A home inspection report deals with the condition of the house in a moment in time. We cannot predict which issue may be major in the future, so how do we let our clients know which items are red flagged.
Every so often I am contacted by a homeowner with a complaint about their home inspector and how they handled the report. Are home inspectors perfect? No. I frequently find cause for concern in the way situations are reported to me. However, a comment this weekend brought up a problem with home inspectors that I feel many people share: a home inspector reports a problem and does not red flag it. Furthermore, the home inspector came to the client by being recommended by a Realtor. I would argue that these are not problems with home inspectors. We need to understand what items should be red flagged on the report, and what the rights of the buyer are.
I have made sellers mad by stating the condition of their home. I understand their anger. You live in a home, and you do not have any problems. The roof is not falling in. The water heater has not caused the house to burn down. An unsealed joint has not shown signs of rain water coming in. Yet I have found roofs with unsecured framing members, water heater vents improperly installed, and joints not caulked. Have I seen the roof collapse, because of bad framing? No. Have I seen a fire start due to the water heater? No. Have I seen water damage to a home, because of a small unsealed joint? Yes. Which item then should be red flagged? I have seen heavy tree limbs fall onto a roof. I helped many neighbors remove such limbs from their homes, so I know that the unsecured roof framing can be a major issue. I have see the recalls and warnings due to water heater fires. These issues can be much more severe than the water coming through the joint, but over time the unsealed joint may cause more damage.
For this reason, there are home inspectors who make every issue a big concern when making their reports. I have a problem with that. Each home that a buyer is considering purchasing could be a money pit, yet the seller did not have a problem. I prefer to state the facts, and only the facts. When I meet with my clients, I go over my findings, suggest possible repairs, and go over safety concerns. Then I have an expectation, the buyer will read the report. Do my clients read my reports? Do they listen to me when I go over my findings? I know that some do and some do not. The few phone calls that I have received from past clients with a real complaint about my report discovered that I wrote about the problem on the report. Some remember that I went over it with them. These were the clients who did not pay attention when I went over my report. They wanted to know about redecorating. I prefer the clients who ask me about the report. Who understand that a house needs to be maintained. So to me, each issue may need to be red flagged, but this does not help the buyer. They need to understand the facts, and have a plan of action.
As for the second part of the complaint, buyers upset with their home inspectors also seem to be bothered by the network of Realtors and other real estate professionals. Any successful business networks. I do accept that relationships in the real estate industry did lead to abuse, which helped the housing crisis evolve. The factors which led to the housing crisis are more complex than these networks though. Any network is open to abuse. We, professionals and homeowners, were complicit. Does this mean we should scrap a system of networks? I think that is comparable to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We consumers have to realize that when a professional is suggested to us that we do not have to use that professional. I have always argued that if you are buying a home, you may find a professional who could do the same work for cheaper than the person on a approved list from your Realtor or Mortgage Lender. Will this always be the case? It could be that the approved/suggested firm is the best value. You need to do the homework. I feel that there are buyers going along blind, and that scares me.
Where does the responsibility lie? I am not absolving home inspectors for all matters. I feel that professionals who suggest other professionals form their network should check out these firms. I connect with many firms through social media. I feel that I have come to know them. Do I recommend them? Maybe, with a caveat. I let people know that I am familiar with someone’s work, or do I just know them. However, in the end, if you hired them, then you have taken a responsibility. You should check their work. You should understand what they have done.