Should Your Agent Recommend a Home Inspector?
You're in contract to buy a house and it's time to arrange your buyer's inspection—to make sure some hidden flaw doesn't turn your dream home into a nightmare. Now, where and how do you find a qualified home inspector? Your first thought may well be your real estate agent: After all, they've gotten you this far. On the other hand, they're probably anxious to close the deal and collect their commission. So, can your agent be trusted to recommend a home inspector who'll be honest and objective? Does the agent even know from home inspectors?
The answer to both questions is, most likely, yes. But, as when soliciting any recommendation, a lot depends on how you feel about the recommender. A home inspector a buyer's agent recommends is most likely of the same caliber as the agent.
What Your Agent Knows About Home Inspectors
It's possible that a novice agent might not have much first-hand experience with local experts. But an agent with many years in the business most likely maintains a list of home inspectors who are reputable. Agents work with many of the same inspectors over and over and can witness first-hand their effectiveness and thoroughness (or lack thereof). Real estate is a small, local world, and word gets around about bad home inspectors.
A qualified home inspector is important to an agent's business: Agents don't want a finger pointed at them if the inspection misses a serious defect.
Trusting the Recommendation
This is why you can most likely trust the people your agent recommends. Not every buyer's agent put his client's interest first all the time, admittedly. But no reputable real estate agent will withhold information from a buyer or induce a third-party vendor to withhold information. It would be extreme—not to mention actionable—for an agent to collude with an inspector to provide a faulty report. Agents want their buyers to have full disclosure and be fully informed; those who aren't will come back to haunt their agents after closing.
More importantly, duped clients won't refer anyone else to them, and given the word-of-mouth nature of the real-estate business, that's the kiss of death.
Besides, a home inspector's negative findings don't necessarily mean a deal is off. Buyer's agents can negotiate repairs or cash credits as compensation. Only as a last resort do they advise the buyer to walk away if the home inspection reflects too many problems.
How Home Inspectors Should Be
Frankly, agents' usual problem with home inspectors is not so much that they'll whitewash certain defects as that they'll induce panic. A deal killer is not a home inspector who discloses; a deal killer is a home inspector who makes mountains out of molehills and doesn't know how to properly communicate with a buyer.
Here is how a good home inspector would disclose, say, a problem with the HVAC system:
- "The differential readings are low. This could mean the unit is low on refrigerant or it could be something more serious."
- "I recommend you hire a licensed HVAC contractor to further inspect the furnace and air conditioning."
- "The HVAC system is near its economic end of life, and you may want to gather bids to replace the system."
A deal killer home inspector, on the other hand, may approach the same situation like this:
- "I'm worried that the furnace is going to explode at any minute. Stand back."
- "That air conditioning unit will cost $20,000 to replace."
- "Man, I would not buy this deathtrap of a house."
Agents know what you should expect from the inspector—for starters, an exhaustive and complete written report, consisting of 20 pages or more. But it should be objective, devoid of editorial sentiment; it should not give price estimates for repairs. The commentary should detail different elements of the home, but never offer sweeping generalizations about it.
In an industry where 10 percent of the real estate agents sell about 90 percent of the homes, some agents may not have enough first-hand experience to know which home inspectors are thorough and qualified. Ask your agent frankly how comfortable he or she feels making recommendations; ask for several names and when you get them, don't hesitate to pose more questions: How often have you worked with this inspector? Why would they be a good choice for this job? Are they familiar with this area or type of residence?
If someone else you know has recommended a home inspector, run that name by the agent.
You don't have to go with your agent's recommendations. But if you do, your chances of finding someone competent are certainly better than plucking a home inspector out of the phone book or online directory.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.