Nudge nudge, Wink wink

By
Home Inspector with Residential Quality Analysis LLC

"Nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I mean, know what I mean, say no more, say no more! A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat!"

These lines from an old Monty Python sketch, while originally used in an, umm, ‘different' context, could just as easily apply to certain inspector/Realtor relationships. There are code words that are used in our profession(s) by inspectors and real estate professionals. The purpose of these code words is ‘secret' acknowledgement of an understanding. An understanding that the inspector, wishing to continue getting referrals, will use time tested language (inspectorspeak) to ‘technically' call out a situation (and hopefully cover his rear end from lawsuits or COE violations), while not being completely honest and plain spoken.

Non-alarmist is probably the most oft used code word. It means different things to different people. To an inspector, if he calls himself a non-alarmist, it could mean that he considers his checklist report to be sufficiently ambiguous and loaded with terms like ‘appeared to be satisfactory', ‘functioning at time of inspection', serviceable (whatever the heck that means), or even (yes, I have seen this on an actual report) ‘needs improvement'. Non alarmists are also fond of "recommending further evaluation by the appropriate trade professional", even when they know darn well that something needs repaired or replaced. Recommending further evaluation covers the inspectors butt and gives interested parties the opportunity to minimize the severity of the issue. To some agents a non-alarmist is an inspector who will not tell their (the inspectors) client, in writing, that the A/C is at the end of its' service life, it is running on borrowed time, needs to be replaced and is darn expensive. Rather, they will say that the unit (while knowing it is a goner) ‘functioned at the time of inspection, but needs servicing. Here is an example of non alarmist reporting from a another blog on AR;

The whole matter is complex. What wording will work for one client will not work for another. I just did an inspection for a young couple and every item I pointed out he came back with I can fix that with the exception of the HVAC units. The instant he heard that they were 18 years old he wanted them changed out. The AC did not function well with a 7° Delta T and a suction line beginning to freeze up. The unit probably needs refrigerant but that also means it has a leak. I wrote it up as functional but needing service. So did I sugar coat the issue or was that proper. The unit has R-22 and the phase out period is coming. Would he be better off replacing the unit with a much more efficient unit? Yes he would, this unit is 8 SEER and a new one would be 13 SEER and could have the newer R-410A refrigerant. I did mention this to him. He has been completely informed of his options. Should have I just come out and wrote up the unit as near useful life and in need of replacement? All statements are true but just how to write it up. No two inspectors will write this up the same way. I was an HVAC tech for 20 years and I could keep that unit limping along for a long time but we are talking about a young couple without the benefit of training and they will have to pay for every service call. Naturally you don't want to blow things out of proportion but we always have to keep our clients interests in mind even if it makes the Agent mad.

Keep in mind that a unit made 18 years ago had an average estimated useful life of about 15 yrs.

  

And my response;

I don't see much ambiguity there. The thing has reached the end of its' useful service life and is showing the effects. Servicing it is a patch. It won't last much longer and has very little value. It should be replaced. You know it and I know it. Why shouldn't your client know it (in writing)?

 What would you tell your daughter/mother/best friend?

 We try to make this stuff way too complicated. You described an HVAC unit that is basically worthless. Your client hired you to tell them just such a thing. Just tell them something like this;

The A/C has reached the end of its' useful service life, and is showing the effects of time and use. Servicing it would be a patch. It is not likely to last much longer. It should be replaced.

 "it did not function well with a 7° Delta T" (since they have no idea what this means, and they ARE the client, just say the temperature differential between the return and supply air was 7 degrees F and it should be between 14 and 20 degrees F) 

The unit probably needs refrigerant but that also means it has a leak (If you haven't found a leak or checked the refrigerant level, why say this? It is also a clumsy sentence that does not give your client much useful information).

"What wording will work for one client will not work for another"

If it is well written, it will work for everyone who can read.

"So did I sugar coat the issue"?

IMO, yes, you did.

I just don't see it as that complicated. You know the unit is shot, just say it is shot.

Now, let me be clear. I am not implying that the inspector quoted is either a bad inspector or a bad person. I think it is more likely that he is playing the game by what he thinks are the rules. He is taking his referral source into consideration when he reports his findings. When an inspector does this, can he truly claim to be independent?

 

The A/C has reached the end of its' useful service life, and is showing the effects of time and use. Servicing it would be a patch. It is not likely to last much longer. It should be replaced.

While I'm not claiming that my description above is perfect, I do feel that it directly, simply and accurately explains the situation with the A/C and what to do about it. I do not consider it to overstate the situation (which I presume is the premise for describing something or someone as alarmist). Why would an inspector hesitate to accurately describe such a condition? Does the description "functional but needing service", tell the whole story, or is it intentional, non-alarmist inspectorspeak? And most importantly, does such a description best serve the client, or the referral source?

Another well worn piece of code is ‘fair to the house'. This is usually applied to an inspector who, despite the property in question being a, shall we say, ‘rehab project', finds some positive comments to make. The problems with this are simple: The buyer already likes something about the property if they have commissioned an inspection. The sellers' agent has already pointed out the positive aspects of the home (and they are better at it than a home inspector is). And most importantly, that is not what the inspector was hired to do.

It is important that home inspectors and Realtors understand that the inspector is not a part of the sales team. The home inspector is not a stakeholder in the transaction. The home inspector is an independent expert source of information for the prospective buyer. For the inspector to truly be ‘independent' he can not consider, not for one moment, if his findings and the accurate reporting of his findings are going to affect the stakeholders in any way shape or form. This arrangement is best for everyone involved. For the inspector, he can maintain his integrity and the integrity of the profession. For the realtor, it reduces liability, boosts credibility and increases customer loyalty. And most importantly, the client gets what they paid for. An honest, competent job performed by their inspector working with their best interests in mind. An inspector who could care less if the deal goes down.

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Rainer
17,128
Jimmy Breazeale
Sherlock Home Inspections - Coldwater, MS

Mitchell, Mitchell, my brother....it's not the associations.  It's all on the individual and his ethics.  And opinions.  And we all know that opinions are like rear ends...we all have one.  Personally, I suffered through the first year because I promised myself starting out that I would never sell out.  My duty is to the person who is writing the check. Period.  As for the A/C unit in question, I think I probably would have been more inclusive in my comments.  I would say that with good maintenance, the unit may last a few years longer, but that it would be impossible to predict, that the unit is not as efficient as more modern units, cooling bills would be higher than with modern units, and the client would definitely want to consider the cost of having to replace it sooner than later.  Then I would provide them maintenance tips and some comparative information on new units as an adjunct to the body of the report.  Personally, if it is not a safety issue, about which I am purposely "alarmist", I believe providing good information and believing that the buyer will use good sense in making a decision.

I'm sure that most of you guys know a few realtors who refer you because you are tough.  That's a good thing.  We probably are a long way from doing anything about the low-balling franchisees and others who will sell their souls to the devil on the cheap to create a little volume.  As long as that is possible, there will be realtors who love them.  That's fine.  Let them hold hands on the way to the courthouse.

With a sensible market plan, and the right credentials (mostly those gained outside the associations), one need not worry too much about realtor referrals.  The good ones will learn about you and seek you out anyway.  I'm in a pretty small market, yet I have managed to reach consumers directly, mainly through Internet marketing.  I choose not to focus on the negative.  For instance, there is one town near here, an old railroad and cotton town that time forgot.  Several years ago, it's market got better as it was fed by a much more active (and increasingly expensive) market in an adjacent county.  Blue collar people and university staff began buying in the old town and commuting 20 miles.  In a town full of 19th century homes, you can imagine the condition some of them were in.  As a tough inspector, I don't get much business from agents with listings there.  Hardly any, as a matter of fact.  I charge more for those old houses, because I have to use my fine-toothed comb, and the inspections take a lot of time, lots of pics, and extra time putting reports together.  The guy who gets most of the business there is...you guessed it...a hand-the-report-to-you-in-the-driveway after an hour franchisee.  So, Mitchell, your observations have some validity.  There is NO WAY this guy can produce an accurate report on some of these homes using his methods, and the realtors will take it.  But so will that inspector in the long run....right up the butt in court.  But why worry over it?  They'll always be there, and when one is gone another will magically appear to take his place.  Just tell your prospective clients that "the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten." (author unknown) 

Jun 04, 2007 04:34 PM #5
Rainer
21,791
Mitchell Captain
AllSpec Professional Property Inspections Inc - Fort Lauderdale, FL
Home inspections in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach

Jimmy my brother it is not the associations fault.  It is the individual inspector. Some time ago a group (large) left ASHI because they could not live up to the new standards, so they move to another association. The association must take the lead and as far as I know association are made up of individuals. I'm not blaming anyone and I truly believe, sorry to say it will not change in my career lifetime.

As to winding up in court, I thought the same way you did but ten years latter the same inspectors are still in business.  Why, a number of  them are smart, they know the legal system, they carry E$O, they know how to write and from the most successfully suck up I know told me every time he is sued he adds another disclaimer to his report and contract. 

And so it is this fifth day of June in the year 2007. 

Jun 05, 2007 12:43 AM #6
Rainer
2,468
Tim Howe
Residential Quality Analysis LLC - Montgomery, AL

Jimmy,

Thanks for the response.

I would say that with good maintenance, the unit may last a few years longer, but that it would be impossible to predict, that the unit is not as efficient as more modern units, cooling bills would be higher than with modern units, and the client would definitely want to consider the cost of having to replace it sooner than later.  Then I would provide them maintenance tips and some comparative information on new units as an adjunct to the body of the report. 

Nothing there that isnt true and useful. But to me, it can be broken down into ' The A/C has reached the end of its' expected useful service life. It is not cooling properly and will, at the very least, need to be serviced or repaired'. Repair and maintenance of a unit this old will be an ongoing process. I recommend immediate replacement with a modern, high effeciency unit'.

I would not want my mom/daughter/best friend limping along with the unit in question. I would not buy the house without negotiating on the A/C. It has no value. Why should I (or my client) give the seller any money for it?  Of course, you gave the client enough info to make the decision. After that, I think it is a matter of style. But to say something like 'unit was functioning at the time of inspection but needs attention to maintenance issues' is soft selling a unit that has no value and will be a headache. My clients dont want headaches.

Thanks again

Tim

 

Jun 05, 2007 01:18 AM #7
Rainer
17,128
Jimmy Breazeale
Sherlock Home Inspections - Coldwater, MS

Agreed:  It's not the associations, but individuals within and without.  Yeah, those guys can stay in business with good marketing.  I had a pretty old hand ask me early on how I felt about "biting the hand that feeds us."  He was referring to realtors.  Now, guys, I've never been one to defer to age and experience, if age and experience is wrong.  I told him, "realtors don't write me the checks."  That's in a town near here, and I am just now getting business from over there, so I do know and recognize that there is that network.  But I market around them,and I know there are some who are sorely disappointed that I have survived.  Hey, it's a dog eat dog world.  But you don't have to run with the pack.  I've taken flak from all angles, believe me.  Wife, mother-in-law, sisters, wife's aunts, people at church wondering why in the world I hanging by a thread.  After all, you have to go along to get along, right?  But I am a stubborn man.  I kept explaining, the grocery store that sell sour milk won't be in the milk selling business long. I'll build my business on reputation, thank you.  Eventually, even your enemies will wind up giving you free advertising.  Informed consumers want to know, and informed consumers will know.

Agreed:  On all the points concerning that A/C unit..Except: I am remembering when I first bought a home.  I would have appreciated knowing my options.  Live with a higher bill for a little while, and hope the unit lasts a little longer?  Maybe the 4-5 grand isn't lying around right now.  Maybe I'll think about re-negotiating the price of the home to cover it, or ask the sellers to replace it.  I just want to be informed.  Remember, it is not on us to push a decision on our clients, but to fully inform them.  Maybe, as an ex A/C guy (among other things), I'm better able to do this.  I don't know what you guys' strengths are. At any rate, I feel comfortable that just about anyone would definitely be looking toward replacement from my comments.  And, like you Tim, I certainly wouldn't merely state that it is "functioning" at the time of the inspection, and now that I re-read your comments, I don't think we're very far apart at all..just mildly different wording.

Jun 05, 2007 01:52 AM #8
Rainer
21,791
Mitchell Captain
AllSpec Professional Property Inspections Inc - Fort Lauderdale, FL
Home inspections in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach
Rainer
17,128
Jimmy Breazeale
Sherlock Home Inspections - Coldwater, MS
Hey, Mitchell, btw...this is June 5th.:-)
Jun 05, 2007 05:41 AM #10
Rainer
21,791
Mitchell Captain
AllSpec Professional Property Inspections Inc - Fort Lauderdale, FL
Home inspections in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach

Hey, Mitchell, btw...this is June 5th.:-)

You can only fool some of the people not all. 

Jun 05, 2007 05:54 AM #11
Rainer
2,468
Tim Howe
Residential Quality Analysis LLC - Montgomery, AL

Jimmy,

I don't disagree with your hypothetical. I just feel like I did tell the client all of their options. To me it is obvious that it needs to be replaced. We all agree that servicing is patching. It is old. It has little value. It does not work correctly. It needs to be replaced. My client knows exactly where he stands going in. Whatever decision he makes ( and I will answer any and all of his questions, like all of us do) he lives with. But in writing, in my professional opinion I do not want any room to be misunderstood. It needs to be replaced.

Your way works too. A matter of style.

 

Tim

Jun 05, 2007 11:04 AM #12
Rainer
17,128
Jimmy Breazeale
Sherlock Home Inspections - Coldwater, MS
Dang, guys...if we keep agreeing with each other, next thing you know all the inspectors will be getting together to lobby congress for a national SOP and COE, written and enforced by us without input from the NAR or the builder's associations.
Jun 05, 2007 11:24 AM #13
Ambassador
1,709,615
Dale Baker
Baker Energy Audits and Commercial Properties Inspections - Claremont, NH
New Hampshire Relocation Real Estate Information
Very good post feature Tim
Jun 14, 2007 07:20 AM #14
Rainer
3,983
Calvin Bailey
A Closer Look Home Inspections - Oshawa, ON

"...There are code words that are used in our profession(s) by inspectors and real estate professionals. The purpose of these code words is ‘secret' acknowledgement of an understanding. An understanding that the inspector, wishing to continue getting referrals, will use time tested language (inspectorspeak) to ‘technically' call out a situation (and hopefully cover his rear end from lawsuits or COE violations), while not being completely honest and plain spoken...."

ingenuous, just ingenuous!

You know what most realtor's and home inspector's intentions and motives are when they use such words do you?

Your faulty generalizations, blanket accusations and insinuations that home inspectors and realtor's who use certain vocabulary or terminology have some type of dishonest or ulterior motive is nothing short of ingenuous - not to mention it may be revealing a little about your own motives and character!

I don't know the type of inspectors that you associate or regard as your peers - they may in fact be as you describe, but you know nothing about me, my peers or the realtor's I associate with. 

So perhaps you need to clarify if in fact you are NOT painting most realtor's and inspectors with the same brush as these pseudo-inspectors?

Is it any wonder why this board is so silent?

Jun 15, 2007 03:19 PM #15
Rainer
21,791
Mitchell Captain
AllSpec Professional Property Inspections Inc - Fort Lauderdale, FL
Home inspections in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach

The board or maybe you meant this blog is silent, because what Tim said is mostly the truth. You could be the honest inspector that deals with Realtors and I think that is great.

I have numerous articles that deal with Realtor and inspector relations  and a court case or two in which the court ruled you as an inspector can only have one client. You can not market to Realtor and then say your client is the buyer.

Now why would someone have a collection of these stories well I tried without success to tell my state legislators to forbid Realtor referrals. It is an inherent conflict as you can not serve two masters. You can rant and rave about honesty but Inspections is not a team sport.

Jun 15, 2007 03:44 PM #16
Rainer
2,468
Tim Howe
Residential Quality Analysis LLC - Montgomery, AL

Calvin, I have only read two of your blogs. Both deal with how to use ambiguous language in order to keep realtors happy. You said:

That being said, I think there are a lot of inspectors who are in fact "deal killers" and a lot of the time it is the home inspector that causes the problems. 

Is that a faulty generalization, blanket accusation or insinuation?

You know what most realtor's and home inspector's intentions and motives are when they use such words do you?

Yes. I do. And any inspector with more than 50 inspections knows this as well.

So perhaps you need to clarify if in fact you are NOT painting most realtor's and inspectors with the same brush as these pseudo-inspectors?

If you use such language and worry about whether or not the deal closes, then the brush was meant for you.

For example...while inspecting the roof, we find several valleys are in very bad shape.  A lot of inspectors will report to the client that the roof is shot and needs to be replaced.  A statement like this will very likely kill the deal!  Not to mention give the realtor fits! 

Again, you are concerned with the referral source and the deal. And who are these inspectors that would recommend a roof replacement for defective valleys? Another faulty generalization, blanket accusation or insinuation?

I also asked you in an earlier response to one of you blogs if you told your clients that "whenever possible, you would present your findings in a way that would not kill the deal"? Do you tell your clients that the "deal" is a concern for you? Is this the  language that you use in marketing to buyers (or do you market soley to Realtors?)? If not, why not? Why not tell your client that you will do a good inspection and then report in a way that ensures that your referral source is happy. Instead of letting them know that you could care less about the deal, that you are going to shoot straight and tell it like it is, deal be damned?  As many times as you mention the "deal", keeping realtors happy, etc., etc. etc., I am inclined to believe that you are intimately familiar with the code.

ingenuous, just ingenuous!

Oh, the sting. Keep the personal attacks comming. I get a kick out of them. But I would prefer a cogent argument as to why home inspectors should be concerned with the deal. All I have heard are rationalizations for using poor report writng as a way to keep the referrals comming.

 

 

 

 

Jun 15, 2007 04:14 PM #17
Rainmaker
78,319
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Calvin I do not think Tim is so powerful that he has caused the board to be silent.

It got a little more quite when the weather improved and is going through cycles.

You may notice there is more activity tonight and also the NACHI board has been a fun soap opera lately.

Jun 15, 2007 05:42 PM #18
Rainer
17,128
Jimmy Breazeale
Sherlock Home Inspections - Coldwater, MS
Man, it's a good thing winter's gone and everyone is busy.  This could get nasty.  My philosophy remains simple.  I work fer him or her what signs The Check or pulls out the card or the cash.  That means, the client.  Report writing is an art.  Explaining art is difficult.  But....pretty much any roof with "several valleys in very bad shape" is probably going to be "shot."  Unless the roof covering has been recently replaced, then much more than several valleys are going to have to be dealt with, and in this case a new roof covering would make me even more suspicious.  Questions remain.  Would this hypothetical valley have been viewed from atop? Stepped through? De-laminated old decking viewed from the attic? Rotted eave and fascia in the corners?  Occasionally what you mean to say in this media can get misconstrued, but that, too, indicates a need for better communication shills, which are of paramount importance in report writing.  It's possible that damage in valleys can be isolated to a degree, if debris such as pine needles were allowed to accumulate, and the roof be in serviceable condition elsewhere.  Would you recommend repairs to the valleys only?  Who wants to buy a home with a roof that looks like a patchwork?  Why would anyone agree to have extensive work done on several valleys of a home where those materials are new, and the surrounding material is, say, 5 years old.  All that means is that the new roof covering is automatically as old as the old material for all practical economic purposes.  Your client, the one writing you the check, the potential home buyer, needs to know this.
Jun 16, 2007 07:16 AM #19
Rainmaker
78,319
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Amen.

Hey Tim get your brother over here.

Jun 16, 2007 12:07 PM #20
Rainer
880
Mike Howe Business Operations Manager
Residential Quality Analysis LLC - Prattville, AL
Hey Tim, could'nt agree with you more, I am Tims Brother and business partner
Jun 19, 2007 09:57 AM #21
Ambassador
1,709,615
Dale Baker
Baker Energy Audits and Commercial Properties Inspections - Claremont, NH
New Hampshire Relocation Real Estate Information

Howdy Tim

I would like to give you my congrats on a very good post.

Jul 02, 2007 11:12 AM #22
Rainmaker
207,765
Erby Crofutt
B4 U Close Home Inspections&Radon Testing (www.b4uclose.com) - Lexington, KY
The Central Kentucky Home Inspector, Lexington KY
I hope lot's of home buyers get a chance to read the posts on this issue.  Good learning.
Jul 02, 2007 12:32 PM #23
Rainer
9,840
Chris Duphily
A2Z Home Inspections - Stroudsburg, PA
Stroudsburg PA Home Inspector
7 deg Delta T? This condensing unit is "beyond it's useful life"

If it's a 15 deg Delta T on the same unit I'd recommend budgeting for replacement. Explaining the reasoning behind the recommendation is key (imho), if my client can gain a reasonable understanding of the component in question then I know I have helped them make an educated decision.

 

Outstanding blog Tim. 

I echo Erby's comment as well!

 

Jul 02, 2007 12:54 PM #24
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