What is the home buyer’s due diligence period?

There seems to be a general misconception among some home buyers that the hiring of a home inspector is the completion of their due diligence, when in many respects it is just the beginning—or at best just part of the process.

The home inspector will expose the concerns, but often they will not be able to allay justifiable concerns related to those findings.

The problems arise when the buyer assumes that the inspector’s findings are enough. They make their decision to move forward with the purchase based on the inspector’s findings without following through on the various recommendations the inspector has made.

Admittedly, many of these things are probably of little consequence but others could result in the buyer taking possession with later regrets.

For example, getting the sewer scoped. It can be a very big expense to deal with problems with the drain between the house and the city sewer, and yet many buyers do not follow through on their inspector’s recommendation to have the sewer scoped. Some inspectors encourage their clients to get it done during the time of the inspection and sort of kill two birds with one stone in terms of time.

Other things that might need further evaluation outside the inspection include: property easements, clear title, neighbors, wood destroying insects, retaining walls/fences, trees, swimming pools, abandoned or used tanks (septic oil etc), wells, lead, asbestos, water quality testing, radon testing, conditions of the electrical system, conditions of the plumbing system, HVAC equipment issues, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, foundation/drainage issues, chimney issues, roof issues, window/cladding issues etc.

Basically anything that requires further evaluation, because it is either outside the scope of the inspection or outside the inspector’s areas of expertise, should be followed through with in order to do ones due diligence, but many merely see the inspection as completing that regardless the recommendation for further evaluation.

The bison in the china closet in all this is the enormous pressures present to “keep-the-ball-rolling” to closing. There simply is not enough time for a buyers to do their due diligence, so all parties to the transaction encourage seeing the property inspection as the final step in the process—the last big hurtle to vault over or limbo under.

In a seller’s market a lot of the blame for accepting shorter and shorter due diligence comes right back to the buyer—and of course their agent who support the idea as the only way the buyer has a chance of getting the house. Being more or less forced into this arrangement, it is only natural the buyer would expect perhaps a bit more of their home inspector than any home inspector can deliver.

It really is a no win situation for the buyer and they best find a home inspector that gets them as close as possible to all the pertinent information—and perhaps one that has the experience and is willing to guess a bit on their behalf.

You know the client has unreasonable expectations of the inspector when the inevitable question arises, “Would you buy this house?” It is actually quite a reasonable question in light of the position the buyer has been placed, it just does not have an answer unfortunately.

As a side note, and perhaps a topic for a post of its own, a buyer should never rely on an inspection report provided by a seller.  Use it as information on top of an inspection you procure on your own, but do not rely on it for your own due diligence.

Let the bison roam, and fix the yard afterwards.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

Who benefits from short inspection contingency periods?

I know I may be stepping into quick-sand with this question, but I am serious. All too often I see buyers forced to use inspectors they do not want to use, or in other ways not be able to do their due diligence because of very short of contingency periods.

I am busy enough that if the inspection contingency period is less than ten days, the chance of booking me goes way down. Now I typically have a list of other inspectors to help the buyer out when this occurs but they too are typically busy as well. What the client ends of with is an inspector capable of doing 3 and 4 inspections a day with the resultant mediocre report if not a mediocre inspection itself.

I am jealous of other parts of the country where I hear 10 and 12 day contingency periods are the norm while here 5 and 7 days is much more common.

It seems to me that in a rush to get the deal done, the only persons that benefit from this arrangement are the seller and the seller’s agent.

I know for a fact that many buyers feel there is considerable pressure to keep the ball rolling along, non-stop—at a pace that does not allow for second thoughts.

This freneticism is typically not present in commercial inspections–with 30 day contingency periods being common. Why the difference in Residential real estate sales? While I do not advocate 30 day contingency periods, a guaranteed 15 days sure would take the pressure off all parties and allow for a buyer’s due diligence.

Some might argue that I only care about this because I don’t want to lose the inspections—but the irony is that I am booked most of the time anyway, but it would allow for more clients who really want to book me a “chance” of getting me and would allow me to even-out my scheduling with far less cancellations.

Because of these short contingency periods, it is not uncommon for buyers or agents, who really want to use me, to call and “pencil me in” for a time slot in an “anticipated contingency window” only to have the deal not come together and leave me with time to blog–or an unneeded day off.

The real kicker is that the clients that wanted to use me, but whom I had to tell I was potentially booked, were also not best served.

Again it is business models that favor quick inspections with mediocre reports that are favored in this scenario. Neither of which benefits the consumer.

Short inspection contingency periods also affect, well inspections, septic system inspections, sewer scoping and even appraisals—let alone further evaluations by the professional trades that may be necessary.

Again, who really benefits from short contingency periods?


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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The infamous “nit-picker inspector” is apparently a myth?

As a home inspector this is an important question because we are accused of being nitpickers so often.

Lets nit-pic this roof

Lets nit-pic this roof

I will take some “liberties” with Wikipedia’s definition of “nitpicker.”

In defining a nitpicker, Wikipedia refers to “the pastime of finding mistakes in movies (homes) and television shows (buildings). These mistakes can range from very trivial mistakes that regular viewers (real estate agents and home buyers) don’t notice, to very serious mistakes which disrupt the suspension of disbelief in the show’s story for even casual viewers (first time home buyers).

I would argue that it is hardly a “pastime.”  One person’s trivial, is another person’s serious matter!  While most inspectors get a “charge” out of some of the crazy stuff we see, I think there are actually very few inspectors that go out of their way to get “creative” about what they see–except perhaps when they write about it on their blog.  In inspection reports that I routinely see, inspectors often ere on the side of so little information as to make the report meaningless and irrelevant to the purpose at hand.

This definition of nitpicking as a pastime is quite a departure from the origins of the phrase.  Originally it simply described someone that actually picked nits.  Before the days of delousing shampoos, for a person to be good at this job, it took incredible patience, persistence, vigilance, and thoroughness–and typically a large amount of “caring”–as well as super human powers of observation–to find every last nit.

Don’t these sound like the very qualities one would want to see in a good home inspector?

I guess that makes me proud to be considered a nit-picker.

No inspector can afford to be in a position of attempting to figure out what a buyer doesn’t want to learn about their home.

So who are these “nit-pickers” that agents refer to?

I would argue that that the ones that make a “pastime” of home inspections don’t really exist, but that instead, there are just agents that hate nits.  That is not to say there are no “lousy” inspectors or “lousy” agents.  Perhaps these agents had a bad experience with nits when they were a kid or with their own kids.  But as with kids–when they come home from school or day-care with that note that says:  “Little Jonnie has head lice,” you just have to dig in and deal with it.  Why would anyone think it would be any different with house defects?  Whether that house is lousy with louses or only has a couple of louses–sooner or later someone has to pick those nits!

It basically comes down to: “Too much information is never enough.”

After all–if you miss just one nit, the cycle starts all over again.

Now we don’t want that do we?


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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