For Realtors

Below is an excellent article from a fellow American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) inspector. The following tips will help the inspection go as smoothly as possible and likely reduce your liability, stress, and promote closure to the sale.

The Inspector is Coming! The Inspector is Coming!

Although it’s not the famous cry of Paul Revere, preparation is needed. In years past, the real estate Market was so hot that many buyers were waiving the home inspection in order to present a more attractive contract. If the buyer did have a home inspection, it was informational only, as sellers were offering no concessions as a result. Multiple contracts were written on the same day that a home was listed and buyers were offering more than the list price for a home. Sellers had no reason to fear a home inspection.

Now, the market is shifting. There is more inventory for the buyer, and that inventory is on the market longer, with more price reductions. The tide is turning in the buyer’s favor these days.

In today’s market, the home inspection can have more of an impact than it had a year or two ago. There are some subtle things that sellers and agents can do to help lessen that impact. These tips are from the perspective of a home inspector with more than ten years of ‘playing the heavy’ in thousands of real estate transactions.

If at all possible, arrange for the seller to be absent for the home inspection.

The reasons for a seller to be absent, far outweighs the reasons for them to be home, unless they have health challenges, a sick baby, work out of the home, or some other valid reason. Having an inspector in the home, poking and prodding, looking in closets and every nook and cranny, can be very stressful for the homeowner. A stressed-out seller pacing about the house during an inspection can put everyone on pins and needles, including the Realtor, the inspector and especially the buyer.

Some home inspectors are bound by state law not to disclose their findings to anyone other than their client and their agent, so the home inspector will be limited in their dialog with the buyer while within earshot of the seller. Also, the buyer will feel intimidated in asking critical questions about the home, for fear of offending the seller.

Some sellers can talk way too much, and distract the buyer and inspector from performing the intended task of the home inspection. Sellers can also incriminate themselves, by disclosing things that weren’t disclosed before the contract was signed. A good inspector, like a good detective, will ask questions of a seller if they are present. Many of the questions will not be framed for the benefit of the seller, but for the buyer. I once asked a seller if there were any moisture issues with the basement. He went on to tell me how the basement leaks when it rained, and showed me where the water entered. The problem in this case, was that this fact was never disclosed until the inspection. From that point on, the buyer’s agent was having a hard time containing his client’s anger during the rest of the inspection.

I’ve heard sellers talk about ghosts, about a murder at the neighbor’s house, where their beloved pet is buried in the back yard, how bad the neighbors are, and so on. Tenants are even worse. Tenants have nothing to gain from the sale of the home. If anything, they have much to loose, and may even be angry with the owner. Only a few weeks ago, a tenant opened the door and was apologetic about her housekeeping. She was reluctant to let me in for the inspection. The seller/owner, who failed to inform the tenant of the inspection time, assured her that I was only there to “look at the big stuff.” To that she replied, “You mean like the mold?” There was a long uncomfortable silence after that. That comment cost the seller a waterproofing contractor to come in and rip out drywall in the basement.

Preparing for the inspection.

As soon as a buyer’s agent knows about an inspection date and time, they should notify the listing agent, who will in turn, notify the sellers. I know this sounds elementary, but there have been numerous times when we have arrived to find a hostile seller who was unaware of the home inspection. In most cases, the Realtor was able to smooth things over and the inspection went forward, but other times, we have had to reschedule. This places hardship on everyone, especially the buyer who may have arraigned a day off from work or had traveled some distance to attend the inspection. For the agent, it compromises the client’s confidence and trust. For the seller, it’s very embarrassing and stressful to be put on the spot, answering the door with curlers in hair, unmade beds and dirty dishes in the sink. For the inspector, it’s several hundred dollars of lost income.

New construction inspections are the worst for “no go” last minute cancellations. Builders are notorious for giving unrealistic completion dates. We cannot count the times when we’ve come for the inspection, only to find no water, no heat, no bathroom fixtures, and so on. Also, many times we will reschedule for the following week, only to be told at the last minute that the builder is not ready again. Please, be sure to stress to the builder that people are taking time from work and arraigning their schedule for the inspection date, so please give realistic dates.

Stress to sellers how important disclosures are. If the basement leaks for example, the seller should disclose where, when and how much it leaks. The seller may then clean the gutters, extend the downspouts and do some corrective grading around the house to see if this will have any affect on the leak. They may decide to have the basement professionally waterproofed before listing the home and adjust the price accordingly. Home inspectors are trained and have instruments to detect leaky basements. If the buyer finds out that the basement leaks after the contract, you may end up with a suspicious buyer, who is wondering what else the seller hasn’t told him about. Buyers are cautious, but are more likely to be at ease if they know before the inspection, that the stain in the living room ceiling is from the kids splashing water out of the tub one day, rather than from a leak on the QEST plumbing pipes. If there are any quirks with a home, it is better to disarm them before the home inspection. If the seller is not sure of the cause or answer to a specific problem, it is better to hire a professional to render an opinion, so that the seller may say, “The plumber said,….” or “The structural engineer said…..”

Make sure the seller places the lock box back on the front porch on Monday morning. If the home is vacant, be sure that all of the systems are on for the inspection. We will need gas, water and electricity in order to do a complete inspection and avoid having to return, which will slow the whole process. The idea is to keep the ball rolling towards the closing table, and something like this could slow that process by as much as a week. The inspector will need access to the crawl space, so make sure that it is unlocked. He will need access to the attic, so make sure that no furniture or cars are in the way of the hatch. Sometimes the attic hatch is in the bedroom closet, so make sure that the space will allow for the inspector’s ladder and the seller may want to cover clothing with a sheet, because insulation will fall from the attic, no matter how careful the inspector is.

Regardless of how nice the seller’s dogs are, I can assure you that some people are terrified of dogs. Try to have them in a kennel, or at a friend or family member’s home. In ten years and thousands of homes, we can tell you a lot of pet stories. Leave keys out for locks, other doors, outbuildings and so on. The keys should be labeled. I’ll never forget one home that left a most favorable impression on me. The seller had left for work and placed a very nice note on the kitchen counter. “Dear Mr. Home Inspector, buyer and Realtor, Please help yourself to the fresh baked muffins. The coffee was just brewed and cream is in the refrigerator. Here are the keys to the workshop and I have cleared the top shelf of my closet in case the inspector has to go in the attic. There is detergent in the dishwasher and it is ready to turn on. If you need anything or have any questions, please feel free to call. Have a good day.”

This lady was so nice that I was hoping that nothing was wrong with the home. On the other hand, we have had sellers greet us at the door with the most awful attitude, and were insulting and rude. Our inspectors are very professional, and can still complete an unbiased inspection, even in the face of such abuse, but this may not be the case with all inspectors. Inspectors are human too. If a police officer pulls you over for speeding, and you start bad-mouthing him when he approaches your window, your chances of being let go with only a warning are slim and none. If anything, the officer may start looking for more things wrong with your vehicle.

If the seller must be home, muffins and coffee aren’t necessary, but a pleasant and inviting greeting can go a long way to set the stage for a good inspection. I have been known fix things around the home, especially if something small threatened to blemish an otherwise clean inspection, simply because I felt goodwill towards the seller. The seller should greet the inspector; ask if there is anything that they can do to make their job easier, instruct the inspector on any dos and don’ts with the home and then retreat to a certain part of the house.

During the inspection.

We teach our inspectors that the buyer is always the agent’s client. The Realtor may have been working with the buyer for months or sometimes years, before the inspector arrived on the scene. We realize this and respect this. However, for the two to three hours that we are working with them, allow some space, and allow your client to be the inspector’s “client.” You are the expert in the practice of real estate and home inspectors are the experts in home construction and the systems of a home. Each profession should know their limitations and boundaries. After witnessing hundreds of home inspections and being able to anticipate the next words out of the inspector’s mouth, it’s tempting to offer your own conclusions or analysis about something in the house. To this, your broker and your attorney will always say, don’t! Let the inspector make the call. If he is wrong, then it’s on his head, not yours.

This sounds so elementary, but agents continue to overstep their bounds and put themselves and their broker in potential jeopardy. New agents especially, should practice the art of listening and then asking their broker if something is correct or not. Last week, after finding a defective furnace, the buyer told me that he was glad that he didn’t listen to his Realtor. His Realtor told him that he didn’t need a home inspection because the seller was providing a home warranty with the sale. The furnace was 42 years old and the condition was preexisting. It’s unlikely that the warranty would have covered the furnace. Even if the warranty did cover the furnace, they may not have been able to make a claim, because the heat exchanger crack in the furnace could have claimed the life of this man and his family.

The same week, another agent advised his client that he didn’t need a radon test because the house was built on a slab. The facts are; no house is immune to radon, so the potential for liability is great for the agent who gives advice that is outside of his/her field of expertise. Five years from now, when his client sells that home, a buyer may test, and find high radon readings. I can assure you that this agent will get a phone call. One part of that conversation might be, “Who is going to pay for the $1,200.00 mitigation system that I am now required to install?” and “Do you realize that my family has been breathing high radon gas levels for the past five years?” I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard agents comment to their clients about a musty smell in the basement. “It’s musty because the house is vacant and has been closed up.” they will say. That may be partially true, but there is likely another underlying issue. If this basement has a chronic moisture infiltration problem that has allowed mold/mildew growth, the potential for liability can be tremendous. That “musty” smell is actually decaying organic matter and the associated mold spores.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard of agents telling/advising their clients that they didn’t need a home inspection on new construction, because there is a one year builder’s warranty. That would be fine, if the buyer was an expert in construction and knew what to look for, in order to bring it to the builder’s attention. We have inspected countless homes that were several years old, and found major problems that were missed by the county building inspector, the builder and homeowner. Some of the problems required thousands of dollars in repairs and others could have cost the homeowner his life, such as a disconnected furnace flue in the crawl space. In one home, we found where the builder had never connected a drain line to a shower. For five years, the water from the shower drain went straight into the crawl space! We have countless other new construction horror stories that we could tell. Again, be careful what you tell your clients.

When you tell a client something, in affect, you are advising or counseling them in their decision making. Your job is more to facilitate their decisions. Your client decides what they want, and then you do everything in your power to help them reach their chosen goal. The home inspector is one part of a hedgerow that you can surround yourself with, to help shield you from liabilities. Barbara, a Charlottesville Realtor, always tells her clients, “The inspector here is the expert, so I’ll just leave you with him, and I’ll sit quietly over here and work while you do the inspection.” With that one statement, she has just transferred the liability from her, to where it belongs, the inspector.

After the inspection.

After the inspection is completed, the Realtor is often left to “pick up the pieces,” and put the derailed train back on its track, heading once again towards the closing table. We try hard to present our findings in a professional manner and be very descriptive, so as not to leave the Realtor guessing what the inspector was talking about and why correction is needed. We are often asked, “Why do home inspectors always call for a licensed contractor to make the repairs?” Part of the reason, is the same reason that your standard real estate contract is no longer one page. Everyone is afraid of liabilities. The other reasons are simple. A licensed contractor is likely the most qualified person for the job. I would much rather have a licensed electrician wire my home than a person who took Electricity 101 in high school shop class back in 1973.

If we allow the seller to make his own post inspection contract amendment repairs, he may wire something backwards and burn the house down. Years ago, when I was inspecting in St. Louis, Missouri, I found severely dry rotted, termite damaged floor joists in the crawl space of a vacant home. I recommended evaluation and repairs by a licensed contractor. Because the amendment simply asked for repairs of the floor joists, not specifying a licensed contractor, the seller, a computer programmer, decided to make his own repairs to save money. This was one of the last inspections that I performed before I moved Inspector Homes, Inc. to Virginia. Not long after I moved here, I received a subpoena to appear at a hearing. The listing agent, the buyer’s agent, the seller and I were being sued by the buyers, for a total of $120,000.00. I had to fly back to St. Louis to sit in on the hearing. During the deposition, it was disclosed that when the movers filled the house with furniture, the living room floor collapsed and Mrs. Buyer fell into the crawl space, causing physical and mental injury. After my report was read, the buyer’s attorney looked at me and told me that I was dismissed. To this day, I still don’t know what became of the case, but you can bet that the Realtor wished that she had followed my recommendations more to the letter, and called for a licensed contractor to make needed repairs when writing her amendment. That way, when the floor collapsed, it would have been the licensed contractor who would have been sued, instead of the Realtor.

This brings us to the next point. Be careful what you say or don’t say on the amendment, because your client might get exactly what you ask for. A Realtor out west that I worked with swears that this story is true, but I have no way of verification. She tells the story of another Realtor who was representing a buyer on a FSBO property. Towards the end of the transaction, the deal started to turn sour and things got ugly, as the seller had a mean streak and was very uncooperative. The home inspection revealed that the shingles on the roof were in need of replacement. The Realtor wrote a contract amendment requesting new shingles. The seller fought hard, but finally agreed to provide new shingles. When the buyers drove up to their new home on closing day, they were shocked to see two pallets of brand new shingles setting in the front yard. The seller had kept his end of the contract and provided the new shingles! This could have happened in some other place and time, but it is unlikely to happen today, with safeguards such as the final walk-through. However, the point should be well taken.

The bottom line is; if in doubt, always consult with your broker. Superior customer service will assure referrals and repeat business. May all of your inspections be clean!