Dear Barry,

When we had our home inspection, the seller was present during the entire process. We never felt free to converse candidly with our inspector. Shouldn’t the inspector or our agent have asked the seller to excuse himself during the inspection? –Michael

Dear Michael,

The casting of participants at a home inspection can sometimes be very touchy, depending upon the personalities involved. There are no set rules that determine whether sellers should be absent or present during an inspection, and scenarios vary widely. In most cases, to be sure, it is beneficial to buyers to have an unfettered opportunity to converse and consult with their home inspector, to ask questions freely, and to allow the inspector to discuss defects without mincing words, without fear of offending the seller.

Real estate agents, realizing the potential for misunderstandings during a home inspection, often ask sellers not to be home when the buyers and inspector are on site. Most sellers comply with this request, some without complaint, others with expressed or suppressed misgivings. Some sellers flatly refuse to have an entourage nitpick their private domain unless they are present during the proceedings, or they might insist that the listing agent be present.

The presence of sellers can be — but is not always — an impediment to the free flow of an inspection. In some cases, they may simply remain quietly at home, planted on the living-room couch or preparing the evening meal. They might engage the buyers or agents in friendly conversations, sometimes stiff and segmented, sometimes real and relaxed, on subjects ranging from mundane small talk to details of the purchase contract and from the disclosure of property defects to the purchase of onsite furniture.

On the other end of the spectrum, sellers might shadow every step of the inspector throughout the entire process, sometimes causing distractions, sometimes providing helpful information, sometimes coloring the atmosphere with quiet but palpable distress, sometimes challenging the inspector with reserved or aggravated debate. These levels of seller participation often interfere with the buyers’ need to communicate concerns to the inspector and the inspector’s freedom to fully explain observed defects to the buyers.

Regardless of these circumstances, it is not the responsibility of the home inspector to dismiss the sellers from their property. If buyers are uncomfortable with the sellers’ presence, it is wise to have the agent “run interference,” as it were, to tactfully disengage sellers from the activities of the inspector. For example, agents can politely explain to sellers that leaving home during the inspection is normal procedure — that they, as buyers of their next home, would appreciate the same courtesy. When sellers prefer to remain, agents can engage them in conversations designed to divert their attention from the inspection at hand. Unfortunately, some agents fail even to attend home inspections. But that is a subject for another article.

When seller participation prevents buyers from consulting with their inspector, the review of finding should take place away from the property. The buyers, inspector and agent can arrange to meet at the agent’s office or for coffee at a local restaurant. This can make up for communication opportunities that were lost during the inspection. The final review is a critical element of the home-inspection process, enabling the inspector to fully explain the condition of the home and for buyers to ask questions that were withheld in the presence of the sellers.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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