Reader Question: We accepted an offer on our home. The contract is subject to a satisfactory home inspection. Our agent called to set up a time for the inspection and asked us not to attend the home inspection. She asked that we not be home. My thinking is that if there is some discovery made during the investigation that both parties observing would aid in understanding the issue. Do you agree with her suggestion?
Monty’s Answer: Most of the states that regulate inspectors are seeking inspections that reveal “significant” material defects that negatively affect the value of the property or create a concern for safety that is not apparent at the times the buyer viewed the home. The customer can overlook the fact this is a pre-owned home. They sometimes compare a pre-owned home inspection with the “certified” used car. Most every home has a wart somewhere, which is the buyer’s responsibility unless the seller agreed to remove the wart as part of the contract. Education of all participants, which requires investing time, is a key to ensuring a home inspection goes smoothly.
The second negotiation
Because the contract is subject to a satisfactory inspection, the reality is the investigation can turn into a negotiation in many states. State law can vary, with some states being very particular about controlling the process through language in the state approved forms. For example, here is a download link to a flowchart for Wisconsin home inspections developed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association that describes the process in the state-approved inspection clause.
Untrained or weak advisors
Some home inspectors and real estate practitioners on the buy-side may see the inspection as a means to further validate their service by assisting the buyer to deflect costs typical with homeownership. Home inspectors can also fall into the habit of discovering items that do not fall into the “significant” category as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition, and to protect themselves from their clients, who otherwise may give them poor reviews for missing items.
Three reasons for not attending
Being a party to the contract, unless there is language to the contrary, both sides have the right to attend the inspection. Many buyers and sellers chose not to participate in the inspection for a variety of reasons. When an agent advises a client or customer not to attend the inspection, there may be a good motive for their request. You can evaluate the reason and then decide if you will leave or stay. Here are a few examples (of many) why an agent may ask a buyer or seller not to attend:
- A tough negotiation leading up to the sale. One or both parties could be suffering from “negotiation rage.” With the emotions still simmering down, this may not be the best time to introduce them.
- A talkative customer. They may unwittingly say something, not even related to the inspection, which could create new questions to answer about the transaction. The agent may see the seller’s presence as adding unnecessary time to the schedules of others in attendance. The inspection is a business transaction as opposed to a social event.
- The overall condition of a home. Your agent recognizes the inspector will find issues and, right or wrong, wants to spare you from being upset. Your agent may even prepare you for surprises ahead of time. For example, the roof may be 35 years old, and not be leaking, but the chances are that the inspector will point out the roof is near the end of its expected life.
A recently published article suggested failed inspections were the number one cause of transactions failing today. While I doubt the accuracy of that suggestion, if it were true, it may partly be because of a blanket keep-the-seller-and-buyer-from-talking attitude. The inspector’s report is misunderstood more frequently when either party is not present.
While there may be situations where not including the seller is advantageous in keeping the transaction moving along, in my opinion, there are far more cases where having the seller present with the buyer can defeat small issues before they become large ones. Guiding the buyer and seller is part of the agent’s job. A home inspection can be stressful for both parties and become a flashpoint in the transaction. A good real estate agent can be the hero by keeping the facts in the event in the proper perspective. The home inspection is a time to seek to understand, and then be understood.