The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: I recently purchased a home and hired a home inspector while there was still time to negotiate with the seller. But the inspector took four days to prepare the inspection report, and by that time the negotiation period under contract had expired. My choice at that point was to buy the property as-is or lose my deposit. Since then, I have been told that the report should have been delivered within 24 hours. If that is so, shouldn’t the home inspector refund the money that I paid him? Beverly
Dear Beverly: In most states, there is no law declaring how soon a home inspection report should be delivered, but the standard of practice among home inspectors is to provide a report on the day of the inspection or the very next day. The reasons for prompt delivery should be obvious to every home inspector. Time is of the essence in a real estate transaction. Buyers have a limited time period for negotiation or for rescission of the contract. Home inspectors are aware of these constraints, unless they have been living in a vacuum, and should provide the kind of professional service that considers the needs of their clients and the importance of timeliness.
A four-day delay in processing an inspection report is inexcusable negligence and is reasonable grounds for requesting a refund of the inspection fee, especially since that delay prevented you from making beneficial use of the report. If the inspector has any sense of professional responsibility, he will not hesitate in providing that refund.
Problems of this kind are among several reasons why attending a home inspection is so important for homebuyers. When you accompany your inspector, you can discuss the findings, ask questions, and learn about the condition of the property before you receive the written report.
In some cases, there are circumstances that prevent a buyer from attending the inspection. A buyer may live too far away to attend or may be unable to get time off from work. When attendance is not possible, the inspection findings should be reviewed by phone later in the day. Then the buyer can proceed with negotiations before the written report is received.
Unfortunately, there are some home inspectors who prefer to work without buyers present and routinely send their reports without a verbal review. Inspectors of this type should find another line of work, and homebuyers should avoid such inspectors in every case. Home inspection is not just a technical process; it is a business in which the needs of customers are served.
A final issue in this situation is the role of your real estate agent, assuming that you had an agent. Part of a Realtor’s responsibility is to coordinate the various aspects of the transaction; to ensure that things take place in accordance with the purchase contract. If the contract sets a time limit on negotiating the findings in a home inspection report, then the agent should pressure the inspector to produce that report before the due date expires. If the inspector fails to meet his responsibility, the agent should submit a request to extend the negotiation period.
If your home inspector is not willing to issue a refund, your agent should exert some persuasion on your behalf. Hopefully, one or both of them will have the professional integrity to meet these responsibilities.