The pandemic-fueled real estate market of 2020-21 has been a market like no other, full of waived contingencies and bidding wars. Unfortunately, those market conditions leave buyers in a precarious situation, sometimes forcing them to waive important considerations in the homebuying process — like home inspections — in order to be competitive with other offers.
Some kind of pre-offer inspection is a good way to combat buyer risk, and it’s important for agents to prime their buyers on how to do this effectively and efficiently so that buyers can still get an offer to the seller in a timely fashion.
What happens during a walk-through inspection
Practices vary by market, but typically these inspections are called something like “pre-offer inspections,” “walk-through inspections” or “walk-and-talk inspections,” and all serve the purpose of uncovering any significant or expensive problems in a home before a buyer makes a high offer they end up regretting.
These inspections are truncated and may last about an hour or so (or less, if they’re really just walking through the home with you on a showing), so they won’t be comprehensive. But, they can at least clue a buyer into a house’s major underlying issues and are worth the cost, which will vary by the market, but can amount to a couple hundred dollars or more.
“This is really important for people to understand — these are not a substitute for a home inspection under any conditions at all,” Bruce Barker, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, told Inman. “You really can’t use these walk and talk things [to judge the full condition of the home].”
For a walk-through inspection, Barker added that buyers should go into it with an understanding about what kinds of things will be covered and not covered, in order to better understand their risk.
“You really need to discuss with the inspector what the scope of the inspection is,” Barker said. “It’s really expectations are the key, really for both the inspector, the agent, and the client, that it’s not an inspection, it’s a very limited scope procedure and basically you really need to get with the inspector, understand the scope, and understand what your risks are.”
Tips for efficiency
Given that time will not be on a buyer’s side, agents might want to suggest to buyers that they identify what specific areas they’re especially concerned about the condition of, so that an inspector can tackle those areas first and be sure to fit them in. After that, an inspector may do this anyways, but encourage buyers to ask inspectors to take a look at items that will call for pricier or more challenging repairs, like the roof, HVAC system, or foundation.
“I’m kind of always looking around and I’ll always ask the [listing] agent three important questions,” Liz Hogan, executive director of luxury estates at Compass Florida, told Inman. “One is, it’s really what are the expensive items that you constantly see that come up that need to be replaced or repaired, and it’s usually the roof, the AC units, and the appliances.”
Another way buyers can save an inspector’s time and cover more surface area during a showing is by investing in their own moisture reader, to check to see if there’s any moisture in the walls of the home.
“If I was in a really competitive market and felt I was going to waive an inspection and coming across that multiple times, I would go to Home Depot and invest in a $50 moisture reader,” Hogan said. “That’s all they cost, that’s what all the inspectors use. Go buy one and you can literally walk around the house and put it up to the walls and see if there’s any water behind the walls or anything like that that might show signs of mold because that’s really one of the biggest issues we have here in Florida.”
Get creative if scheduling becomes an issue
Another factor to consider is, with inspectors being just as busy as everyone else these days, how feasible it might be to get an inspector to come with a buyer on a showing on last-minute notice. It may take a little convincing, good agent connections with local inspectors, or a little creativity.
“It’s been complicated to book an inspector right now, because they’re probably the busiest they’ve ever been,” Dina Goldentayer, executive director of sales at Douglas Elliman in Miami told Inman. “Having an inspector tag along to a showing may not even be logistically feasible. FaceTime with the inspector. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
It’s also important to note that, while walk-and-talk inspections are becoming more common in this market, not every inspector will agree to do one.
“Walk-and-talks are somewhat controversial,” Real Estate Writer Lew Sichelman wrote in a story for Banker & Tradesman. “Some inspectors won’t do them, believing that they violate standards of practice in their states. Others say they’re bad for business, taking up their valuable time with much less money to show for it.”
“There are other issues, too,” Sichelman continued. “The seller would probably have to grant permission to [do] the abbreviated exam, which is doubtful without a contract. The inspector’s insurance may not cover it.”
If buyers are having trouble getting an inspector to go to a showing with them, and feel like they’re in a position where a seller won’t consider an offer that includes a contingency based on an inspection, a good medium between the two options is still conducting a full inspection as quickly as possible during the inspection period, but making it clear that the buyer won’t request repairs.
It’s all about evaluating risks versus benefits
When considering whether or not to conduct a walk-and-talk inspection only, it’s important to assess the risk profile of both the buyer, based on their previous experience, and the type of home, based on its age, location and other factors.
“Minimizing risk is definitely important for the buyer to make sure that they don’t feel the pressure of the marketplace, because it is a very heated market, and I don’t want my clients making hasty decisions just because they really want a house,” Goldentayer said.
“So, it’s the comfort level of the buyer — if they’re an experienced purchaser and know, ‘alright, I may have basic maintenance to take care of,’ they may be able to jump in without an inspection period more comfortably than someone who is a first-time homeowner.”