Home & Garden Columns

About the House: Detailed Inspections Can Benefit Sellers By MATT CANTOR

Friday January 27, 2006

Eighteen years ago, when I started in the inspection business, my clients were always buyers and never sellers. In fact, sellers and, all too often, their agents, viewed the inspection as an assault on their homes. This was often miserable and I was sometimes foolish enough to take the bait and join in the adversarial tone of the conflict. When sellers insisted on being home, pitch-fork in hand to defend their turf from my unfair assertions, I would debate and even argue on occasion.  

Then one day the light bulb came on for me and I realized that this did nothing for my client, the buyer. All I was doing was showing off how much I thought I knew and possibly endangering my client’s deal for nothing more than my hubris. Today, I’m more apt to understand how nervous the seller is and to offer them assurances, letting them see that I’m only there to help. And to lessen their liability by informing the buyer about vital issues that may affect their money or their life. 

The truth is, I now do about a third of my business for the seller instead of the buyer. Sellers and their agents have started figuring out that presenting a thorough report on the condition of the property when they’re showing the house does a number of very powerful things for them. For your edification, here are just two: 


Liability protection 

When a seller has the house inspected prior to sale, they greatly reduce the likelihood that they’re going to get into trouble with the buyer somewhere down the line. Major issues get looked at and talked about. The realities are laid down in plain type for all to see and these documents get signed and dated by the buyers in the course of sale so that a record remains to prove that sellers were told about the damaged foundation or the leaky pipe. Strangely, these realities don’t keep most people from proceeding with the sale. We all expect old houses—actually, all houses—to have some problems. It’s natural. But now it’s been recorded in detail for future reference and also so that the buyer is conditioned to the realities.  

People in Berkeley don’t buy houses simply because they have good pipes or good foundations. If that’s all they cared about they’d all be living in Tracy. They buy houses for their charm, for the neighborhood, the big living room, the nice backyard and the proximity to schools and shopping. The physical stuff is secondary. So the fact that people are told about these failings doesn’t necessarily stop them from buying, but it does inform them so that they can go forward without remorse. There are, however, some folks that will not want to buy your house once informed about a particular problem (or perhaps 10 particular problems). Trust me when I say that you don’t want them to buy your house anyway. It is far better to move on to a buyer who buys happily; that way you don’t have to wonder when the other shoe will drop, ending up with a regretful buyer to cope with (or their attorney). 


Improved Negotiations 

So you have a buyer. They read about the old furnace, the crack in the foundation and the flat roof. They understand about these facts and they love the house. They’re going to make you an offer that they think will get you to say yes. That’s the whole idea, right? They’re going to try to avoid taking into account as many of the future costs as they can so that you’ll say yes. This is common logic. Then comes the clincher. What usually happens, except in the most vigorous seller’s market, is that inspections are done after the deal is made and then, as facts come out, buyers and their agents endeavor to reduce the sale price based on new discovery. “Hey, we just found out that that the heater is kaput, can you drop by the price by six grand?” “Oh my, the foundation will need a $12,000 repair. Will you split it with us?” 

If you’ve presented these things up front in a report from the get go, there will be far less of this occurring. There is no way to prevent new revelations or new opinions from erupting but they are far fewer and often non-existent, when sellers have taken this bold step. 

Sellers also get rightly perceived as having less to hide and as being more forthright when they obtain thorough inspections for themselves prior to putting their houses on the market. This does mean one very important thing, though. It means that if you are such a person, you need to be willing to have the bumps and warts revealed by your own representative and at your own expense.  

Occasionally a seller will ask me to slant my report one way or another and, of course, this is both ethically improper and legally unwise. I will calmly explain that the full expression of the facts from a neutral perspective helps them enormously. The truth is that most people are very willing to have a fair disclosure of their house presented to the buying public once they understand how it all works. 

If you’re buying or selling, get to know an inspector. The condition of the house certainly isn’t the only thing that matters, but not knowing can sting a whole lot more than knowing.