Increasingly rigorous reviews are creating tension between agents and investigators.
It’s not hard to guess why a professional home seller would be wary of a home inspector. A negative inspection report can scare off a buyer and cost a real estate agent money.
“Different agents have different attitudes about home inspections,” says Kevin Dinkel, who represents the Baton Rouge area on the Louisiana State Board of Home Inspectors.
Some agents want to know everything that’s wrong with a house, so they can find another one if serious problems exist, he says. But others see a home inspection as just one more variable that can kill a deal.
Most homebuyers want a meticulous inspection. Inspectors who miss something important, such as deteriorating wood that turns out to be evidence of termites, can be exposed to lawsuits.
But how tough is too tough?
“When I first started real estate, inspections were great. We just worked through it,” says one experienced local agent who asked not to be named because “I don’t want all the inspectors to get mad at me.”
The agent says major problems such as poor rafter support in an attic or a nonworking heating and air conditioning system ought to be brought to light. But increasingly, she says, inspectors are coming up with multiple pages of “piddling stuff” like loose doorknobs that can seem overwhelming to a buyer.
“Now, it’s like the Realtors have become contractors to get all these repairs done, just so a house can close,” the agent adds.
“Some of them, more so than others, will try to play the inspection hero,” says Shannon André, owner/broker with Tiger Town Realty of Baton Rouge and Zachary. The wanna-be heroes will sometimes raise the possibility of foundation problems where there are none, she says, triggering the need to spend $500 for an expert to certify that the foundation is fine. One inspector said a house’s heater was “scorched,” a condition André says her heating and air conditioning expert had never heard of.
A buyer generally has 10 days after purchase to commission an inspection and can cancel the sale if not satisfied, Dinkel explains. The seller is not obligated to make repairs demanded by the buyer, so deals can collapse at this stage of the process.
A GROWING INDUSTRY
When Dinkel got into the business 25 years ago, perhaps one in 10 home purchases included an inspection, he says. Now, inspections are far more common, and consumers are more demanding.
“To the agent, the loose faucet may not be an issue,” Dinkel says. But the buyer might disagree.
“Through the years, we’ve had to include things in our reports that we didn’t do before, because we didn’t get the complaint before,” he says. “Now we get the complaints, so we go, ‘OK, I’ll add that to my list of things to check.’ ”
Other than a new requirement to check for mold, Dinkel says inspection regulations haven’t been tightened recently. However, he says more people seem to be getting into the inspection business, and the competition may be causing some inspectors to get tougher to stand out from the crowd.
There are probably between 300 and 400 active home inspectors in Louisiana, says Morgan Spinosa, chief operating officer for the state licensing board. But she says she hasn’t noticed any significant recent increase in the number of applications. The board says there is no standard price for home inspections and they vary widely across Louisiana.
In any event, greater competition wouldn’t necessarily inspire inspectors to get tougher, says Tom Cook, a commercial appraiser and Business Report contributor who often reports on the home market for the annual Baton Rouge Trends real estate assessment. In fact, he says it might lead some to be a little more lax, in hopes of getting more referrals from agents.
As an appraiser, Cook says, he gets similar complaints from people who think his appraisal values are too low.
“We’re always at odds with the brokerage community,” says Cook, who laughed when told that some real estate agents think inspectors are being too picky. “You’re always going to have the inspectors at odds with the Realtors.”
Larry Boudreaux, a Gonzales-based inspector, says buyers are becoming more savvy about inspections. He also says the Internet is influencing the business. There was a time when inspectors’ livelihoods largely depended on agent referrals.
“You had to kind of romance them a little bit,” Boudreaux says. “Nowadays, people just pick up their iPhone and Google “home inspection,” and my name and several inspectors’ names will come up. You’re not relying on the agents too much anymore, and I think they kind of resent that.”
Boudreaux, who prides himself on being thorough, says some agents aren’t happy to see him. But he works for the client, not the agent.
Some buyers want a super-picky inspection so they can try to squeeze concessions from a seller. Boudreaux says he puts essentially “everything” in his report, although when inspecting used houses he usually doesn’t list purely cosmetic scratches. Even when potential buyers point out minor dings, Boudreaux says he’ll sometimes talk them out of having him include those flaws in the final report.
If there’s one thing on which agents and inspectors can agree, it’s the need for educating consumers. Dinkel says buyers should understand that inspectors can’t predict the future or see through walls.
For a first-time homebuyer especially, a 30-page list of issues can be scary. Boudreaux makes a point of explaining to buyers that some minor problems are typical — if not unavoidable — for a house that’s been occupied for a while and don’t necessarily indicate poor maintenance.
André says she loves to work with a particular inspector who carefully walks a client through the report and explains what’s serious and what isn’t, handling first-time homebuyers with “kid gloves.”
“He’s very selective with the words that he uses in not scaring the homebuyer,” she says.
Ultimately, it’s buyers who get to say what’s truly relevant. And sellers must decide what’s worth fixing to keep a deal from falling apart.