For new agents entering the real estate field, there is a lot to learn about the various aspects of listing and selling a property, open houses and marketing, lending and appraisal terms, and, of course, home inspections. The general public tends to know very little about home inspections. This article serves as a primer for new real estate agents to learn about home inspectors and the home inspection process in general.
What is a Home Inspection?
To get started, a home inspection is a non-invasive visual inspection of the home’s major systems. This includes, but is not limited to, the roof, electrical, plumbing, structural, and heating/cooling (HVAC) systems. Per the PA Agreement of Sale ('PA Sales Agreement'), the seller is responsible for making the home accessible and inspectable. All utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.) and all included systems/appliances (such as the water heater, garage door openers, gas fireplaces, heating/cooling system, and major kitchen appliances) must be operational and ready to inspect. Areas such as attics, garages, basements, and crawl spaces must be safely accessible; home inspectors don't move the seller's belongings (furniture, boxes, stored items, shelving, etc.). For liability reasons, home inspectors also do not turn on water or gas valves nor do we turn on circuit breakers. We don’t know why a valve or breaker is turned off and we don’t make assumptions. If something is turned off or inaccessible for inspection, the inspector should note this in the report and recommend re-inspection once the area or system is accessible or operational. Remember, we are in the seller’s home and we must respect it and leave it as we found it. The inspector should also take a photo showing the turned off valve or breaker or inaccessible area to document the fact. I’ve run across agents or home buyers from time to time who take it upon themselves to turn on water or gas valves or circuit breakers assuming they know why they are turned off. From my experience, this ‘assumption’ often can have bad consequences.
Recommend the Right Inspector
It’s important to establish the quality and trustworthiness of any inspector that you recommend. Review inspectors’ experience and certifications and communicate these qualifications to your buyers. Recommend inspectors who are members of and certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI is the only national home inspection association with a certification recognized and performed by an outside third party (National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)). Unlike some other associations, ASHI's certification is based upon actually home inspection topics and experience. ASHI has set stringent Standards of Practice (SoP) and Code of Ethics (CoE) that ASHI member inspectors must follow. The confidentiality of the inspection process between the inspector and his client is one important facet of the ASHI Code of Ethics. The Commonwealth of PA also has regulations (PA Act 114) that stipulate what home inspectors must do and what inspectors are forbidden from doing.
The logo used by home inspectors who have been certified by the American Society of
Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI is the Gold Standard in the home inspection industry.
Most people wrongly assume that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania licenses and certifies home inspectors; PA does neither. Due to PA Act 114 having no built-in enforcement (such as penalties for a home inspector who does not meeting the law's requirements), it is up to the consumer and those referring home inspectors to their clients to ensure that the inspector is properly certified (such as by ASHI), properly insured, and otherwise fully PA Act 114 compliant.
A good home inspector should take his time to conduct a thorough evaluation of the home and communicate with his clients in a helpful and straightforward manner. If an issue shows up, a quality home inspector will inform his client about it and potential solutions, always keeping issues in perspective. Home inspectors do not make repairs (PA Act 114 actually forbids this for conflict of interest reasons) nor do we provide repair estimates. The more experience an inspector has, the better he can speak to the urgency of these issues – some might need to be fixed right away, while others can wait. Save your referrals for experienced ASHI Certified Inspectors who conduct comprehensive evaluations and avoid alarmist statements.
Ultimately, referring a quality home inspector is an opportunity to strengthen your own reputation. Referring inspectors with a commitment to excellence helps improve your brand and reputation as an agent.
A home buyer deciding to have a home inspection performed is a smart move. The inspector takes the buyer along and shows the buyer how the home functions, makes note of any safety issues found, as well as makes recommendations on future maintenance. Think of the process as a 3 hour class for the home buyer covering how their home functions as well as suggestions they can follow to maintain it and help lower their energy costs.
The inspector should answer the buyer’s questions and address their concerns onsite. The client and their agent should expect to receive the inspection report within a few hours after the inspection. Time is of the essence and the contract contingency clock is ticking. Home inspections and home inspection reports vary considerably in terms of type, length, and thoroughness from what I’ve seen over the past 16 years. Some inspectors provide hand-written reports, some provide a basic checklist, while others provide computer-generated narrative reports with digital photos. The more thorough and complete the report, the more value and critical information the client receives. A thorough home inspection also lowers the agent's liability.
Contrary to what most of the general public believes, home inspections are not a commodity. This means that every home inspector provides a slightly different service and report and careful consideration should be given when choosing an inspector. It definitely is not an ‘all home inspectors are the same’ scenario.
I always recommend when buyers or agents are calling inspectors to not rely solely on pricing but also get a sample report so they know what the fee includes and how thorough (or not) and how easy to read and understand the actual inspection report will be. Home buyers are relying on a detailed thorough inspection and report to make their home buying decision so hiring the cheapest inspector or receiving a vague short report that provides little value can turn out to be a bad decision down the road soon after. When the buyer moves in and finds the things that the cheapest or fastest inspector in town missed, guess who receives the buyer’s first phone call?
Attend the Inspection
It’s helpful for the buyer’s agent to be present at their client’s inspection. The inspector will set up the inspection appointment with the listing agent or seller (if a FSBO) and obtain confirmation and access information. The inspector will also send confirmation emails to the client as well as the buyer and listing agents. The email to the listing agent contains information to forward to their seller to help get the home ready before the inspection occurs.
As an agent, your job is to guide your clients through each stage of the home buying or selling process. The home inspection is an important step in this process, so your attendance demonstrates a commitment to your job and your clients. Furthermore, you don’t want to receive the information about the inspection secondhand from your clients. You want to be a resource during and after the inspection to field questions and offer solutions to any issues that may arise.
Attending the inspection also lets you provide clarification on matters that your client might not understand. For example, if an inspector says there’s an issue with the HVAC system, you can help the buyer ask the right questions and decide whether they should plan to replace the system or wait until later. Your presence at the inspection helps facilitate communication, keeping all parties involved on the same page.
Providing excellent service throughout the home inspection process can set you apart from other real estate agents. Build your brand and your clients’ trust by choosing the right inspector and making yourself available during and after the inspection. The right approach to a home inspection can help boost your business.
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© 2018 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.