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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How to become a house flipper—deal killer 101

There is no shortage of examples of the Profit Motive gone awry.  While not essential to the cause, a co-conspirator with the profit motive is the idea of Maximizing Profits.  After all, if the goal is to make money, why not make as much of it as possible?  Maximizing profits can have a very dark partner on its side as well—the Short-cut.

HAAA! Nobody can see me!

HAAA! Nobody can see me!

One example of the Profit Motive gone seriously awry is the Flipping of Houses.

I think it would be unusual for someone to be in the flipped-house-market for altruistic reasons.  They probably also to not have notions that they are somehow providing “opportunities” for buyers that they would not otherwise have.

If such opportunities were the case, I would have seen more examples of it by now.

In spite of that I have seen flips where the work has been done satisfactorily.

It is certainly true that ANY house can have unsatisfactory work done to it.

The “flip” is a special category of house-for-sale or there would not be a special name for it.

Flips that are “done right,” have several signatures that are very common.  They will invariably have good curb appeal.  This is typically not difficult as they are often houses found in gentrifying neighborhoods–so of course they outshine the neighboring houses.  This is not a particularly high bar to get over.

This “outside” staging–fresh paint, new roof, new lawn, new fence etc–is consistent with the house also having great “indoor” staging.

All of this makes for GREAT looking pictures on the MLS listing–especially when done in HD (I like to think the HD stands for “Highly Deceptive”).

In the context of this post I am using the term “staging” to be something “beyond/above and disconnected” from real staging that actually has real value in the context of selling homes.  It is meant to point out that work done in flipped houses is more like temporary staging than like the real thing.

And then, along comes the home inspector, to bring everyone back down to earth and to expose the “improvements” for what they really are.  This is akin to discovering the “lipstick on the frog” or uncovering the attempt to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  They stand out in the swamp if you know what I mean.


There, I have said it.

It might be a bit of hyperbole, but this is pretty close to what I actually think about it.  I don’t however, have any clue how outlawing flipping could be accomplished politically–given the 100’s articles on line about how to engage in flipping houses.

Things are looking a little murky

Things are looking a little murky

It is one thing for a homeowner to put their home on the market, marred by a few short-cuts taken over the years.  I consider that fairly normal.  What is not normal with flips is to have to deal with short-cuts in relation to nearly EVERY SINGLE COMPONENT of the home.  All of a sudden all those nice listing pictures of the exterior, of the interior and of all the amenities start to go all brown and out of focus like some ancient daguerreotype. And while a daguerreotype is a very nice “look” in my opinion, that is not typically what the buyer has in mind.

On a flip, the list of items that are going to get posted to the report summary should not be any longer than what gets posted to the summary of a report on brand new construction.  Typically they are 3 times as long and 10 times as complicated.

And think about this:  The inspector cannot typically charge any more for a flip than a similar house that is not being flipped, because most of the time the inspector will not know it is a flip until they are at the inspection and start to hear the croaking. I would rather inspect crawl spaces on some days.

The reason inspections take longer and reports are longer all comes back to the short-cuts taken.  Somewhere along the line, someone said, “I don’t need no stinking permits and I know how to install a water heater, siding, windows, decks and electrical.”  (Think maximizing profits again.)

In new construction, there is a reasonable expectation that someone besides me (jurisdictional inspectors) has looked at the work during the process of construction.  With a flip there is likely to be no such assurances.  The inspector has to wrestle with what they cannot see, as well as what they can see.

While permits are REQUIRED for most work done, there typically will not be any permits.  If there are permits they are often not finaled and apparently have no intention of being finaled (No house should be allowed to be put on the market until all permits are finaled IMHO).

The kicker is that it will be listed and marketed as if it is the same as new construction–if not better!

You are never going to see a listing state, “Like new—fully remodeled down to the studs—all with no permits!”  And yet this is the way they are constructed, over and over and over again.  It is not uncommon to find serious defects with all components of the home in a flip—but the frog looks “HOT!”.  This takes the whole notion of kissing frogs to a whole other level.

It seems that many flips are undertaken by people that have a little knowledge of “how things work”—just enough to “make things work.”  It is extremely rare for flippers to actually know enough about all the nuances of the codes to perform all aspects of the project in a way that meets all current standards.  Hell, it is hard enough for even trained professionals to keep up with the rules.  In this sense, since all this information is readily available, there should really be no excuse for work not being done properly but when you already know everything there is to know, any additional time spent “learning,” is cutting into profits at the end.

Flippers are gamblers. 

They are gambling that no one is going to notice the mistakes and omissions that might force work to be redone to correct the short-cuts (talk about cutting into profits).  Add to this, that the flipper is more likely to hire untrained workers to help them with the work, and they can’t possibly train them to do things they do not know how to do properly themselves.

The most common victims of these homes are first time home buyers.

I have kids that are the same age as the typical first time home buyer.

This mirage, of my own kids being the buyer, does not bode well for a flipper that is having their property inspected by me.

In my opinion, the flipper is possibly the biggest real estate deal killer there is.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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So you want to “waive” the inspection?

I have had recent discussions with agents and inspectors about what to me is a scary proposition.  These discussions are not scary because the result would mean less work for me and other inspectors–but because of the potential risk to the consumer, the inspector and to real estate agents.
"Needs Work"

“Needs Work”

What I am seeing is that buyers are forgoing (and in some cases being encouraged to forgo) home inspections to both save money and to avoid “one more obstacle” in the way of having their offer accepted by the seller.  Some of the reasoning behind this thought process is interesting–and one can only hope it remains “isolated” and not the tip of the ice-berg of some “trend.”

Some of this encouragement to avoid inspections is especially prevalent around homes that are likely to have multiple offers.  The only way a buyer has any chance of getting the home of their dreams is if they “sweeten” their offer by waiving the inspection.

This has led to either buyers ignoring the inspection altogether or having a “walk-through” inspection done where the inspector is only looking for major deal killer issues and there is no written report provided after the inspection.  In some localized markets in Seattle there are inspectors doing LOTS of this type of inspection.  These inspections are cursory in nature and there is always going to be some amount of risk to all parties when they are performed–but perhaps not as much as if no inspection is done at all.

I was at a house in Seattle the other day where there were 9 inspectors at the home all at the same time and where two days earlier there were 8 inspections done on that same house.  These 17 inspections were only the ones that I was privy to information on–perhaps there were others as well.  If all of these were full inspections, that would be a lot of money thrown at inspections that had no chance of resulting in home ownership.  Spending a couple of hundred dollars on a walk-through inspection makes economic sense as opposed to spending five or six hundred dollars on a full inspection.  Of course it is prudent for the inspector to be called back for the full inspection, with written report, if the client prevails.

There is also another side to this story.  There is a growing seller reluctance to allow dozens of parties to traipse through their home without any offer on the table.

Hot markets can create all kinds of problems for everyone it seems.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle


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