Home inspector pressured by a real estate agent

Reader Question: I am a home inspector. ​I work with an agent who is always pressuring me to “take it easy” with the home inspection, I refuse to lower my standards, but I’m concerned about him finding a replacement. How would you suggest I approach ​t​his?

​Monty’s Answer: The situation you describe may be a very delicate matter, and no matter what you decide may not be the right solution. In many respects, this is a primary challenge of being in business. No one likes to lose a good customer, but sometimes, we lose customers for reasons beyond our control.

I would first like to share a true story from my past. When I was a rookie real estate agent, one of the local lenders had good market share. For their title work, they used a lawyer that nit-picked every abstract and found flaws that often created considerable extra work and occasionally, caused a sale to evaporate. Virtually none of the experienced agents in town liked him and steered their business to other lenders. I learned not to like him either.

For a couple of years, I recommended other lenders to avoid the risk my sellers took when a buyer financed there. Then something odd happened. I bought my first house. When it was my house, wanting to ensure as best I could there be no flaws in the title; I took my mortgage to that institution because I knew the lawyer would not miss anything.

The lesson I learned from this experience is that I was mistaken in leading customers away from the best title examiner in the county. From that day forward, I included that lender in my recommendations to borrowers.

I tell this story because it bears similarities to your situation. I was worried about my income because of a good lawyer; he is concerned about his income because of a good inspector.

Here are some options for you to consider:

  1. Ignore him. 95% of things we worry about never happen, and he may just be worrying out loud when inspection time rolls around.
  1. Ask him to have a conversation with you over a cup of coffee, lunch or after work. Tell him you want to discuss his concern about your thoroughness when conducting an inspection. Tell him you value the professional relationship the two of you share. The goal of the meeting is for you to seek to understand his thinking. Only when you more closely examine the “take it easy” suggestion can you get a better sense of an approach to take with him. The principle here is: Seek first to understand – then be understood.One question you may want to ask him is if he were to buy another home, would he want you to inspect it? You could also share in that conversation, all the reasons why a proper inspection makes him look good, and a not-so-good review makes him look bad.
  1. Assuming you think this is a good real estate agent (because you witness him working with his clients if they both attend the inspection), you may occasionally have a seller on a pre-sale inspection or a potential buyer asks you for a recommendation.
  1. Ask yourself; Are you too picky? Is the agent trying to tell you in a nice way that some of your observations are above and beyond what is required by law? Every state laws and inspection regulations are different. What does the law or administrative rule say that sets consumer expectations? In most states, the inspection clause in the purchase contracts refers to material defects. For example, in Wisconsin, the word “defect” is defined in the purchase agreement. It states:DEFECT: “Defect” means a condition that would have a significant adverse effect on the value of the Property; that would significantly impair the health or safety of future occupants of the Property; or that if not repaired, removed or replaced would significantly shorten or adversely affect the expected normal life of the premises.​The other side of this coin is your inspection contract. What does it say you will do for your customer? My experience is most inspectors have differences in their contract wording. Customers may want more than what the state expects in the definition of defects. Customers will sometimes use the inspection as a bargaining chip. You can be damned if you do and damned if you don’t in the inspection business.Has the real estate agent ever seen your contract? Does he understand your unique selling proposition? It could be that once the agent knows your side of the equation, he may come to appreciate it.

Another factor in the inspection process in many states is the seller’s “right to cure.” It is often a negotiated part of the purchase agreement. If the seller has the “right to cure,” there is a protocol to follow that allows the seller to repair or replace the tagged items, and the contract stays intact. If the buyer does not want to give the seller the “right to cure,” a defect may give the buyer an escape route. While you may already be aware of how the right to cure works in your state, if you are not, knowing may be helpful to you in understanding why the agent is saying “take it easy.”

Every state is different, so some of these suggestions may require a bit of homework on your part. There should be enough options and considerations with this information on approaches to follow, or some combination, in reaching a satisfactory arrangement between the two of you. I hope you find it helpful.


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