The home inspection process itself is one of the steps in a real estate closing that I have found most agents worry over the most. This is often felt on either side, whether the agent is representing the buyer or the seller. The inspector comes in and everyone holds their breath and waits for the results as if it were a test coming back from the doctor!
As a full-time inspector and a part-time realtor (I’ve sold 4 homes this year, from family and friends), I understand completely the struggles from all sides of the transaction.
Let me ease this process just a bit and show you how to ensure that you’ve done everything that you can to see it through that the next house you sell has the best inspection it possibly can.
If you are Representing the Buyer…
#1 - Reduce Liability and Hire the Best
Some agents that I work with have my company placed on a list that they then give to their buyer to show their client a few of the home inspectors that they have worked with and with whom they have had good experiences. This is often done in an effort to drive two things: to avoid a bad inspector and to reduce liability so that they haven’t directly referred an inspector, only given “several recommendations”. Here is the problem: We have thousands of agents in our market and hundreds of inspectors. If I asked you to name 5 Realtors you likely could, but you couldn’t name 5 inspectors with as much ease, if at all. Simply put, buyers don’t know inspectors and they NEED the agent to direct them. The last thing you want your client doing is hiring someone based on price (and while we are on the topic, the best inspectors in the country, whom I follow, who have been around a long time, never give promotions and discounts) or based on a friend of a friend who is “in construction” or who “used to be an inspector at his old job”. Seriously? Your client is about to buy a home with a 30-year mortgage in most cases. If something is missed and the house is in need of major repairs, it will come back on everyone and that includes the Realtor!
So how do we fix this? The list method is fine, or you can simply refer the best inspector that you know as one with whom you’ve worked and with whom you’ve had great experiences. As an agent, my method has always been to mention the name of who I would use, but put the ball back into the court of the buyer. Either way, the liability will actually increase if you don’t point the buyer in the right direction and they end up with a bad inspector. All they are going to remember as they sit in the attorney’s office is who SOLD THEM THE HOUSE. So hire based on quality, reputation, and experience.
#2 - Be Informed so that You Can Inform Them
Surely by now, you know that a home inspection does not cover everything. I can’t see behind walls (although my infrared camera lets me get close) and I can’t see how the foundation was poured, especially when underground. Just as well, I can’t move the living room TV stand and the master bed to see what lies underneath. No home inspector, in the history of home inspections, has ever been required to. The rules that we adhere to tell us not to do these things specifically for the sake of reducing liability (can you imagine knocking over a $2,000 TV every week?) and also because homes change, so the idea is to get a visual inspection done that acts as a snapshot in time.
So here is what I want you to know: your buyer needs to understand that if the attic access is blocked, I cannot get in. If the crawlspace is locked, I cannot break the lock. If the electrical panel is covered in the garage by shelves containing a “random” collection of good that the Smith family has collected for the past 20 years, I cannot open the panel and see inside! They need to know these things before I arrive, and if you can have the seller move them prior to me arriving, all the better for us all.
#3 - Be more Invasive
Home inspections are non-invasive inspections, so if you want the HVAC units really inspected, you have to call an HVAC technician. If you want the chimney flue tested to make sure that the house won’t blow up when starting a fire, it’s probably best to hire a chimney sweep. However, there are certain things that we can do that are more invasive in nature, that, of course, go along with the inspection. One such thing is sewer line inspections. We take a camera and run it down the main cleanout, and follow that line all the way to the street. This is all underground, so aside from the camera, there would be no way to observe the interior of this line. These usually run between $150-$200 and it can save thousands if the line is misaligned or leaking somewhere. Ensuring that the inspector you use has access to auxiliary services is key.
If you are Representing the Seller...
#1 - Cover it Up or Be Ready to Explain
Quick Story: $1.5M house for sale in Mountain Brook this past June. The market is hot and houses are lasting, literally, less than 1 day on the market. This is the third house I’ve inspected for this buyer because she has lost out on the other two. She is the first one in on this one, and I’m there to get the inspection done without a problem. Expect, there is a problem. Under the master bathroom, which was located over the garage, something had leaked before. You could tell by going into the garage and looking up, and seeing water stains. These weren’t brown water stains, these looked more active and they were located along the seams of the drywall, indicating that water was likely pooling on the other side of that drywall.
So now, you’re the agent. What do you do? Make the offer and waive the inspection contingency as you planned? Or ask the seller to make repairs or fix this potential leak, and possibly miss out on getting your client into this house (for the third time)?
Here is the idea: prep the house for the inspection. Please don’t cover things up that are truly bad, which is unethical, but if you had a prior leak that you fixed, and water stains are still present, put a coat of paint on it. I can’t tell whether this has recently leaked or not! I can’t tell whether something is new, old, or maybe. The best way to prevent the inspector from guessing (and he will always err on the side of caution rightly) is to make sure that things you think would stand out, don’t stand out. Otherwise be ready to explain and do some repairs that are likely unnecessary.
#2 - One Time Deal
Chances are likely that your seller is still going to be in the house another few weeks even after the inspection, and I don’t want to interrupt anymore than I have to, for the sake of my time and theirs. I’m all about free re-inspections, but I don’t want to come back to go into an attic because I couldn't get in the first time. I’m not the inspector that will tell that it’s just too bad that it wasn’t open and that I’m not going back out, instead, I’ll go back out, I just won’t be happy. Let’s avoid this.
Make sure your seller knows to ensure that doors are unlocked, accesses are readily open, and things like fireplaces aren’t covered up by couches and such. The buyer wants these things looked at, and as a future buyer themselves, they wouldn’t want an entire portion of the house completely unobserved simply because someone didn’t want to move the hallway chester draws that were loaded with clothes so that the inspector could let down the attic stairs and get into the attic of a 1940’s home (true story).
The inspection shouldn’t be scary if both parties are involved, both are aware of the limitations, and the inspector is of a high quality. Nail these three things down and you’ve got a win.
Spencer Brothers, CPI
Sterling Home Inspection, LLC