What a Realtor Needs from a Home Inspector
In an ideal world, real estate agents and home inspectors would work together, hand in hand, to help home buyers make knowledgeable decisions about what properties to buy. Quite often this is exactly what happens.
Unfortunately, sometimes there also is a misunderstanding that arises between agents and inspectors, which ultimately causes the buyer to lose out.
As a real estate agent, I believe that the better home inspectors understand what agents want and need, the better we can all serve our clients.
Consumers, on the other hand, need to know how to pick a home inspector. By doing a little research, you stand a good chance of picking an excellent inspector who will not only be thorough but will not try to spook you from buying an entirely acceptable home.
It is easy to assume that real estate agents want inspectors who will turn a blind eye to problems with a home to facilitate a sale – but this is not the case. At least not with honest agents.
Honest, reputable Realtors want home inspectors to do their job the way they were trained to do it, gaining a clear picture of the state of a home to communicate to potential buyers.
At the same time, real estate agents also want inspectors to deliver the facts – in relation to reality, not an idealized, perfectly built home that does not exist. Agents don’t want inspectors to exaggerate findings or make a buyer feel like they are buying a lemon – unless they REALLY are.
From the perspective of a real estate agent, the main difference between a good or bad home inspector is in the delivery of information. Real Estate agents want honesty, but they also want perspective.
Buyers, particularly first time buyers, are trusting the inspector to tell them if the home is worth purchasing. If the inspector makes his or her findings seem like the end of the world, the buyer may go running from a perfectly acceptable home.
What inspired me to share my thoughts on real estate agent and home inspector relationships was an article I read this past month in Realtor Magazine. The title of the article was Do You Trust Home Inspectors.
Jim Brown, a home inspector in the Atlanta area, starts off the piece by relaying a story about a home inspector he shadowed when first entering the business.
This inspector would put a marble on the floor of every home inspected. If the marble rolled even slightly in any direction, he would state in the inspection report that the house was sinking and a structural engineer was needed to test the foundation.
Can you say YIKES! You might be thinking this is a far fetched example, but it really isn’t. Over the years while selling homes in Massachusetts, I have met some of the most ridiculous inspectors imaginable.
Jim Brown, of course, went on to state that using a marble is not a reliable method to uncover serious structural issues in a home. The only thing it proves is there might be some settling which happens in every house!
In my years in the business, I have seen many home sales fall apart because of inspectors that blow common inspection issues out of proportion. You know what happens? The next buyer comes along, and they end up buying the house. The second buyer has an inspection too, but none of the same issues are magnified like the first inspector. The first buyer ends up losing out on a home they loved.
Exaggeration of facts is one of the many reasons why a listing agent should attend the home inspection. Real Estate agents who don’t attend the inspection are not doing their clients any favors. This would be called lousy seller representation!
The buyer’s agent will be there and they love to blow home inspection issues out of proportion too. Simple issues become bigger problems.
The Cover Your Ass Inspectors
There are also home inspectors who will suggest to buyers that nearly everything they are inspecting should be looked at by some other professional.
Real Estate agents who have been in the business long enough know exactly what I am talking about. It goes something like this – the inspector notices a hairline crack on the outside of the chimney. He or she suggests to “consult with a qualified mason.” Okay fine but why? Aren’t you a qualified home inspector? Can’t you determine what is minor and what isn’t?
Real Estate agents don’t want to see a home inspection report filled with consult with a plumbing contractor, electrical contractor, heating contractor and any other professional you can think of.
A top home inspector should be able to suggest when a professional is REALLY needed to look at a problem. It shouldn’t be “cover my ass syndrome” some inspectors come down with.
When a hairline crack on a twenty-five-year-old home has obviously been there since the first year the home was built, it’s stupid to suggest a buyer should have a mason look at it.
Does a buyer need to spend more money on something a home inspector was hired to determine? Does a seller want to have their sale put on hold by stupidity?
The Importance of Perspective
The vast majority of home buyers are on a particular budget. Many of them do not have the finances to purchase the very best – they have to settle for homes that are good, not perfect. There are plenty of quality homes on the market that would make great purchases for the budget conscious buyer.
These buyers are trusting real estate agents and home inspectors to guide them to these homes. They want to own a home, and they need to buy something that will serve their needs, which almost always means compromise.
An experienced agent and a skilled home inspector have a realistic perspective on homes in their respective markets. They know that almost every home has issues, and they know how to tell the difference between serious problems – the kind that buyers should avoid at all costs – and minor to moderate problems, which many buyers can deal with to own a home.
A home with major structural problems is not the same as a home that has settled and has slightly uneven floors. A home with a roof that should have been replaced ten years ago is quite different than a home with a roof that will need to be replaced in three years. Homes with major issues should be avoided by most buyers, while homes with noticeable issues – but issues that can be managed – may be ideal for buyers on budgets.
A quality real estate agent has no desire to see a client buy a home they will regret and will work hard to avoid such a situation. A good inspector obviously feels the same. An inspector is approaching the situation from a different angle and needs to be ready to explain the results of an inspection in a way that helps buyers make an informed decision. Not explaining issues in a way that sends them running immediately because they think the home is going to fall down around them (unless of course it actually is).
There Are Disreputable Real Estate Agents and Inspectors
There are always bad apples in every profession, and real estate and home inspection are no different. Agents are out there who will push inspectors to hide information that buyers need to know, and there are inspectors out there who will try to scare off every buyer that comes along.
The motivation for the bad agents is obvious – they want the commission and don’t care about the long-term satisfaction of their clients. We see this all the time with real estate agents who practice dual agency. But why would an inspector attempt to scare off buyers repeatedly?
Some inspectors may just be ignorant of the need for perspective. They may believe that every buyer is entitled to a perfect home, unaware that most buyers can’t afford such a property.
A percentage of the gloom and doom inspectors do have shady motives. They are hoping to get a “two for”, or even a “three for” – the opportunity to do multiple inspections, and therefore make twice or even three times the money from one client.
If an inspector is attempting to get multiple inspections, chances are he or she NEEDS to do this because business is not okay. But why is their business so bad? Plenty of people are buying homes and require inspections.
It may be because real estate agents have written the inspector off as bad to work with, or it may just be because they are not very good at what they do. Whatever the reason, buyers and agents should steer clear of any inspector that seems to be fishing for such opportunities.
Home inspectors that operate in this manner make a real estate agents job a thousand times harder. Bargaining after the home inspection tends to be much more stressful. The buyer’s perspective is tainted by the home inspector they hired. Unfortunately, the views of the inspector are looked at as gospel by some folks. At times this puts a real estate agent in a tough spot.
It’s inspectors like this who intentionally have abysmal delivery. If you’ve been in the business for any length of time, you recognize it right away with the body language of the buyer. You can feel how uncomfortable they seem. The inspector shows the buyer problems discovered but doesn’t explain the severity. The buyer immediately assumes the worst.
This of course is “inspector gruffs” mission. From time to time you will even get some drama queens. They’ll look at a simple issue but by the expression on their face, you would think exiting the building would be wise.
A real estate agent who has taken the time to be there for the inspection can calmly ask the inspector questions like this – “in your experience is this typical of a home this age and characteristics?”
By asking this question, you are forcing the inspector to level with the buyer on whether it’s a major problem or not.
The Home Inspection Report
As mentioned previously, there are inspectors who make the letters CYA a regular part of their practice. The inspection report often is where it gets really magnified.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been to an inspection where the house seems to be fantastic. In great shape, clearly maintained well by the owner, etc. The inspector even says so while doing his job. He or she actually rave about it.
A couple of days later when the home inspection report shows up, you would swear it was for a different house altogether. Everything in the home is ripped apart. The inspector has even gone out of his way to mark all the problems in red ink for emphasis.
What you experience at the house often does not translate well when the inspector has to put his findings down on paper. There shouldn’t be a disconnect between what the inspector says in person vs. what he puts on paper. All too often this is the case.
Home inspectors have a lot of power, and some like to take full advantage of it. The inspection is, in fact, one of the biggest hurdles to getting to a closing table. It’s a big reason why I emphasize to my seller clients to plan ahead for the buyers home inspection. Getting your home in order beforehand can save a lot of heartaches.
Working Together – Everyone Benefits
Real estate agents and home inspectors who understand and trust one another to serve the client are capable of helping a lot of people. We are all here to see that home buyers have the guidance they need to make knowledgeable and informed decisions on what is probably the biggest purchase of their lives.
For inspectors who are committed to this goal, it shouldn’t be difficult to find agents to work with. When agents and inspectors are on the same page, focused on serving the client, everyone benefits.
Working as a buyer’s agent, I always provide my clients with the names of three or four different inspectors. My recommendations are based on six things:
Great home inspectors have all of these qualifications. They are true professionals. The same can be said for real estate agents who actually care about their clients. Over the years, I have said many times the best real estate agents are the ones who don’t need a commission!
Money is the greatest influence of bad decisions. All too often people hire real estate agents who shouldn’t even be allowed to have a license. It’s very easy to get terrible advice from someone who needs a check because they have no business.