You can ask 100 different inspectors and 100 different agents and get 200 different answers. Each will be just as confident that their answer is the correct one. Most are some version of: “a visual, non invasive, look at a home, including a written report, that is performed according to the Standards of Practice of a particular State or Association.”
I think that consumer expectations and real estate agent expectations of Home Inspectors varies around the country as well. After we peel away all the rhetoric around which association is better, who is the best trained and who has the most stringent qualifications for entry into the field, we are left with quite polarized approaches to home inspections.
I find this polarization a little baffling in light of the fact that nearly everyone in the industry attests to the importance of having inspections done.
I frequently get into conversations with other inspectors over this dilemma. I inspect in a very large metropolitan area with a very large number of agents and inspectors. No matter what approach an inspector takes to providing service there will be agents and a buying public to support their business model.
As we move into smaller markets, the tolerance for “different” approaches can be affected to the point that a good inspector might not even be able to work if their business model varies too much from what is “expected.” They become victims to a type of “old boy’s & girl’s network” that has rigidly defined a home inspection as “XYZ” and anything different from that is marginalized–of not outright “black-listed.”
The Internet has greatly improved, or at least provides a way around, this rigid thinking.
Inspectors that want to provide a different level of service to the buying public can now, through developing an Internet presence, bring awareness to the buying public. In this way they can by-pass the normal referral process traditionally held in a stranglehold by real estate agents. In the end, whether agents are recommending these “different” inspectors or not they find themselves having to deal with them regardless–whether they are the buyer’s agent or the seller’s agent.
So let’s talk about these two camps of agents and inspectors. In my experience there do appear to be two more or less distinct camps.
CAMP #1: Inspections are to be quick, specific to the Standards of Practice, with reports as short as possible and discussing only defects.
CAMP #2: Inspections take whatever time they take, they meet and often exceed the Standards of Practice, with reports that are long and full of all kinds of useful information about the house–not just defects.
Whether you are an agent, an inspector, which approach do you want if you are buying a home for yourself. If you answer “CAMP #2” why would your business model to the buying public be something different?
I think part of the answer to that question lies in the presumption that too much information is a bad thing. It is the notion that if a nervous buyer is overwhelmed by too much information they may be scared away from the deal–thus making the “deal” more important than “taking care of the buyer.” So let’s for a moment assume that this is true–even though I do not think it is true or has to be true. Now another question must be answered:
Who is to decide what information is not important to the buyer?
I, for one, would not presume to know my buyer that well. That leaves me with providing as much information as I can about the home based on the short time I am there. Additional information can be provided that is pertinent to any home of that age and type of construction that would be deemed necessary for the buyer to properly maintain or live in the structure.
I think that if the report is clear, well written, and accurately describes the concern, what the implications of the concern are, and then explains what should be done about it and by whom, most buyers are smart enough to wade through the information. If they are not, perhaps they are making the correct move by being scared away, and are not yet really ready to become a home owner.
Of course equally important in all of this is the guidance that agents can provide to the process of wading through the information. A really good Summary of Significant Concerns is very important–and is the place for the significant safety issues and deal breaker type issues. An 80 page report with a 2 page summary is less intimidating to anyone than an 80 page report with no summary.
Sure summaries can be risky if there is something the buyer thinks should be on the summary that is not. But this is why they must be strongly reminded to read the entire report.
At the end of the day, “information” is the wave of the future. Whether you are an inspector or an agent, it is time to get on the surf board. Buyers are already surfing–and they are getting pretty good at it–their expectations are increasing.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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