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

Agent Advises Buyers Not to Attend Home Inspection

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  We are in escrow to buy a home, and we hired the home inspector who was chosen by our real estate agent. When my husband asked if he could attend the inspection, our agent told him there was no need to attend and that most home buyers don’t. Not knowing any better, we agreed to hire her inspector and simply wait for the report. Since then, we’ve read articles that say an agent should give buyers a list of home inspectors from which to make their own choice. Now we want to hire an inspector of our own to do a second inspection, but we don’t want to offend our agent. At the same time, we don’t want to buy a money pit because we didn’t get a good inspection. What do you advise?  Jenn

Dear Jenn:  Choosing the inspector for you, rather than allowing you to choose for yourselves, may or may not have been a bad thing. Some agents choose inspectors who are competent and highly qualified, while other agents choose inspectors whose work is not very thorough. Likewise, there are agents who give their clients a list of competent home inspectors, while other agents provide lists of the less qualified.

Your agent’s big mistake was advising you and your husband not to attend the inspection. Agents who are honest and ethical do not give that kind of misleading advice to clients. Your presence at the home inspection was more than just a good idea: It was essential. You are on the verge of making an extremely high-cost investment. The home inspector was there for one purpose — to educate you about the condition of the property so that you could make a prudent purchase decision.

In advising you not to attend the inspection, your agent has limited your exposure to the information you need from your inspector. Again, that is not something that an ethical agent would do.

A second inspection by a home inspector of your choice is not a bad idea, and you shouldn’t worry about whether this is objectionable to your agent. It was her job to protect your financial interests. If she is not performing that duty, then you should do it for yourselves.

New Home Inspector Feels His Oats

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: In one of your articles, you said, “The essential purpose of home inspection is to disclose property defects.” If that is true, why don’t home inspectors use the top tools of the trade, such as thermal cameras, borescopes, and moisture meters? In my opinion, most home inspectors are retired general contractors with a lock on Realtor referrals. I am a new home inspector, but I provide a far more thorough inspection than my competitors who don’t use specialized testing equipment. The problem, however, it getting real estate agents to refer me to their clients They all seem to use the same few home inspectors who have been here forever. Can you offer any help on this?  Mark

Dear Mark: When I said that the essential purpose of a home inspection is “to disclose property defects,” I did not mean that the purpose is to disclose every possible property defect. If home inspectors intended to disclose every possible defect, thermal cameras, borescopes, and moisture meters would definitely be needed, as you suggest. But even then, the inspections would not be complete. To provide disclosure of all possible defects, inspectors would need to take air samples for mold, to place test canisters for radon gas, and to sample various materials for possible asbestos fiber and lead content. But that’s not all. Home inspections would not be complete without a structural analysis of the foundations, which would require that the inspectors be licensed structural engineers or that they subcontract with a structural engineer on every inspection. Inspectors would also need to take core samples of property sites to ensure geological stability and to evaluate subsurface water drainage characteristics based upon soil composition. This, of course, would require credentials as a licensed geotechnical engineer. Homes would also need to be tested for electromagnetic fields, for soil contamination, and for off-gassing of synthetic compounds such as urea formaldehyde.

This list could be expanded almost indefinitely if the essential purpose of a home inspection was to disclose all possible property defects.  In truth, home inspections are preliminary visual inspections, not techically exhaustive evaluations. A home inspection is analogous to the routine annual phyical that you receive from your doctor. Family physicians don’t do EKGs or CATSCANs as part of an annual exam. Instead, they look for indications that such tests might be necessary.  If critical symptoms are observed, they refer you to specialists. In the same way, a competent home inspector is looking for conditions that might warrant further evaluation by specialists such as plumbers, electricians, geotechnical engineers, or registered environmental assessors.

It might surprise you to know how very thorough many home inspectors are in their forensic duties; how able competent home inspectors are to find significant defects without the use of sophisticated testing devices.

As for referrals by real estate agents, there are many reasons why agents recommend particular home inspectors. Some refer the inspectors they believe will provide the most thorough disclosure, while others refer inspectors who are not so thorough and are perceived as less likely to scare away their buyers. Either way, it takes persistent marketing to develop a base of agents who will routinely recommend you to their clients.

Home Inspector Accused of Collusion

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Before we bought our home, we hired a home inspector, but he didn’t report any of the major problems in the house. Now we have to repair the plumbing, the electrical wiring, and the roof. When he did the inspection, he said everything was OK, but he was just lying, and we think he may have gotten a big tip from the seller or the agent. He was supposed to be working for us. Why would a home inspector do business this way?  Beatriz

Dear Beatriz: To assume that a home inspector took a bribe is a big jump. When home inspectors fail to report defects, the problem is usually negligence or professional incompetence, not willful collusion with sellers or agents. Unfortunately, there are more than a few home inspectors who are just plain inexperienced or not adequately skilled as inspectors. Because of this, many homebuyers do not receive adequate disclosure. To make matters worse, there are many agents who recommend such inspectors to their clients.

The first thing you should do is have your home reinspected, but this time you should find an inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. To gather some leads, call a few real estate offices and ask for the most “nit-picky” home inspector in town. Tell them you want a home inspector who is known as a “deal breaker.” That’s the misnomer that some agents apply to the best inspectors.

A second report from a truly qualified home inspector will reveal the actual condition of your home and will provide a more complete list of the issues that were missed by the first inspector. Then you can notify the first inspector of your concerns and ask if he has errors and omissions insurance. Hopefully, he will be willing to address your concerns.