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Wed, Jan. 29

Who should attend house inspections?

Q: I'm buying a home in Prescott, and I was told by friends and family that I should be there for the entire home inspection. I called several home inspectors (including you) and was told by some that they didn't want me there until the end of the inspection. Why wouldn't an inspector want the buyer there for the entire inspection? And another question: I assumed the sellers would not be present, but my Realtor told me the sellers would likely be there during the inspection. Shouldn't the sellers provide me some privacy with my inspector?

A: Good questions. Many inspectors welcome the client to attend the entire inspection. I ask the client to come at the end of the inspection,for several reasons.

Years ago I was inspecting an occupied home. The sellers were not at home. While I was on the roof, the clients arrived in a minivan with about 26 of their closest friends and relatives. Before I could get off the roof, they walked through the muddy yard and into the home. After they left, I was on my hands and knees for a couple hours cleaning the home. I've also had buyers arrive with three or four kids that were exploring the home on their own. The point is that while I'm on site, I'm in charge of that home, and I take that responsibility very seriously. The clients are not going to go on the roof or in the attic with me, so I don't want them there until I can give them my undivided attention. I always try to leave a home exactly as I found it, including always changing my shoes when I go inside the home. I consider this common courtesy to the sellers, whether the home is occupied or not.

Another reason is that I'm not going to talk about the inspection until I'm done. A quick, true story: Years ago I had a buyer with me during the entire inspection. We were standing under the gable end of the home and there was visible water damage to the eave. There was a wood-sided chimney directly above this area. I told the client that I often find leaks around these chimneys. I rarely find saddles above the chimneys to divert the roof water around them and, in older homes, the flashing is often questionable. I even drew pictures for the client of proper step and counter flashing. When I walked the roof the flashing was perfect, so I figured someone must have improved it after discovering the leak. When I went in the attic, I found a water line from an evaporative cooler that had been removed. The water line was dripping, and someone had moved it out over the eave. I told the client to forget all that stuff I told him about the chimney ­ there was a water line dripping in the attic.

At that point I realized that until I complete the entire inspection I may not know what caused that stain or what that valve in the hall closet is for. I inspect the attic and crawlspace last, after I have run water in all the fixtures, checked the furnace distribution, know how many exhaust fans and gas appliances there are, etc. The attic and crawlspace inspections are very important, and I don't want to start talking until I've been there.

When I started this policy of having buyers meet me at the end of the inspection, it was not accepted by all clients or Realtors, and even other home inspectors argued with me that it makes more sense to have the client there the whole time. Now I know quite a few other inspectors in Arizona who have adopted this policy. Perhaps they spent a couple hours cleaning a floor.

And one other thought: Do you really want the person inspecting your most expensive belonging to be distracted, or do you want him or her to concentrate on the job? I know I don't want to watch or distract the mechanic that's working on my truck.

As far as the sellers being home, I know that some Realtors ask the sellers to leave the home during a home inspection. I never ask the sellers to leave. Of course, I respect the Realtors decision. It's possible the Realtor is afraid the seller may distract the inspector, or they may have asked the seller to take the four man-eating Rottweilers for a long walk.

However, I do like privacy with my clients. I usually talk to them in the garage if the sellers are home. This allows me to talk and my client to ask questions freely. I have spoken to the clients and sellers several times. Usually it goes OK, but sometimes the discussion takes much longer because the Seller wants to explain items. For example, once I told my clients that the toilet in the master bathroom did not flush properly. The seller insisted that we go to the bathroom, where he showed us that if you hold the handle down exactly seven seconds and then hit the right side of the tank twice the toilet will flush perfectly every time. I don't know how I missed that.

Another time I was telling my client they needed a spark screen on the chimney for the wood-burning fireplace. The seller, an elderly lady, stated her neighbor complains about that. I asked her if it was the neighbor down below in the back, with the wood shingle roof. She said, "yeah, that's the guy. Every time I use that fireplace he calls me saying something about a spark screen." I could picture the guy looking out his kitchen window and watching hot embers fall on his wood roof. I thought to myself that I'd be on the phone, too.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is a state-certified home inspector, and has performed more than 4,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West is president of the Arizona Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Contact him at editorial@prescottaz.com.

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