By: James L. Goldsmith, Esq.
Who, if anyone, should attend home inspections has been a topic of debate for as long as home inspections have been a standard element in a residential transaction. Year ago when the topic came up at an NAR meeting of attorneys who represented state associations of Realtors, the room was divided, with roughly 50% saying that buyers should attend, but not their agents. I remember one outspoken attorney claiming that if an agent was not present to hear the spoken word of the inspector, he/she could not be charged with failing to pass the inspection comments on. As for me, I am not a supporter of “see no evil” or “head in the sand” approach.
Most of the lawyers at that NAR meeting, however, agreed that buyers should attend inspections. The reason should be obvious, but consider a recent transaction where the buyer sought an inspection of the sewer lateral from the home to the municipal system located in the street. The inspection primarily consisted of snaking a video camera through the lateral and visually assessing its condition.
The seller agreed to be present for the inspection so he could open the door to the inspector and direct him to the location of the line in the basement. Neither the buyer nor the salespersons involved in the transaction chose to attend. The seller, who was curious, watched the process and conversed with the inspector during the inspection. As they watched the monitor, the inspector pointed out dips in the lateral and explained they were probably caused by substandard work when the house was constructed. The inspector felt that the stone bed in which the lateral was placed was not sufficiently compacted and offered other criticisms that were either an educated opinion or complete conjecture. He also expressed that the dips would get worse over time. When the seller read the report he was surprised to see that, while the dips were mentioned, there was no reference to the hypotheses that were verbally expressed by the inspector. The seller was so concerned that he contacted his lawyer questioning whether he had a disclosure obligation that went beyond the written report.
It happens all the time. The inspector is generally all too happy to discuss his findings and the possible implications of those findings as he pokes about shining a flashlight in dark corners, behind water heaters and above drop ceilings. Yet, it’s very likely that what will appear in the written inspection report will be an abbreviation of those comments, if they are mentioned at all. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the buyer to have the opportunity to ask the sewer inspector what causes dips, whether they remain stable and what is likely to happen over how many years? More information is better. When buyers are told to focus not only on written conclusions, but also the inspector’s musings and mutterings they will get more out of the inspection.