Home inspector reports versus professional engineering reports
From a practical perspective, the difference between what a real estate inspection report and an engineering evaluation comes down to what they report if the foundation performance is judged to be deficient or inadequate.
The Real Estate Inspector Approach
Under the rules licensed real estate inspectors are required to follow, if they judge the performance of the foundation to be inadequate, the inspector is required to report the foundation as in need of repair.
The Professional Engineering Approach
An example of an engineering approach can be found in a publication of Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The guidelines state that if the foundation performance is judged to be inadequate, the engineer should report to his client the options that are available to improve the performance. Those options do include structural foundation repair but also can include non-structural options such as landscaping changes, more or less aggressive watering of the foundation making cosmetic repairs and/or changes to the house and, if appropriate, doing nothing.
Why the Engineering Approach is a More Comprehensive Approach
According to the US Army Corps of Engineers publication Foundations in Expansive Soils, the fact that a foundation is not performing “adequately” does not mean that foundation repair is either necessary or desirable. Nor does it mean that foundation repair will actually improve the performance of the foundation.
An engineer has both the training and duty to exercise his engineering and analytical training to judge adequacy of the performance of the foundation. Engineers are also qualified to report what options are applicable to a specific house for improving poor foundation performance.
Real estate inspectors are required only to provide an opinion as to whether the foundation performance is deficient. They are not required to provide an opinion as to the whether the foundation should be repaired or not.
Real estate inspectors frequently recommend that you retain a Professional Engineer to determine if the foundation needs or should be repaired.