Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)


Extent of Damage Unknown: Real Estate Purchase Uncertainty

The role of a home inspector is to identify problems. Obviously, in the course of any given inspection, the inspector will not be able to locate every problem. But the intent and the hope is that the inspector will locate, at a minimum, the bigger issues. Unfortunately, the home inspection process includes instances of uncertainty.

Below is a photo of wood destroying organism damage -- structural lumber was exposed at the exterior. The scenario is not hard to understand: Heavy moisture exposure and rot. There were, also, signs of tunneling by wood destroying insects. Probable culprits are carpenter ants but, on the other hand, the wood is wet most of the time so it might have attracted dampwood termites or moisture ants as well.


In this case, any view behind this wood was restricted to not at all. The inspector cannot determine the extent of damage and how far it might extend back into the wall or substructure. The only way to determine just how egregious the rot and insect damage might be involves having a contractor remove materials to obtain a clear view.

Situations like this can be frustrating. An inspector, when it is possible to do so, likes to give at least some estimate of the extent of damage. But, on occasion, being specific is not in the cards -- too many visual limitations apply to the inspection process and the inspector cannot hollow out wood to look for bugs.

Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 6 commentsSteven L. Smith • August 04 2014 07:20PM


Agree in a situation like this hard to say how far the issue goes without taking apart the wall. Could be a nightmare.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) almost 5 years ago

It is so nice to have home inspectors do pest inspection these days. We use to call pest inspectors; who always found something to spray or bait because that was their main focus; drumming up more business, which was always cheaper if you had him take care of it right then. I would pay $60 for a pest inspection and another $99 for the application plus supplies.

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) almost 5 years ago

The older I get the worse my X-ray vision becomes.  Too bad too, because I need it often.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

No rational person would expect an estimate of such damage without going behind that wall.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 5 years ago

Bill, yes, simply hard to tell but clearly a problem of significance.

Paul, just remember that with the 2009 licensing law home inspectors are not required to identify or cite insect damage. You have to make sure you get a dual licensed (WSDA) inspector if you want bugs sought out.

Jay, another problem with aging.

Lenn, true statement but frustrating for the inspector.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 5 years ago

Hey Steven, it does happen a lot. Well, it's that must be very frustrating in your part.

Anyway, just be positive in all aspect. :)

Posted by Christopher Lotte, Central Ohio Realtor, 614-390-9243 (Red 1 Realty) almost 5 years ago