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

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.