Tighter inspection practices stemming from COVID-19 need to remain in place post-pandemic. Here's why.
Inspector and client looking at condo unit

© Pormezz - AdobeStock

It seems like an innocuous request from buyers. “Can we bring someone to the home inspection?” First-time buyers may want to have a parent who’s funding the down payment by their side—or they may want to bring along a trusted friend who has purchased homes and “knows what to look for.”

At least in the short term, COVID-19 has changed home inspection protocols: Each of us quickly introduced a policy that only clients—those listed on the purchase contract—could attend the home inspection, and only if they wore a face mask and followed social distancing rules.

While some of these practices may eventually be relaxed, we believe the policy of allowing only the parties to the transaction to participate in the home inspection should remain in place. As a real estate professional, you want to do all you can to accommodate your buyer clients’ reasonable requests. It’s understandable. However, bringing a third-party guest to a home inspection can unnecessarily complicate the homebuying process, make the inspection job more difficult, and endanger those present.

In the past two decades, we’ve seen what used to be an efficient inspection process, accompanied only by buyers, turn into more of a show-and-tell. While practices vary from market to market, we’ve both seen home buyers bring groups of as many as 10 people to the inspection. Such groups make it difficult for home inspectors to focus on their job.

We call it the “home inspection entourage,” and in many cases, no harm is done. But entourages invariably increase the length of time it takes to do the inspection, they distract the inspector, and they can create real issues for homeowners.

Kids, in particular, can create issues with their idle hands quickly finding their way to personal items, like electronic devices, while their parents are trying to focus on what the inspector is doing and saying. While kids’ actions may be excused as youthful misadventures, it’s best if parents attend without them. And it’s not just kids. One of us once had a real “Oh, my God” moment when confronted by a buyer’s grandfather, waving a key to the backyard shed that he’d found in the seller’s underwear drawer.

Handling personal property not only violates the privacy of the homeowner, it also takes the home inspector away from the job, forcing the inspector into a delicate people management situation. One of us faced a traumatic situation when a 3-year-old boy, running around a poorly maintained backyard, fell on debris and ended up in the emergency room.

The Illinois Association of Home Inspectors is pushing to end the entourage trend and eliminate inspection parties in the long term, using temporary COVID-19 protocols to turn back the clock to days when only a buyer and a real estate professional would attend the inspection.

For real estate professionals, we have a simple message: Please help to end the inspection party trend. Inform your buyer clients up front that it’s better for all involved to have parents, friends, and kids stay home. If the buyers want someone who “knows what to look for” at the inspection, remind them that’s the job of a qualified, licensed inspector. A buyer’s agent can always work with the seller and listing agent to arrange additional showings for family members or friends who’ll be involved in the purchase decision. And once the inspection is complete, you can ask the inspector to review the report with the group and answer questions.

The invisible threat of COVID-19 has brought the issue to the surface. But what holds true during the pandemic will hold true in general: The fewer people around, the better for all. Since we began asking buyers to limit attendance to just those on the contract, inspections have become much smoother. The job gets done as it always has but without the potential hazards of an entourage.