|What home buying problems are predictable? What problems are preventable? Where does a home inspector draw the line between prognosticator and fact finder?|
People often ask me, "What is the most difficult part of your job?"
Being a home inspector is extraordinarily challenging because it requires so much discipline, knowledge and communication, all in conjunction with an almost infinite number of opportunities for mistakes.
A good inspector must: 1) be agile enough to enter attics and crawlspaces, and climb on roofs; 2) be able to work in extreme heat and cold; 3) stay on top of the industry standards, maintain knowledge of construction materials and have a broad understanding of building systems; 4) be able to work and communicate effectively with all types of people; 5) accept criticism graciously without being defensive; 6) maintain composure despite the hostility and anxiety of adversarial parties relative to the sale or purchase of a home, and; 7) share information and observations objectively and factually.
For years I've said the toughest part of my job was working with home sellers and/or real estate agents. Often adversarial parties to a transaction try to intimidate me, invalidate my conclusions, get offended by my findings, or minimize the problems I discovered. After 18 years as an inspector I've learned to let that type of stuff go so now that part of my job is easier to deal with, but another part of my job is causing me more anguish as time goes on...
As I've become more experienced I've witnessed numerous clients make bad decisions, most of which were avoidable. Consequently, the most difficult part of my job is maintaining my professional and ethical duty to keep personal thoughts and opinions to myself when I think someone is making a bad decision. Making matters worse for me personally is I feel responsible when another person's mistake leads to negative consequences that I might have been able to help them avoid had I intervened or communicated my opinions up front.
My cumulative life experience as a homeowner, restoration contractor, home inspector, property manager, and "adviser" to numerous friends and family members that are homeowners has provided me the background to predict the future fairly accurately, but my ethical and professional home inspector obligation as an objective fact-finder prohibits me from being able to share many of my premonitions. There are some predictions I'm obligated to share, like the life expectancy of a roof, when the furnace filter will next need to be changed, what times of year the gutters will most likely need to be cleaned to prevent them from getting clogged, or what locations on a roof ice damming is most likely, etc. However, there are many predictable outcomes I can't share with my clients, like the probability that a neighbor's unsupervised pets and children will drive them nuts; the likelihood home improvements will take twice as long and cost three times as much as hoped; the 100% chance that huge maple tree overhanging the house will fall at some point in time; or the inevitable disappointment that occurs when reality sets in after those drainage issues the inspector reported end up leading to water in the basement in addition to $20,000 of foundation repairs.
A home inspector should never tell someone they're making a bad decision or advise a person not to buy a home, despite the fact there are obvious signs the buyer or buyers are moving forward without considering the ramifications of their decisions in addition to ignoring or avoiding obvious pitfalls related to the property they've chosen to buy. If I did say, "Hey, what in the heck are you thinking?!?" it wouldn't solve anything, and would likely create some pushback or resentment from my clients for me not respecting their decision, so I bite my tongue (figuratively speaking). However, when I think someone is making a good home buying decision or I inspect what I consider to be an exceptionally well constructed home, I will often say something along the lines of, "I think you'll be happy in this house" or "I think you'll look back on your decision to buy this house as a good one" and as of this writing, no one that I've said those things to has ever come back to tell me I was wrong, but nonetheless I shouldn't say such things if it is influencing my clients' decisions.
The reason I and other home inspectors shouldn't share our opinions is because we're often wrong. No one can predict the future with certainty, and if I try to sway a person into either buying or not buying a home based on my opinions, then I've failed at my job.
A home inspector also can't predict or warn a buyer of every negative scenario possible because it would create too much fear.
I've discovered a tool that helps me help homebuyers consider the ramifications of their decisions, and also helps me conquer the frustration of not being able to speak out when I think obvious conflicts, problems or potential probelms are being ignored - I ask questions:
"Do you have contractors in mind to help you fix the problems?"
"Have you obtained estimates for planned repairs or modifications?"
"Will you move again if your employment situation changes?"
"What are your long-term plans?"
"What are the benefits of this home relative to your existing home?"
"Have you researched utility expenses, taxes, insurance, cost of maintenance and repairs, and loan interest?"
"Have you contacted an arborist to check out that tree overhanging the roof?"
Preparation is the key to success, and by helping people prepare I minimize the urge to share my own opinions.
In my next update I'm going to discuss what I consider the "10 Biggest Mistakes Homebuyers Make" in hopes that preventing people from making bad decisions up front will help me save them some grief and make my job easier.