Dear Monty: Four simple tips to improve home inspection outcomes
By Richard Montgomery
Reader Question: We just lost a buyer over two inconsequential discoveries by the home inspector. Our agent told us the buyer was edgy, and were afraid they would inherit more problems in the future because the discovery created the impression we hadn’t taken care of the house. We have had other friends with inspection issues. We were disappointed they walked over two small repairs. How can our next inspection be improved?
Monty’s Answer: There are some ways to improve a home inspection. An interesting aspect of a home inspection is the number of people involved – the buyer, the seller, two real estate agents, and the home inspector. The five people who could (or should) attend the inspection have different levels of understanding and sometimes conflicting expectations about the objectives of the investigation. Many states regulate the inspection industry, but the rules and the interpretations of the rules are not consistent.
What possibly could go wrong?
Many inspections are without a hitch. But, there are many disappointments as well. Here are some common mistakes during inspections categorized by role:
- Seller – attempts to conceal defects, foregoes periodic maintenance, lacks understanding of the inspector’s role, poor prior repairs, immediately on the defensive, surprised by the discovery of a defect.
- Buyer – uses inspection to negotiate, misunderstands its limitations, ignores visible minor flaws in price negotiations, exaggerates the consequences of a discovered defect, loses track of the fact it is a used home, does not recognizing (or not told) this is not the time to bring along family members and relatives.
- Agents (2) – not realizing educating the buyer or seller is part of their job, understanding it is part of their job but still not taking the time to inform, the agent’s broker not training them how they should be managing the inspection. Being trained but disagreeing with the instruction, not understanding the scope of the inspection.
- Inspector – overstep their legal authority with comments on the value or whether the home should be purchased, not schedule enough time to allow for unexpected developments, missing items that are important, reporting non-significant items, condescending answers to observers questions.
Education and training are the keys
- The buyer’s agent should explain the scope of the inspection, determine the buyer’s expectations, document them, and implement them at the inspection. They should review the seller’s condition report with the purchaser before the inspection. They should explain that minor repairs are not significant defects. They should always attend and ensure the buyer attends the inspection.
- The seller’s agent should instruct the seller to provide access to the attic, the electrical panels, all mechanical equipment, the basement walls or crawl space and any other area typically viewed in an inspection, and have the keys available if space is locked. They should see that storage shelves and boxes are moved away from walls that would obstruct vision. They should remind the seller that were the situation reversed, they would want the inspection, that the buyer has not lived in the house and that the seller also benefits from the review.
- The inspector is there to discover significant defects and safety issues with a visual inspection and identify and record them for their customer. They may recommend further inspections, or tests by specific equipment experts as the visual inspection has limitations. They should schedule enough time to answer appropriate questions, explain why they cannot respond to questions that are not pertinent, and keep in mind the other attendees also have a keen interest in the results.
- The buyer and seller should focus on observing the work, understand that the inspector’s oral comments are not actionable repair items if not written in the forthcoming report. They should also resist the temptation to attempt to influence the inspector’s impressions. The inspector is not a referee. The final report will impact both parties. Each will have decisions to make on the best way to proceed.
Pick your agent and your home inspector wisely
Real estate agents and inspectors who are honest, knowledgeable, and efficient are the vendors that handle the inspection without a hitch. While non-compliant and uninformed customers can create issues, problems with inspections will typically result from poor choices of agent and/or inspector. Consumers buy or sell infrequently while agents and inspectors experience inspections regularly. Here is a link to one state’s Standard of Practice for home inspectors. If all participants knew what their state required before the inspection, there would be fewer failed real estate transactions.
“Richard Montgomery gives no nonsense real estate advice to readers most pressing questions. He is a real estate industry veteran who has championed industry reform for over a quarter century. Send him questions at DearMonty.com.”