What makes a great home inspector?
For starters, you know your stuff. Whether your keen eye for detail comes from decades in general contracting or an insatiable curiosity about the latest innovations in home construction, you know exactly what to look for in a house — and you can explain what you’re seeing to even the least experienced first-time buyer.
You know just how important it is to do a thorough job for your clients, and you want to help them understand everything possible about the property you’re inspecting.
And for the most part, these personality traits serve you well in your profession. You have information that people need and the willingness to roll up your sleeves to deliver on your promise of a thorough inspection. This is great!
But — there’s always a but!
The flip side to being so good at your job is that sometimes home inspectors can get a reputation as deal killers. This isn’t entirely fair, of course — you’re being paid to deliver information that buyers need, even if they don’t necessarily want to hear it.
But the truth is that real estate agents and home buyers are deeply interested in getting deals to go through. Buyers want their dream home; agents want to give it to them — and make their commission to earn their living while at it. So when an inspector uncovers serious problems during a home inspection, deals can fall through. Buyers may want to back out to avoid financial problems, or sellers may balk at making requested repairs.
This is out of your hands as an inspector, but real estate agents have long memories. In a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, real estate agents reported that home inspections were the number one cause of terminated real estate contracts. They were also blamed for delayed closings.
Now, most of these inspection reports uncovered legitimate problems with a property. But that’s cold comfort for an inspector who has to deal with a reputation as “difficult,” “too picky,” or — worst of all — a “deal killer.”
So how can you avoid getting labeled as a deal killer while still upholding your high standards on the job? Try these tips to keep your advice balanced and your career on track.
Educate clients about your role
It’s not hard to find an internet chat board where disgruntled buyers blame the home inspector for “killing” their dream home deal. Obviously, this isn’t your goal, and these comments show a lack of understanding about the home inspector’s role in a real estate transaction.
The home inspector provides an expert and neutral evaluation of all the visible components of a house. The inspector does not make specific recommendations about whether to buy the house, whether the lender should deny the mortgage, or how to negotiate for a better price with the buyer. Once the inspection report is complete, your job is done, and you have nothing to do with the sale’s closing.
As a trained inspector, you already know all this, but it can be very helpful to educate your clients about your role up front. This will reduce the likelihood that buyers will blame you for the report’s results, and they’ll better understand exactly what’s included in your services. Consider adding a new page or tab to your business website that explains your role in detail, including a list of what an inspector does and does not do for their clients. Doing a little education now can save much frustration and heartache later.
Make connections with real estate agents to broaden your client base
Real estate agents are your number one source of referrals, so it’s crucial to cultivate good relationships with this community. Seek connections with more real estate professionals through your local Chamber of Commerce and other professional organizations. As you do so, you can take the opportunity to promote yourself and your services while assuring agents that you have their best interests at heart.
In addition to general networking, you can also use your new connections to educate agents about the work of the home inspector. Consider creating a webpage or handout that details exactly how your services help real estate agents build their reputations. You can include information about:
- Your commitment to a code of ethics
- A tip sheet for better preparing buyers for the inspection process
- Education about the benefits of pre-listing inspections
- An assurance that you’re on the same team in working in the buyer’s best interests
Casting a wide net is also a good business practice. The more real estate professionals you work with, the more good reviews you’ll have to balance out a lone voice crying “deal killer” into the wind. It doesn’t happen often, but you can soften the blow by cultivating strong relationships.
Focus on what you actually see and avoid speculation
When you’re an experienced inspector, it can be tempting to make predictions in your report. You’ve probably seen the same problem dozens if not hundreds of times, so you have a sixth sense about when a furnace will fail, or a dishwasher is on its last legs.
But there’s a fine line between reporting the facts and making educated guesses about future problems — and speculation is one major way that inspectors can unwittingly become deal killers. Your best bet? Create highly detailed reports that spell out everything you see during an inspection, including photos that document your descriptions. Be as thorough as possible, but stop short of speculating about things you can’t actually see.
This often means using some careful wording. For example, you might be very sure a house has lead paint because you’ve seen the signs before. But if you’re not conducting an actual lead test, be careful with your wording. It’s appropriate and accurate to describe the way the paint is peeling and point out that there’s a potential for lead paint based on the age of the house. You may know in your gut that it’s lead, but your wording should reflect only what you can see during your walkthrough.
Maintain a neutral tone in your inspection reports
In addition to sticking to the facts rather than any hunches you may have, you’ll also want to watch the tone of your writing in your final report. That means avoiding language that will feel too dire or scary for your clients. Think carefully about the adjectives you choose to describe what you see. Instead of using qualifiers like “awful,” “bad,” or “terrible,” try being more exact.
For example, you might be tempted to describe cabinets as having “shoddy carpentry,” but it would be more accurate to note that “the doors don’t sit flush against the frames.” This wording helps you avoid passing judgement and instead provides your clients with more detailed information — ultimately letting them decide how they feel about the things that you uncover.
Pro Tip: Even if you’re personally well-versed in building codes, home inspectors are not expected to include an assessment of whether a house is up to code in their reports. Talking code with clients is one of the more notorious “deal killers,” and it’s an unforced error — you have no obligation to inspect for code. Skip it!
Hold the line on safety issues
While it’s always best to maintain a neutral tone and stick to the facts, you should never feel that you have to withhold information just to help smooth the way for a quick closing. You have an ethical responsibility to create a full report, and you could open yourself to liability issues if you gloss over a safety issue.
If you suspect that an aspect of the home is unsafe, definitely say so in the inspection report! You can be accurate without being overly dramatic simply by describing what you see and explaining how and why it can be a hazard. And, of course, you should always adhere to any additional state regulations about reporting safety issues that you come across.
Develop optimism and enthusiasm for houses
One of the best ways to avoid a deal killer reputation is to maintain a generally positive attitude about houses. Sure, you’re going to see some things that make you roll your eyes and mutter “What were they thinking?!” But if you walk into a house expecting the worst, your clients will catch your vibe and start to think that a house is a disaster — even when things are totally fixable.
To avoid giving off a curmudgeonly aura, try approaching each property with some optimism. After all, just about everything can be fixed! The question is more about the time and money involved to do so, and that’s for the client to decide. If you approach the job with enthusiasm and curiosity — and a real desire to share your knowledge with your clients — they’ll see you as a trustworthy ally instead of someone taking a metaphorical wrecking ball to their dream house.
Need a little help making sure your inspection reports impress your clients — and their real estate agents? HomeGauge can help! Our home inspection software is designed to help you create the most thorough, readable reports around. Get in touch to find out more.