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Sat, Dec. 07

Home inspector fads that didn't work

Happy July 4th everyone!

Hope you have a great weekend.

I had an email from a local real estate agent asking about a home inspector "buy it back" program. Apparently, a home inspector organization is saying if your home inspector misses something, they will buy your house back for what you paid for it. The real estate agent wanted to know what I think I about this program.

Before I answer that, let me tell you about my predictions for other fads in our profession. About 12 years ago Sears got into the home inspection business. I had colleagues express great concern about a large company like Sears putting us little one-man shops out of business. I was not concerned. I told them Sears wouldn't last a year in our business. Here's why: First you have to call an 800 number to schedule the inspection. Most clients want to talk to the inspector personally to ask questions. Second, the lady in Chicago scheduling the inspector's day doesn't realize she's having him go all the way across town two days in a row instead of scheduling the homes near each other on the same day. Third, most good inspectors will not want to be required to use a Sears home inspection report. And most important, all home inspectors get calls regarding past inspections. Most of them are not complaints (if they're a good inspector); the client may want more information on something in the report, or advice on how to correct it, or to schedule the inspector to come out and inspect the repairs that have been made. But there are mediocre inspectors out there, and Sears will also be getting some complaint calls. Sears has no idea how many of these calls they will be getting once they have dozens or hundreds of inspectors.

Then there was the franchise with a great idea, just not a practical one. The idea: A home inspector cannot be an expert on every system in a home. So, instead of inspecting everything, the home inspector will just coordinate a plumber, roofer, electrician, etc. Each of these experts will inspect their part of the home and report to the home inspector, who will deliver a complete report to the client/buyer.

This one was even easier for me. As a home inspector, I know most clients are buyers with a limited time to complete their inspections. I can imagine a home inspector impatiently waiting for that last roofer report to come in so he can deliver the report. And then getting a call about the roof, which he didn't even look at. And a home inspection, as I've written about here, is not just a combination of different inspections. Home inspection is a gr eat deal of Building Science- checking how the different systems work together. Of course, now that half the states have some type of home inspector regulation, this idea would never get off the drawing board.

Then there was the company that required the inspector to wear a suit and tie in order to look "professional." I come out of crawlspaces covered with dirt and spider webs (and sometimes spiders). I come out of attics covered with sweat and insulation. I don't think a sweat-soaked spider-splattered tie looks very professional.

I was right about all of these. I don't recall exactly how long any of them lasted, but it was not long.

In my humble personal opinion, I think this 90-day "buy your house back" is another idea that won't last long and will help very few people. Let's say a home inspector misses something expensive, like a faulty $500 water heater or $3,500 air conditioner, or even a $5,000 roof replacement. $5,000 is a big chunk of change to most people. But so is moving. I moved last year, so I can vouch for what a major pain it is. I don't want to move again for a very long time. So if a typical family finds out their inspector missed a $5,000 roof and some organization will buy their home back, would they sell their house back? Is it worth the cost and aggravation of packing up everything you own (again), finding a new home (again), buying a new home (again, and which most people can't do until their last home sells), actually moving everything you own (again), and then of course unpacking everything (again)? You will easily spend thousands of dollars and lots of time on this adventure, and likely jeopardize some long-term friendships if you ask the same people to help you move twice in 90 days. Most people would just find the $5,000 to fix the roof.

I believe that is what this program is counting on. But I believe this program will backfire. If I'm correct in my assumption that most people are not going to want to move again for $5,000, then the only people that will try to use this program are people with major problems with their home. Like a large home with a tile roof that has been leaking and damaged the sheathing. Or a home with major structural problems. These can be tens of thousands of dollars to repair. So this organization has to buy a house back for what you paid for it, invest thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in repairs, then sell it with all the related closing costs. I don't think this will happen very many times before they take a strong second look at this program.

Which is exactly what I said about Sears, group inspections and suits and ties. So let's wait one year and see if this program is still around, and/or if anyone actually used it.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 7,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at or visit

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