector to have the best interest of the person buying that house in mind and make sure the major systems are safe.  Inspectors should try their very best to access all systems and inspect them thoroughly,” Chirafisi says.

Nick Gromiko, Founder of InterNACHI, had this advice for home inspectors: "If you can move it safely without hurting yourself or the item…. I say move it. There are a lot of things in business that you should do, even though you are not technically required to do them."

The decision to move personal property, unscrew a panel, or “get access” to obstructed areas during an inspection is something that each home inspector approaches differently based on their experiences, risk-appetite, and home inspecting style. 

Editor's Question: As a real estate agent/broker, how far do you go to ensure the home inspector will have access to all critical components of the house? Do you often see "Not Readily Accessible" on home inspection reports?

About the Author
Isaac Peck is the Associate Editor of Working RE Magazine and Marketing Coordinator at, a leading provider of E&O Insurance for appraisers, inspectors, and other real estate professionals in 49 states. He received his Bachelors in Business Management at San Diego State University. He can be contacted at or 888-347-5273.


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