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Sat, Jan. 18

Column: Inspectors are not privy to Realtors’ conversations

This week’s question comes from a Realtor:

“Randy, I have seen many inspection reports over the years. I have seen reports that recommend a licensed roofing contractor to replace a few shingles, or a licensed electrician to replace a missing outlet cover.

“As a buyers’ agent, I would like to know why some home inspectors recommend expensive professionals for minor improvements. I have seen buyers ask for every recommendation in a home inspection report.

“As a sellers agent I am not privy to the conversations between the buyers and their home inspector and Realtor. Do home inspectors tell buyers that the seller of a home has to fix everything in the report?”

Privy. That’s a neat word. Although I don’t know why it makes me think of a bathroom. There are two good questions here, so I’ll try to come up with at least one good answer.

First, why do home inspectors recommend experts for minor repairs or improvements? Because we have to. The Standards of Professional Practice for Arizona Home Inspectors states that we must inspect certain systems and components, e.g., heating systems, roof shingles, etc. Components make up a system - the furnace, ducts, filter, etc. (components) make the heating system. The Standards also state that a home inspector shall:

2.2 C. 3: “state any systems or components so inspected which were found to be in need of immediate major repair and any recommendations to correct, monitor or evaluate by appropriate persons.”

The glossary in the Standards defines “immediate major repair” as “a major defect, which if not quickly addressed, will be likely to do any of the following: 1. worsen appreciably, 2. cause further damage, 3. be a serious hazard to health and/or personal safety.”

So inspectors have to recommend an “appropriate person” for any “major defect.” I warn my buyers/clients not to confuse major defect with major expense. A leak under a sink can “cause further damage” and a missing electrical outlet next to a sink can “be a hazard to personal safety.” The leak may not require any expense, just tightening a loose pipe or fitting. An electrical outlet cover costs 50 cents and most 10-year-olds can install it. But inspectors in Arizona are required to recommend an “appropriate person” to correct these.

Now for the second question - do home inspectors tell buyers what a seller should fix? There is no law, rule or regulation governing this. But common sense says Absolutely Not!

I have been asked by a buyer many times if they should ask the seller to fix something I pointed out. My immediate answer is Not My Department. If I’m in one of my rare serious moods I will tell them I don’t know if the home has been on the market for a day, week or month. Or if the seller or buyer are “handy.” Or if the buyer paid full price or low-balled. And all of those could influence what a buyer should ask a seller to fix, or what a seller may be willing to fix.

But more often when a buyer asks if a seller should fix something I tell them all I can say is this is the problem, this is why it’s a problem, and I may offer suggestions on possible improvements. But I never comment on who fixes it, or when, or who pays for it. I am not a city or county inspector, and I have absolutely zero authority. No one listens to me, and that includes my wife, two sons and three dogs.

I always tell my clients they should discuss the report with their Realtor, who can advise them on what to ask for. And I’m not privy to those conversations (you knew that was coming).

Early in my career, I was inspecting a 30-year-old home. It had the original dishwasher, and when I opened the door, I was immediately assaulted. By an odor. A very bad odor. The interior of the dishwasher had yucky water (or something) in the bottom and was very rusty. I quickly shut the door. The seller was nearby and asked if I thought it was worth repairing the dishwasher. My nose was burning and I needed to get out in the fresh air, so I blurted out something about it probably wouldn’t cost any more to get a new dishwasher that would run quieter and do a better job of washing dishes (I left out “and not give anyone nosebleeds”).

The next day everyone was mad at me. The buyers asked for a $100 credit for a new dishwasher. The seller stated they don’t need one. Sears had already come out and installed a brand new dishwasher. The buyers asked if it was white like the other appliances, and the seller said yes. The buyers were planning to buy all new stainless steel appliances, so they asked the seller why he had a new dishwasher installed. He said the home inspector told him he had to.

So the buyers were upset - they had a new $350 dishwasher they didn’t want. The seller was upset - he could have gotten away for $100 and not had Sears tear up his kitchen (not to mention release that toxic odor). And the Realtors were mad at me for telling the seller he had to replace something. I told both Realtors that I knew they were not privy to my conversation with the seller, but I assured them I had NOT said anyone HAD to do anything.

So now if a buyer asks me who should fix it, I say discuss it with your Realtor. I can’t discuss my inspection with the sellers, but if they know something is wrong and ask me about fixing it, I strongly recommend that they don’t do anything until they hear from the buyer.

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 randywest2@gmail.com or visit http://inspectprescott.com.

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