What is a “Head and Shoulders” inspection?

fha head and shoulders inspection previewWhen doing an FHA appraisal inspection the appraiser is required to make a “Head and Shoulders” Inspection. I received a question this week about a topic that I think most homeowners and many real estate agents are not aware of regarding FHA appraisal inspections. Appraisers are required to report on what they see in the attic of a home, and in order to do this they have to physically inspect the attic by making a “Head and Shoulders” inspection, which means they are only required to enter the attic to the extent that their head and shoulders are in the attic space. Some homes have drop down stairs that make entry into the attic easier, however other times the only access is a scuttle in which case the appraiser must have a ladder or other means to view the attic. It is also handy to have a flashlight in case there is no other light source available. According to HUD Handbook 4150.2 the appraiser must:

Enter the attic and observe the interior roofing for insulation, deficient materials, leaks or readily observable evidence of significant water damage, structural problems, previous fire damage, FRT sheathing, exposed and frayed wiring and adequate ventilation by vent, fan or window.

If any of the above conditions exist the appraiser is required to report on what they see and make the appraisal “subject to” repairs. Check out this attic I inspected per HUD/FHA guidelines.

The lender should inform the owner of the home, or real estate agent if the home is listed for sale, that the attic access should not be blocked and that entry is possible. If it is not possible for the appraiser to get in the attic because there is something in the way they must notify the lender and make arrangements to come at another time when access is possible. HUD notes that it is the responsibility of the lender to make sure access is possible. If a return visit is made it will be necessary to charge an additional trip fee, which increases the cost to the borrower. The appraiser is not required to move furniture or any other items that may be blocking access to the attic.

As noted above the following are items which the appraiser should look for and report on if noticed and pictures should also be taken to provide proof to the lender:

  • Evidence of water damage- Have recent rains caused leaking due to faulty roof shingles?
  • Evidence of fire damage- Is there any black charring or smoke damage caused by a previous house fire?
  • Exposed or frayed wiring- Exposed wires can be an electrical shock hazard and/or contribute to house fires.
  • Structural problems- Are there any roof trusses that are cracked or warped and that could cause the roof to collapse?
  • Adequacy of ventilation- lack of proper ventilation can result in higher than normal heating and cooling bills.

In addition to the above items the appraiser must look for and report any other items that can pose a threat to the health and safety of the occupants or adversely impact the value and marketability of the property. Do you have any other appraisal related questions pertaining to either attics or FHA requirements? If so leave me a message below and I will be sure to get back with you.

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  1. Tom, thanks for the inciteful info on attic inspections in regard to HUD guidelines. Can you do such an article on crawl space inspections in regard to the new HUD guidelines in 4000.1 handbook? In some instances, it is not possible for an appraiser to fully view the crawl space beyond just a head and shoulders from the crawl space access door leaving potential liability for undetected damage that is simply not accessible. If this situation arises, how should the appraiser handle this? I assume by calling on a licensed and bonded professional to fully inspect the crawl space. If so, who is the proper professional to call upon in the appraisal that the appraiser can feel comfortable relying upon for their findings and repairs if discovered and subsequently completed. Furthermore, must the appraiser then be required by the lender to sign off on such work performed by the professional in a a 1004D final inspection. Liability is such a concern these days; I want to be careful on how I handle this type of situation. Thanks, J.W.

    • Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, J.W. I think the important thing to remember in these types of appraisals is to disclose what you did and did not do. If you did not traverse the entire crawlspace area then just say that you only did a head and shoulders crawlspace inspection. At least that is what the instructors have taught in the FHA classes I have taken. If there is reason to believe that some damage may be present then I would suggest an inspection by a professional, however I do not think we can call for the inspection just to cover ourselves and because we do not want to do it ourselves. I have never had a lender come back and tell me to do an entire crawlspace inspection whenever I stated I just did a head and shoulders inspection.

  2. I know this is an old thread but hoping to get some guidance. We paid $450 for an appraisal, and were told after the fact that the appraiser did not have a ladder, and since the garage attic was 14ft. off the ground, they needed to return and we needed to provide an ladder for them to get into the attic. They are charging us an additional $150 to return. Seems kinda wrong as we weren’t told in the first place that we needed to provide them with a ladder, and because they couldn’t do the job the first time we have to pay more money to them? Am I looking at this wrong?

    • The appraiser should have made you aware of the fact that they were required to inspect the attic. Letting you know before the visit could have given you the opportunity to let them know what type of access you have an how high it was. The appraiser should have their own ladder, however I know some may not reach that high but I think the problem could have been resolved on the first vist.

  3. PhyllisAnn Muse says

    I bought a house without any access to attic, a couple of months later I had stairs installed. What a mistake…….found that it had been on fire and the damage was real bad and still sitting there. What can I do about this? Who is liable for the repairs? I have been trying to find who I need to contact before I get told its too late then I am stuck!!! Please help!

    • Sorry to hear about your problem. If you used a real estate agent you might want to check with them. I’m not an agent but I think they have to provide some degree of disclosure about anything about the house. Good luck.

  4. Nice job Tom. Great video too. I recently inspected a house without an attic, and a scuttle had to be installed so I could do the “head and shoulders” inspection for FHA.

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