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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
There are other inspector disagreements which can cause stress, confusion and upset too. Sometimes it’s the best solution to something amiss. At other times it may be the level of danger present with a problem.
“Gray areas” are also problematic: Recently I had two inspectors, both of whom I trust and respect, disagree on whether or not the crawl space was safe to go into because it was extremely muddy. If there’s standing water in the crawl, most inspectors won’t go in because it’s dangerous (fear of electrical shock if there are any wires present – and usually, in the crawl areas there are wires). If it’s muddy, apparently some will go in and some will not (concerns about shock and chemical hazards, per link above). In the case of my inspection, one inspector didn’t want to go in but the second one did – which confused and upset my home buyer because he felt that if one of them could go in, both could. I phoned and explained my buyer’s upset and that inspector did return and do the crawl. But it was with great misgivings because he wasn’t convinced it was safe. That said, there was a LOT of damage under the home (so much so that my client canceled the sale). Had they not gone into the crawl, the results would have been disastrous for my client.
I have searched on several professional inspection websites and not been able to find an answer to this last question about muddy crawls. There’s certainly support online for being wary about them, but apparently not everyone is equally concerned so it does not appear to be a hard and fast rule or guideline. For standing water, yes – it’s definitely a “no entry” situation. But for muddy it remains unclear, as far as I can tell.
One of the best ways to avoid having conflicts is to hire exceptionally good inspectors. Most of the time, they will agree – they will not “over call” nor will they miss things. Of course inspectors are human and can have a bad day, get distracted, or simply make a mistake. If that happens, most of them will go out of their way to try to “make it right” one way or the other. When they do, we know that they can be trusted inspecting our clients’ homes or future homes and that they will do their best to give buyers and sellers the best information available.
When inspectors disagree – what can you do?
On the practical level, when inspectors disagree, normally we would advise getting another inspection done or bringing in a more senior person, if that option exists, from the company providing the inspection and report. Sometimes an inspector is less experienced and the more experienced person can provide clarity or construction. When bringing in another inspector, be aware that some of these professionals will be defensive, and possibly angry, that their judgement has been called into question. Handle with care. Often it’s best to meet with inspectors separately, but each situation has to be looked at individually.
In terms of my real estate practice, if an inspector makes a big error and then will not try to make things right, I won’t hire him or her again, of course.
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