Things Inspectors should NEVER say to a client (or 10 Commandments for Good Communication)

Home Inspector with Precision Home Inspection

"Are you really considering buying this place?"

That's what one Realtor overheard as an Inspector went about his business.  I got dozens of horror stories in response to my blog about Realtor-Inspector relationships.

Thou shalt not scare the clientIt consistently amazes me that the inspection world spends so much time on educating inspectors about construction, codes, materials and methods and little or NO time teaching effective methods of communication.

Every source I have ever come across spends more time teaching inspectors how to write vague, CYA language into their reports - the infamous "recommend inspection by a qualified professional" - and other methods to avoid lawsuits than they do how to present the findings to clients and agents.  (As an aside, I think inspectors are the single most lawsuit-fearing people I have ever met in my life - but that's a topic for another day.)

Most of the grizzled old veteran inspectors have their way which they would change two stone tablets dropped from the sky onto their truck, with 10 rules for better methods.  (They would, however, write up something overhead as inherently dangerous and probably refer it out for further evaluation.)

So, with that in mind, here are my 10 Commandments for Inspector Communication

1.  Thou shalt not scare the client over small stuff  Every ungrounded outlet isn't a death trap, and they are called "common shrinkage cracks" for a reason.

2. Thou shalt not offer advice on how to "negotiate" the repair with the seller or offer insight as to what the seller should correct or offer credit for  I can't believe guys do this, but they do.  You don't like it when the Realtor tries to be an Inspector, so stop trying to do the Realtor's job.

3.  Thou shalt remember it is the CLIENT's inspection, and THEY are the boss  This should go without saying, but I hear so many guys talk about "controlling their inspection" that I had to add it.  The Client is the boss (say it with me).   Their questions are all important, and their participation is welcomed

4.  Thou shalt not treat the Realtor as the enemy  Again, obvious.  You are both working in the best interest of the client (hopefully).  The Realtor has spent countless hours with these people building a relationship.  Whether you like it or not, the client trusts and respects the agent and treating them with disdain makes you look bad.  Despite what you've heard, they are not about grabbing money or a single sale - they get business based on reputation just like you.  There's never a need to put anyone down to make yourself look better - it usually works out just the opposite.

5.  Thou shalt not refer things out for further inspection, unless you are not able to make the determination yourself.  This is a chickens#@t way of trying not to be sued.  If you are just going to refer for further inspection by a roofer, chimney sweep, HVAC pro, plumber and electrician - why did they bother to hire you?  Give your professional assessment of what you see (you can add your CYA clauses into the report at the beginning).  If you can't see the chimney liner, obviously, refer it out or disclose it.  But don't write "recommend inspection by..." unless you can't see or just don't know. 

6.  Thou shalt use some common sense and BE HUMAN  You can make jokes or smile.  You don't have to put on special equipment to take the electric panel cover off.  Everything you say and do helps shape the client's perspective - if you are as serious as death or look like you are going to work in a power plant, the client's nervousness-meter goes off the charts.

7.  Thou shalt not divert the client with some menial task (like taking measurements) and listen to the client  A corollary to #3.  They are there for answers, encourage them to participate. Effective listening is 50% of good communication.

8.  Thou shalt not talk in jargon unless you can't possibly think of any other words  They already accept you as a skilled expert.  You don't have to talk over their heads to impress anyone.  In fact, it just frustrates everyone and makes for more questions.

Nervous Buyer9.  Thou shalt refrain from editorial comments about the house  No eye rolling, grunting, low whistles, or "oh, no's."  No "passing" or "failing" anything, and no "well, if I was a buyer..." - especially over things that are small potatoes, common, or easily corrected.  Remember, the buyers like this house - it isn't your job to pick it apart, it's your job to give an accurate portrayal of its current condition.  Drama free, please. 

10.  Thou shalt keep it all in perspective  It's ok to let smaller issues sound like smaller issues.  If there are major concerns, it's important to let the client know how major.  And it's important to keep them both in the proper perspective.  (See David St. Hubbins for comments on proper perspective).

I hope these reach willing ears and open minds.  I'm sure they will reach grouchy inspectors who will flame me for suggesting that they learn how to communicate more effectively.  It isn't a battle or a confrontation - it's a home inspection and an opportunity to share your expertise.

Inspectors should all be thorough and detailed, but that doesn't mean doing it at the expense of good communication and common sense.  Good communication keeps you out of lawsuits.  It makes for happy clients and fewer problems.  And the real pay off is:  this is a skill that will directly translate into more business for you.

Comments (57)

Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

I recently met an inspector who was tight lipped and made upteem notes in his laptop....It both concerned me and comforted me as I knew what had to be done was getting done....

Dec 05, 2010 03:16 AM
Bill Gillhespy
16 Sunview Blvd - Fort Myers Beach, FL
Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos

Morning Joseph,  Great read !  This is the best written review I've seen.  You're right, the trade schools should cover effective communication with the client !

Dec 05, 2010 03:18 AM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Pasadena And Southern California 818.516.4393

Joseph - thanks for this list---lots of things to consider.  I certainly understand the cya mentality of those in both of our professions.  State the situation, analyze and recommend. 

Dec 05, 2010 04:31 AM
Charita Cadenhead
eXp Realty - Birmingham, AL
Serving Jefferson and Shelby Counties (Alabama)

Jesus Christ did this ever need to be said.  I can't tell you how many times I have looked at those boilerplate inspection reports and thought "this is what the buyer is paying for."  A agree that home inpsectors are so concerned about being sued and covering their tails that many times it prevents them from doing a good and thorough job.  I have long thought that statements like "recommend inpsection by _________________ professional is largely a bunch of BS.

Dec 05, 2010 04:40 AM
Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED
RETIRED / State License is Inactive - Portland, OR

Joe, your comment to my comment is an excellent solution.  I think it's human nature to ask "how much" when there's something called out on an inspection report.  Again, excellent solution.

Dec 05, 2010 05:26 AM
Tod Hunt
Hunt For Homes, LLC - Medford, OR
Your real estate advocate

Fortunately, I have a really great inspector who I use whenever I can. Unlike many of the nightmares you describe - and there are a lot out there - he is very adept at knowing when not to say the things you mention.

There was one old inspector who was notorious for putting his foot in his mouth quite frequently and he had trampled his share of deals gone south. As the listing agent, I had no control over the buyer's choice of inspectors. After the inspection, he met the buyer at the curb and proceeded to tell her that there was standing water under the house. That was the last we heard from the buyer. When I told the seller what I heard the inspector tell the buyer, he was furious. He had been under the house the day before and the place was bone dry. He went back under after our conversation and confirmed it was dry!

This same inspector stated in his contract that he was only liable for the cost of the inspection, unless you wanted to pay 1% of the purchase price!! This same inspector gave a clean bill of health on a commercial building to a broker who was buying the building.... just a few weeks after closing, it was discovered to have over $50,000 worth of dry rot!

It pays a Realtor to do their homework and find a reputable inspector who know not only knows what not to say, but what he is doing!

Tod Hunt, Broker  The Atlas Group, Medford, OR

Dec 05, 2010 11:40 AM
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

Great list, and I especially like #5.  This one is my pet peeve.  I use the 'further recommendation' as little as I possibly can.  You're right, it's usually chickens#@t.

Dec 05, 2010 02:32 PM
Susan Neal
RE/MAX Gold, Fair Oaks - Fair Oaks, CA
Fair Oaks CA & Sacramento Area Real Estate Broker

Hi Joseph - I am so lucky to have found a great home inspector in the Sacramento area who follows all of your commandments!  I didn't know how lucky I was until I encountered an inspector that the buyer's agent had retained on one of my listings, who violated several of those commandments and was generally a pill to deal with. 

I use Randy West of West Inspection Service.  He encourages the agents and parties to be present, and he answers all of their questions.  He also goes over all of his pictures and findings before he leaves and indicates which of the issues he found is a safety matter and which is simply something that might be nice to take care of, but with no urgency necessary.  This permits the buyers to feel comfortable waiting on doing some of the items or simply fixing them themselves.  The written report follows by email the next day, and he will continue to answer questions of anyone who calls after they get their report.  And he is a friendly and nice guy!  (As I think you and Russel both are).

Dec 05, 2010 05:05 PM
Anne Hensel
South Beaches Real Estate Professionals - Saint Petersburg, FL
Realtor - Broker - St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island

I will make a copy and hand it out to every home inspector that i meet from now on

Thank you for posting.

Dec 06, 2010 12:18 AM
Christine Smith
Buyers Brokers Only LLC - - Canton, MA
Exclusive Buyer Agent & Attorney, Canton, MA

Excellent post!  I've been lucky enough to have worked with some great home inspectors who follow these commandments but have seen others who have not.

I'm not sure though if home inspectors are the most lawsuit-fearing people; attorneys rank right up there. :)

Dec 06, 2010 01:49 AM
Karen Crowson
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Rancho Bernardo, CA
Your Agent for Change

Fabulous post - you should be mandatory reading for new home inspectors and could be a nice reminder for some seasoned ones as well.

Dec 06, 2010 06:39 AM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

A common sense list that I'm sure every good inspector follows. With regard to #3 I think you are mixing up two things there. Keeping control of the inspection, to me, means not letting the client, their dad, uncle, or who ever pull you off your game. Also keeping those same people from doing things they shouldn't be doing (along with their agent) to the house.  Of course I understand it's their inspection and are the boss, but on the same token it isn't their house...yet.

Dec 06, 2010 06:50 AM
Joseph Michalski
Precision Home Inspection - Lansdale, PA
PA Home Inspector

Patricia - Glad you enjoyed it and hope it's useful to you!

Renee - Its good to know that there are more than a few inspectors in your area who can communicate well.  Thanks for the comment!

Karen - I mention that one because it comes up on about 50% of the inspectons around the Philly area, and buyers get so easily freaked out by anything electrical.  Plus, some inspectors make such a big deal about it.  I always tell them 75% of the outlets in my house are ungrounded...seems to lighten their mood.

Nancy - so many buyers ask "do the sellers HAVE to fix these things?"  Att hat point, I always like to say, "I'm just telling you what I see.  You and your Realtor will talk over the report and discuss how you want to reply to the seller."  It lets the Realtor do their job (#2) and lets the client know that this is part of a new negotiation - rarely are there required repairs (I let the agents talk about U&O inspections or FHA appraisals, if appropriate).

Lane - that's funny!  I just got flamed on another blog I posted for suggesting that the time needed to inspect a standard 1100 SF rowhome (no attic, no crawlspace) was about 2 hours.  I was told another inspector would spend that long on the exterior, and another 2 hours ("at least") on the interior.  For 5 rooms, 1 bath, kitchen, and unfinished basement.  They must like to talk a lot or walk very, very sloooooooowly.

Dec 06, 2010 08:25 AM
Joseph Michalski
Precision Home Inspection - Lansdale, PA
PA Home Inspector

Fred - a good reason not to be advising clients...YIKES!  I don't think I want to screw with the local Bar Assoc.

Jeff - glad to hear you have some good inspectors to work with.  The training some guys get doesn't set them up to be successful 

Geoff - the report can be a "honey-do" list, or it can be helpful to negoiate with sellers.  That part is best left to the agent who knows the details of the deal.  I always include maintenance tips in the report, so hopefully it will be of value to the clients long after the inspection.

Christine - that sounds like the perfect inspector.  Exactly what I strive for.

Leah - me too!

Renee - when the problems in the house warrant walking away, it's in everyone's best interest the deal died.  But it should be inexcusable and unacceptable to have a deal die because of an alrmist who has poor bedside manner.

Phil - too many times I think inspectors want to prove their value and forget that the buyers are secretly hoping (unrealistically) that we can't find a single thing wrong.  It's all in mananging expectations.  If oyu let them kow you will find things, hopefully mostly cosmetic or minor in nature then they tend to relax.

Dec 07, 2010 12:46 AM
Joseph Michalski
Precision Home Inspection - Lansdale, PA
PA Home Inspector

Claudette - I am often asked for my opinion but resist the temptation to give it.  It can only get me in trouble.

Thanks, Lori!  A good inspector who communicates is a great thing to have in your contact list!

Richie - I guess that's good, but wouldn't it be so much better if he just told you what he was doing as he did it?  When I take a few minutes throughout the inspection to take notes, I always let them know I'm doing it so nothing is forgotten.  I even usually talk out loud so they hear a recap and are familiar with how it will be reported.

Bill - wow, thanks for the wonderful compliement! Training is the key - wish the trainers or associations thought so

Michael - there is too much CYA in my opinion.  If it prevents you from making a positive assertion about what you see or causes you to defer to other professionals, it renders the inspector useless. Yes, there is slightly more risk, but I wouldn't let a lawyer write my reports - it wouldn't say anything for certain and they would be of no value. 

Charita - WOW, now that's not being shy!  Thanks for the strong affirmation, and I couldn't agree more!!

Carla - thanks, I developed that system in response to exactly the concern you mentioned.  I have yet to really leverage it on my website, etc, but that is coming in 2011 (don't tell the competition ;-).

Dec 07, 2010 01:05 AM
Joseph Michalski
Precision Home Inspection - Lansdale, PA
PA Home Inspector

Tod - that guy sounds like a nightmare!! I hope he isn't in the profession any longer, or that no buyers find their way to his services.

Reuben - agree 1000%.  When inspectors aren't confident in their ability to inspect, they worry more about "liability" and "exposure" and protect themselves.  Except in CA, as RR pointed out, referring everything out demonstrates a lack of confidence in their own skill set.

Susan - sounds like a thorough and excellent inspector!  Thanks for the compliment - I will be happy to be likened to Russel any day, he's one of my favorites in our business and I have leanred volumes from him.

Anne - now THAT is likely to get you some cold greetings from inspectors, LOL!  Thanks!

Christine - you may be right.  Lawyers see lawsuits and liability everywhere.  My lawyer wanted me to make my inspection agreement 4 pages long.  No buyer would read it, let alone sign it - so I told him to lighten up and we finally (VERY begrudgingly) got it to one page.

Karen - thanks!  That's the goal: mandatory reading and more web traffic (lol!)  Seriously, I would be happy if they would even approach the topic with some importance and not an anti-Realtor attitude in inspection classes.

James - interesting point about control.  I always invite the uncle/dad/handy friend to stand right beside me and make a few technical comments to him and ask if he sees anything different than I do.  Puts them at ease that I know what I'm doing, and makes them feel welcome.  This ALWAYS takes it from a pissing contest of know-it-alls to a friendly "co"inspection of the house. 

I was referring more to the guys who insist questions wait till the end, or who hand their clients a measuring tape and graph paper to "make measurements" while they "do their job."  Why not just give them crayons and coloring books if oyu are going to treat them like bothersome children?

Dec 07, 2010 01:24 AM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

I'm sorry Joseph, I must not have made myself clear. When I say not letting someone pull me off my game, I mean distract me from what I'm doing at the moment. For example asking me to take a look at something in the basement while I am looking at the roof. Also I don't mean that I dissuade or ask anyone to leave me alone while I inspect the home, I tell everyone right up front they are welcome to follow along and ask questions. I have never had a dad or family member unhappy with me by end of any inspection.

As far as "the guys who insist questions wait till the end, or who hand their clients a measuring tape and graph paper to "make measurements" while they "do their job." I say to each his own. As long as the inspector is doing a good thorough job for their client, isn't that the bottom line? Since I do not go along on other inspections, hard for me to say what methods others employ. I'm guessing you hear stories from you wife about other inspectors in your area. And btw who takes measurements? I never heard of any inspector doing that, but there's always a first time.

Dec 07, 2010 01:54 AM
Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400
The Top Team @ Charles Rutenberg Realty 255 Executive Dr, Plainview NY 11803 - Plainview, NY
Long Island Condo and Home Specialists

Joseph, We have so many stories to tell about home inspectors that were not our choice, but #1 and #4 really speak to us!

As you state..."A good inspector who communicates is a great thing to have in your contact list"!

Dec 07, 2010 01:58 AM
Joseph Michalski
Precision Home Inspection - Lansdale, PA
PA Home Inspector

James - I see where you are coming from.  We handle it the same way it sounds.  As for others, I would disagree.  I have heard WAY too many inspectors on trade discussion boards talk about how they "control their" inspection so they aren't "bugged" by clients' questions.  In my book, that is entirely and completely wrong in every way.  These are the same guys who try to send the buyers off to measure for their fridge or furniture or curtains, etc. I hear a lot about other inspectors here, but I let their own words on association and professional discussion boards speak for themselves.

Dec 07, 2010 02:17 AM
Julie Babcock -Nook & Cranny Home Inspections
Nook & Cranny Home Inspections Tonawanda, NY - Tonawanda, NY

Good post.  I may one day write up a blog on the top 5 things they didn't tell me in home inspection school, and should have, but thankfully, the instructor did make an effort at addressing the inspector/realtor "relationship" and how it's mutually beneficial (assuming both honest agents and honest inspectors).  Happy clients refer their friends, and that is true for both inspectors and agents.  Unhappy clients refer nobody!  And as for questions, who's paying for my time?  That's right, the client.  Does answering clients' questions aid in their understanding of the home and it's condition?  Do people who understand what their buying typically sue?  I thought not.  End of story.

Dec 15, 2010 02:53 PM