What Happens When Inspectors Disagree About the Property?

Graphic of tall building, magnifying glass, and words "What happens when inspectors disagree?"Silicon Valley home buyers, sellers, and their real estate agents rely heavily on the professional advice, insights and opinions of home inspectors, whether it’s for the property generally (house, townhouse or condominium inspection) or for some other component, such as the roof, foundation, chimney, pool, heater, etc. One of the most frustrating – and sometimes maddening – experiences for everyone involved happens when inspectors disagree and their inspection reports provide conflicting advice.

Either extreme is bad, either “calling” something when it’s fine or missing something if it’s not.  Often resolution is accomplished by having yet another inspector come out OR by having the two who disagree meet at the property to sort it out.

Here are some real examples I’ve experienced first hand over the years while selling residential real estate in Santa Clara County:

  1. Over-called: General property inspector called for “further inspection” of heater, roof, or chimney because he said something’s wrong. Further inspection ordered by buyer or seller, and paid for by consumer – but the professional for that aspect of the home says it was just fine. Is it fine or not? The home buyer or seller is out some money and one of the two reports says there’s a problem with it but the other says it’s OK.  (This happened a few times where the general inspector “called” things that experts said were in good working order.  For that reason, I had to stop recommending him to my clients and began working with another inspector who wasn’t so over-eager that he called things which were not bad. When inspectors disagree with one particular inspector often, it’s time to find someone else.)
  2. Crawl space nightmare:  many homes have crawl spaces and if yours does, it’s important to either go down there yourself or have someone else do it for you periodically to check conditions there.  My buyers were purchasing a home near Carlton Elementary in Cambrian (Los Gatos border) and the pre-sale pest or termite inspection (the only one available) was from a company with the absolute worst reputation in the valley, and that report said that there was not one thing wrong in a 50 year old house (highly unlikely!).  We ordered new inspections, both home & pest.  Both my inspectors found a lot of damage in the crawl space, amounting to about $10,000 in damage not reported by first inspector.  The seller’s inspector had claimed to go into the crawl but it was evident that either he didn’t go or he didn’t do it thoroughly.  The seller wanted his inspector’s company to do the repairs but we negotiated for a more reputable provider and got it.
  3. My pre-sale chimney inspection, from a reputable inspector, said my listing’s fireplace and chimney were fine (Los Gatos border area, Alta Vista neighborhood).  We got the home sold and the buyers ordered a new chimney inspection, and that mason said it was broken.  My first inspector apologized for his error (after coming back out and looking at it again, verifying that it was, in fact, in need of fixing) and said he would do the repair at a reduced rate, but he couldn’t get to it prior to close of escrow.  We could not use him because this had to be done prior to close of escrow.  Since I had referred this man, I felt partly responsible for his error and offered to split the cost of the expensive chimney rebuilding with my clients. My sellers felt that was fair.  I never, ever hired that chimney guy again.
  4. Another house, another chimney: my pre-sale general inspection cleared the chimney in this lovely Cambrian Park home.  Buyers ordered a chimney inspection to be sure and a young kid (maybe 18 years old?) came out and said the chimney was broken and needed repairing. My sellers paid for another chimney inspection, and a seasoned mason looked at it and said it was fine.  The other agent and I arranged to have our seasoned mason and the boss of the young kid come out and both inspect it with everyone present.  They did and said it was, in fact, fine. The young kid was there and I asked him why he “called” it. He responded, “I wasn’t sure so thought it was safer to have it rebuilt”. (At a cost of about $2000 as I recall!) My sellers were out about $100 for their inspection but did not have to rebuild the chimney.  Sometimes, when inspectors disagree, it’s because one of them may be inexperienced.

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