Home Inspections at their best can save buyers (and sellers) a lot of headache and frustration. A good home inspector will test the outlets and check for gas leaks and make sure there aren’t any leaks coming from those old pipes in the basement. And by catching problems, and potential problems, people can negotiate to make sure everything is fixed, or at least disclosed before a buyer takes possession of a home.
At their worst, home inspections can cause a lot of fighting, stress, and court costs. Even a good home inspector will miss things on occasion, and the not-so-good ones will miss things a lot, either because they’re in a hurry or they forget to check something, or maybe they simply don’t know what they are doing. Some try to fit too many homes into a day and get rushed from taking calls and scheduling the next week’s inspections and fielding questions from clients, all while trying to conduct the inspection of the home they are currently in.
And when things are missed- people get upset. Naturally. Even when you counsel your buyers that home inspectors are human and can miss things and the inspectors have the clients sign a waiver basically saying that they don’t guarantee anything and the inspection is really just an opinion (read the fine print), the buyer will still expect that this person is being paid because they must be an expert and this person should find most everything wrong with the house, or at least the big stuff.
Recently one of my agents represented a buyer who discovered, after moving in to their newly purchased home, that behind the wall in the living room was a fireplace shaft that had been covered over with sheetrock and paint. And on the roof it was visible where the previous sellers had patched this up. And the real problem was, the thing had been leaking for a while and there was mold behind there and water damage. In fact, the sellers not only knew about this and didn’t disclose it, but they had actually drilled a few small holes in the side of the house to let water drain!
And the home inspector, even after supposedly checking the roof (with a basic walk around- not an actual roof inspection by a licensed roofer) did not see or report anything about the visible signs of patchwork on the roof or the holes in the side of the house.
Of course, the seller says they didn’t know anything about this- it must have been the people who owned the home before them. Right…
So now the buyer is taking photos and making a report of the damage and preparing to take the sellers to court. And we are helping them prepare their case and giving as much detail and accounting as possible. But no matter how this all turns out for the buyer- they are going through a frustrating ordeal with their home being ripped up and the sellers lying about what they know and the cost and stress of court. And these good people will not look back at this home buying experience as a pleasant one.
After a month of searching and going to lunches and playing with the kids and creating a great relationship, the experience is tainted. It’s tainted because they can’t enjoy their new home. And they are completely frustrated with it right now. They expected something like this would have been found.
And really, what else should they expect? They are buying a home and want a professional to look it over and make sure it doesn’t have any major problems. So they hire a professional Realtor and also a professional home inspector and pay him hundreds of dollars to perform his inspection, they attend the inspection with him and participate in some of it, but also allow him to do his work, and they close on the house thinking everthing is good.
Now, the seller is, of course, to blame for not disclosing this- no question. But in the mind of the buyer who has hired a Realtor to represent them and an inspector to catch these things, is it unreasonable to be upset that noone caught this and now they have to go to court? And what about the agent’s responsibility?
Is it just “Caveat Emptor” and we don’t represent them anymore (abrogation). Not if you care about your clients, your self-respect and your reputation. So now you’re in for a bunch of work and stress and fighting with the sellers and trying to get their agent to help (and they are always helpful).
So what can we do to prevent this? Unfortunately there will always be things that are missed and even the good inspectors will mess up sometimes. But as real estate agents we are responsible for informing our clients about all the risks and challenges that come with buying a home, and that also means educating them as to where the liability of a home inspector ends.
This could have all been avoided with a roof certification. The agent didn’t recommend one because the roof was fairly new and the inspector includes a roof walk as a part of the inspection. Obviously this agent will recommend having one for their future clients.
And that’s where the value of experience comes in. That’s why people seek the help of a Realtor (or agent) to help them. They want to know about these kinds of potential problems and how to avoid them. They want someone to tell them this story, and others like it- not to scare them, but to make them aware. Experience is a cumulation of lessons.
And hopefully this is a lesson we can all learn from.