If I were a real estate agent and I had worked weeks, months, or even years with a client, I would dread home inspection time. Experienced real estate professionals know there are hundreds of ways a deal can fall apart, from credit and financing problems to appraisals to just plain cold feet. But certainly, one of the more common deal killers is the home inspection. But it doesn’t have to be. To help prevent home inspection time from becoming contract termination time, here are a few thoughts from the point of view of an experienced home inspector.
Houses and Home Inspectors Do Not Kill Deals
From my experience, there are three home inspection situations that lead to a canceled transaction. You might be surprised to hear two things are not on this list: the house and the home inspector. Having spent more than a dozen years performing more than 5,000 structural home inspections, I have found that some real estate agents do think that the home or the home inspector is to blame, but let’s step back for a minute and look at what really happens in these situations.
When the findings uncovered in a home inspection significantly alter the buyer’s expectations about what they thought they were buying, this causes problems. You might hear something like, “Gee, I thought I was buying X, but now that we have looked closely, I see the house is more Y” from your client.
From this point of view, the cancellation has everything to do with the client’s expectations coming into the inspection. It might be tempting to wish the home inspector had been less forthcoming about the condition of the house, but that implies that the client should experience some level of deceit or poor communication from the home inspector. The better solution to this common problem is buyers having more realistic expectations before they sign the contract. This is why I wrote my book, The Confident House Hunter—to teach people skills that will help them look at houses and evaluate risk so they are more prepared to make an offer on the right house. Here are the top three reasons buyers cancel a deal after the inspection.
1. Buyers Are Unprepared
There are no classes in college or high school to teach people how houses work or where risk lies in a residential building. Even professional real estate agents have little or no training to help them understand how to look at houses and identify issues; most of these skills are learned on the job through the school of hard knocks. This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by a new generation of home buyers, many of whom who did not grow up working on their houses with their parents.
2. Buyers Have Higher Expectations
Adding another layer of complexity to modern homebuying is how much our assumptions about houses have changed. Most buyers now expect a level of luxury and comfort in a house that consumers could scarcely have imagined as recently as the 1960s. The result is that people are now buying more expensive and more complex homes, yet have less understanding of how they are built or how they work. And in markets enduring tight inventory conditions, your clients have less and less time for decision-making, as multiple offers and spontaneous action become the norm and increase the chances for buyer remorse.
3. Technology Has Dramatically Improved Reporting
Further complicating matters is the reality that home inspections have changed as well. It’s a relatively new industry, and over the past 15 years, I’ve watched computer-generated reports, digital cameras, and other new tools lead to rapid innovation. Today, upon hiring a quality home inspector, a buyer can expect to receive a 40- to 60-page report with dozens or even hundreds of high-resolution color photos, detailed diagrams, and links to additional information. The reality is, your clients have access to more information and receive more data about the home they are purchasing than ever before. However, they often lack the tools to help them digest all of the facts.
A New Motto for Buyers
The number one reason deals fall apart after a home inspection is that the findings significantly change what the home buyer thought they were buying. Many make the mistake blaming the home inspector or the house. That’s why I created a new motto for home buyers: “All houses have problems, but every house is a great house for the right person at the right price.”
I’ve inspected houses that I felt were teardowns, meaning the property would be costlier to fix than it was worth. Upon giving this information to one homebuilder client, he said, “Great! I was hoping to tear it down anyway.” I have inspected other houses that I thought should be torn down, but buyers wanted to renovate them anyway because they were in love with the cabin-like feel of the place and they had the resources to make their dream come true, even if it was not the most cost-effective approach. If an inspection on a teardown can go well, then really any inspection should be able to be successful, right? Looking at property from this point of view, we start to see that “bad houses” are extremely rare, even though unrealistic expectations on the part of buyers or sellers can make them seem like they are common.
I am always surprised when people read my inspection reports and comment something like, “Oh, you hated that house.” I do not hate houses. I am simply doing my best to document the condition of the property so the right person can buy it at what they believe is the right price. I love houses; it is unrealistic expectations that I don’t like.
Are Home Inspectors Sometimes Responsible for Killing Deals?
One of the hardest things for me to hear is the charge that home inspectors are killing deals. I do feel that the industry could do more to train inspectors on both technical and communications skills. In fact, communication training is particularly lacking in home inspection schools and continuing education courses. But I also feel that the real estate industry could do more to prepare agents to teach buyers a better way to look at the “bones” of houses. I am not aware of any requirements for new real estate agents to learn anything about houses to get a real estate license in my home state of Washington, and maybe that should change.
The truth is all houses pose some level of risk, and there are skills everyone can learn to help evaluate that risk and make appropriate offers on the right homes. A more transparent approach could help us all show up to the inspection armed with realistic expectations. This could save everyone a lot of time and heartache, resulting in happier clients, better referrals, and a lot less talk about home inspections killing deals.