Choosing a home inspector

James L. Goldsmith, Esquire
Brett M. Woodburn, Esquire

What are the key factors buyers consider when deciding on a home inspector?

Some will undoubtedly turn to a nationally-recognized home inspection company, while others will be swayed by the promises and proximity of a local home inspection company. Most will rely on their buyers’ agents to cull through the names, promises and marketing efforts in order to settle on their "one" inspector. Here are some thoughts, observations and recommendations for you, as the buyer’s agent, to consider and, perhaps, adopt.

The industry has evolved from one in which inspections were almost never done to the current environment in which inspections are almost always elected. From what we hear, most inspectors do a very good job. When you consider that an inspector is very limited in the breadth and scope of knowledge about the property they are inspecting, it cannot come as a surprise that they try to protect themselves with exculpatory clauses and limitations on liability. Inspectors charge relatively modest fees, but are faced with unreasonably high expectations from consumers and licensees alike. No wonder an inspector who visits a property in late July of a hot, dry summer refuses to prognosticate the water infiltration that will occur next March after excessive and prolonged rains.

Regardless of the quality of the inspector and his/her inspection, buyers will be disappointed when their properties spring a leak (figuratively or literally). Of course, when that happens, buyers will blame their inspector for failing to detect it and will blame you for selecting the inspector.

Several times a year, we are called upon to defend a licensee in a lawsuit in which one of the claims is blaming the buyer’s agent for selecting an incompetent home inspector. We have yet to see a homebuyer who has succeeded on this theory, in part because Pennsylvania does not recognize a cause of action for the "negligent referral" of a home inspector. Understandably, if the problem discovered is because an inspector failed to find what an inspector should have found, then the problem rightly is laid at the feet of the inspector and not the licensee who referred him/her. While this might sound like a win, few who experience the legal system first-hand feel that way. Instead of figuring out how to win a lawsuit, the objective should be to avoid finding yourself in a situation where a buyer can blame you for a perceived bad inspection.

No one reading this article refers their buyer to a single home inspector: you give them a list, you give them at least three names, you tell them that they can select from a list of inspectors that will pop-up in an internet search. You don’t remember the specific conversation, but the practice is invariable. It’s done the same way every time. Of course, the buyer remembers things differently . . . If that’s the case, which one of you is telling the truth? We believe you. We also believe that the buyers have no real memory of what you told them about hiring home inspectors other than "you must hire a home inspector."

We all know that no home is perfect. That is why you encourage your buyers to investigate and assess the property to best assure that it meets their expectations. Make sure your buyers read the seller disclosure statement and encourage them to ask questions.

Tell them to hire experts. Which ones? It depends. Begin with a home inspection. A home inspector is like your family physician who can look at all of the systems and guide you to a specialist, if needed. It is important that you remind buyers that they bear the risk of problems that arise or come to light after settlement. Since it is their potential loss, they have to decide the nature and extent of their due diligence.

Encourage your buyers to schedule the home inspection as soon as possible. That will leave time for follow-up inspections. What do you do about actually selecting the home inspector? Even with all our years of experience, we cannot provide you with the foolproof answer. Regardless of what your experience, marketplace or circumstances of the transaction dictate, consider reminding your buyers of the following:

Regardless of whom you select, keep in mind that I cannot control the result and I am not responsible for how the inspector performs his or her inspection. That I think a particular inspector is top-notch may be of little solace to you if he or she misses a problem.

This does not mean you are home free. Buyers will continue to sue for good reasons and bad, and we will continue to defend you. You, the buyers’ agents, want to best insulate yourselves from potential liability, and one way to do that is to stress what is true and important for your buyers to hear. When buyers take seriously their due diligence and when they understand they are at the center of the process, fewer mistakes are made.

This article was co-authored by Brett Woodburn, Esq.

Copyright © James L. Goldsmith, Esquire, CALDWELL & KEARNS, P.C., 2016

All Rights Reserved

Jim Goldsmith is an attorney with Caldwell & Kearns and serves as general counsel to PAR. A substantial portion of his practice is dedicated to providing advice and counsel to real estate licensees. He and his firm represent and defend real estate salespersons and brokers in civil lawsuits and licensing claims across the Commonwealth. Jim also defends REALTORS® in disciplinary hearings conducted by the Real Estate Commission. He routinely counsels employers on employee relations issues and is one of the voices of the PAR Legal Hotline. He may be reached atwww.realcompliance.com