Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Broker Angry About Home Inspection Forms

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am the broker of a large real estate company. In my area, most home inspectors use computerized reports, with photos of the defects they disclose. Very few still use the old fashioned, hand-written forms, and I seldom give my business to those backward dinosaurs. One of those technophobes is the most experienced home inspector in my area. He usually finds defects that are missed by other home inspectors. In fact, he even finds problems that are missed by the termite inspectors. But I can’t stand his lousy 1990 carbon copy reports. They’re hard to read and harder to email. So I never refer this Neanderthal to my clients. But when other agents refer him, his reports make me so mad I could pull out my hair. What is it that keeps these closed-minded idiots from getting with today’s high tech program?  Yuli

Dear Yuli: Sit down and cool off. Businesses today are in technological transition, including home inspection and real estate companies. Most home inspectors have made the change to electronic reporting, but a few remain stuck in their old ways. Some are part-time inspectors, without a major commitment to the business. Others are comfortable in their routines and have little interest in state-of-the-art innovations. And there are some professionals who recognize the need to modernize but have been too busy inspecting homes to invest in change.

Old style reports are not as user-friendly as the new electronic versions that include photographs of defects. On the other hand, not all computer reports are as easy to read as they ought to be.  In some reports, the defect disclosures are obscured by paragraphs of “boiler plate” verbiage. In others, the disclosures are so vague that the defects cannot be readily understood. But all of these issues are eclipsed by the essential purpose of home inspection: to disclose property defects.

You admit that the “Neanderthal”, “dinosaur”, “technophobe”, “idiot” who does not get your business is the most thorough home inspector available; that he finds problems that other home inspectors miss. This means that the “high tech” reports that your clients receive from other home inspectors do not provide complete disclosure of all significant defects. It means that you prefer those incomplete reports to the out-dated, carbon copy reports that contain more actual disclosures. The question, therefore, has shifted. Instead of old report forms vs. new electronic reports, the issue has become partial disclosure vs. full disclosure of property defects. In other words, form vs. substance.

If this is the choice, which do you suppose is more important to your home-buying clients? Would they prefer full disclosure or fancy disclosure? And what about your liability as a broker? How would you defend yourself if sued for incomplete disclosure? Would you tell the jury that you avoid thorough home inspectors who don’t print fancy reports? That would hardly invite a favorable verdict.

So here is the bottom line: Home inspectors who take their business seriously should find a comprehensive electronic report system to maintain viability in the marketplace. Meanwhile, Realtors should recommend the most thorough home inspectors available, regardless of the style of reports they generate. In either business, it’s all about representing the best interests of clients, while limiting liability.

Tenants Held Liable For Cracked Window

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: My daughter lives in a student apartment with a large, double-pane picture-window in the living room. Last month, that window developed a long crack on the inside pane. Neither my daughter nor her roommates have any idea what caused the crack. They just came home one night, and the crack was there. The apartment management replaced the window and the billed the girls $450. The manager said the windows were installed several months ago, just before they moved in, so he holds them responsible for the damage. Couldn’t the crack have been caused by faulty installation or building settlement?  Art

Dear Art: There are several possible causes for the window crack that do not involve liability for your daughter or her roommates. For example, when a sheet of glass is cut, an edge can be slightly chipped, and this flaw can produce a crack at a later time. Sometimes, all that is needed to convert a chip to a crack is a door forcefully closed by the wind or a large cement truck rumbling down the street.

Another possible cause is stress from normal building settlement, particularly in areas that have expansive clay soil. Expansive soil can swell or shrink due to seasonal changes in ground moisture. When this happens, buildings can lift and settle unevenly, causing doors to rub and, sometimes, windows to crack.

If the management company insists on payment for the cracked window, your daughter and her friends could test the strength of their position in small claims court. The judge could decide either way in this case, depending on whose position appears more credible. But win or lose, this could be a beneficial experience for your daughter and her friends. At the very least, they will receive some first-hand education in judicial civics.