As I mentioned last week, there is a pervasive myth afloat that real estate agents are in cahoots with a stable of service providers like mortgage brokers and inspectors. The aim? To bilk unwary buyers out of their hard-earned dollars and dupe them into buying lemon homes and taking lemon loans.
Has such a thing ever happened in real life? I’m sure it has. But I’m also highly certain that these sorts of unholy alliances are the extreme exception rather than the rule.
What’s true is that we agents do have a set of professionals we prefer our clients to work with. But our motivation for recommending preferred professionals is not trickery and deception, nor does the average agent take kickbacks or other monetary compensation for referring business to our preferred pros.
In the case of inspectors, my goal is for my buyer clients to receive:
- as full as possible a picture of the condition of the home,
- an education on how to operate the mechanical systems of the home,
- little or no emotional pressure from the inspector — in either direction, and
- a detailed and user-friendly written inspection report.
And I want them to receive all of these things promptly — my clients have anywhere from seven to 17 days to remove their inspection contingencies or back out of the deal while they can still recoup their deposit money. Most of my clients are buying homes ranging from 50 to 90-plus years of age. It’s important that our inspection professionals get out to the home ASAP after we get into contract.
And, contrary to popular belief, most agents I know would never refer an inspector based on their promise or practice of withholding information that might kill the deal. The fact is, I would much rather my client learn the fatal flaw up-front — so they can get their deposit back and we can find their "real" home — than have them buy it, move in and embroil all of us in a lawsuit or other drawn-out drama years later.
Some legitimate reasons buyers should work with my preferred inspectors:
1. Qualified, competent, reliable and insured. My inspectors are certified property-inspection professionals who have been conducting home inspections in the context of a sale transaction for decades. They know what buyers want and need to know to make a solid decision about a property, and that requires a set of inspection and communication systems and skills that go beyond "just being handy around the house." On occasion, a client will ask why their Grandpa Joe ("he knows how to fix anything!") or an off-the-clock contractor buddy ("he’ll only charge me 50 bucks!") can’t do the inspection. …CONTINUED
If I didn’t refer qualified inspection professionals, I have no doubt that my buyers would end up with well-intentioned but woefully insufficient information. My inspectors carry and advise buyers of their insurance coverage for any errors and omissions, though — knock on wood — my clients have never had to invoke it.
2. They’ll point out problems and patiently answer your questions. I insist that my buyers attend inspections in person, so that the inspectors can physically show them the defects or areas of concern that are found. Almost always, my clients — many of whom are first-time homebuyers — have lots of follow-up questions about the scope, implications and priority of the problems. These follow-up questions would not be answered by the written report alone.
I work with inspectors who know me and my clients well enough to know that they are probably going to be asked a million questions, and are totally fine with hanging out in the home for several hours and exploring the property with my clients while they answer every question.
3. They’ll teach you how to "work" your home. Also, my inspectors go above and beyond and demonstrate how to operate the emergency utility shutoffs, the climate controls, dishwasher and any other mechanical systems in the home.
4. They know the condition issues common to homes in different areas. My inspectors know that one area’s soil is quite expansive, and know which resulting cracks are OK and which aren’t. They know which district is notorious for having partial brick foundations and they can explain the priority and scope of the fix.
5. They have a balanced track record. The inspectors I’ve worked with have a history with me and my clients. They’ve delivered favorable reviews of some homes and devastatingly bad reviews of others. Bizarrely, in my state, the pest and roofing inspectors are allowed to bid on the work while the general property inspector is not.
The pest and roofing inspectors I prefer have at times recommended total roof replacement or extensive pest repairs, and at other times have given my clients’ intended homes a totally clean bill of health. Most often, though, they provide a detailed "in-between" description of the repairs that are needed.
And on occasion they’ll even suggest another professional who might do the work at a lower cost. I’ve chosen to work with inspectors who neither create or inflate problems to churn up business, nor underplay problems to get agent referrals — they just tell it like it is.
6. They deliver professional, timely reports and are available by phone after the inspection is over. My inspectors understand the time constraints we’re under in the context of the sale, and they know that a good inspection report can be used as a homeowner’s resource for years to come. So they don’t use check-the-box carbon forms.
Rather, they create extensive PDF format reports with pictures of any defects, detailed descriptions of the systems of the home, recommendations for further inspections by specialists, and a prioritized list of more serious concerns.
My favorite inspector is the perfect mix of Bob Vila meets Mr. Rogers. He is soothing and non-alarmist when appropriate, as when new buyers are flustered by minor or common and inexpensive issues. He is extremely educational in the way he explains property defects, starting from the most basic description of how the thing should work and going from there.
But he is also eagle-eyed and protective of our mutual clients when necessary. He is careful to caution when something comes up that is a big deal, when a client doesn’t appear to understand the gravity of a major issue, or when a potentially worrisome item needs further close inspection and attention.
True, he charges more than Grandpa Joe would. But the day after the inspection, you’ll have a 45-page report with color photos of any concerns in your e-mail inbox, complete with an Action List you can take with you to Home Depot or Lowe’s, or provide to your contractor to get repair estimates.
Or you’ll know that its time to keep house hunting. Either way, you’ll be extensively educated about the property, and that’s what most agents want for their buyer clients.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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