Is There Really a Real Estate Agent / Home Inspector Conspiracy?

Home Inspector with Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

Is there actually a conspiracy or just a huge misunderstanding? Listening to agents we get one perspective, listening to inspectors we get another, and listening to clients we get yet another. It seems all parties to the transaction act as if there is some established “standard” that home inspectors should be following, and if they would only do that everything would flow smoothly to closing and everyone would be happy.

The old tired arguments of home inspectors being deal killers, or in some way preventing the sale from moving forward because of what they found, or the way they communicated what they found, somehow killed deals has likely run its course.

The reality is that all parties share the blame for how our various “professions” have turned out. Whether it was the “tone” of the inspector’s voice, or what he or she specifically said, that lead to the loss of “perspective,” it was still the inspector’s fault in the eyes of the agent and sometimes even the eyes of the consumer. This speaks to ineffective or inadequate research on the part of the consumer and ineffective or inadequate setting of expectations on the part of the agent and the inspector.

Here is one common phrase, “It has been that way for 100 years and nobody has died.” Another good one is an agent not wanting me to call a room a bedroom because there is no closet, when nothing in the building codes require a closet. This would warrant an informational comment, not a call for repairs. And, what about the agent that thinks some cosmetic issue should be included in the report while actual issues like emergency escape and rescue from old house windows should be “soft pedaled” –because of silly notions like “grandfathering?”

Grandfather is dead!

He would have wanted to have a home that was safe for his kids too.

How do we define “perspective?” It is thrown about as if it was “common knowledge” that can be simply glossed over to move on to the rest of the argument.

The reality is, I seriously doubt anyone involved in the transaction can readily define “perspective” beyond their own narrow view. When there is no established definition, and someone else has a different perspective, there is bound to be considerable angst and finger pointing when the transaction falls apart.

I by no means intend to let home inspectors off the hook on this either.

Many are under-trained, say stupid things about easy obvious conditions and even communicate as if the sky is falling over these “findings.”

But let’s back up a bit and look at what inspectors have historically been hired to do at a home inspection and why agents even tolerate them as part of the transaction at all.

How the heck did home inspectors even become a necessary evil?

Home inspections allow the agents to separate themselves from the liability of all the stuff they do not understand about houses. Things that could come back to haunt them later.

What a cool idea! Get an inspection, and then be able to relax a bit about that giant crack in the foundation they might have otherwise sold to their equally clueless client–a client that could end up p.o.’d enough about the crack to look for compensation.

Of course, there has always been this unjustified assumption that home inspectors know what they are doing. Some do, and some don’t. Just like agents, some do, and some don’t.

So how do we get home inspectors to a place of “knowing-what-they-are-doing?” We create a plethora of mediocre training programs that crank out “licensed, qualified and certified” home inspectors in 1 and 2-week courses. We even create state licensing laws that set minimum standards for the schools to follow to ensure that home inspectors starting out have some minimum level of competency. We have home inspector associations that fight in public about who is better when none of them are good enough. Is any of this adequate?

Certainly not.

This is the elephant in the room, it CANNOT BE DONE, and most inspectors starting out are expected to learn on the job. It results in huge numbers of inspectors failing before they even get started. Some sort of apprenticeship type program could fix this, something like what most “real professions” have. In all of this, the consumer is likely to suffer the most. Right from the get-go we are setting the stage for a great deal of difference in “perspective.”

The agents are not getting what they are expecting.

The consumer is not getting what they are expecting.

The inspector is not getting what they are expecting.

How each party defines what they “expect” will run the gamut from what they are told by each other as well as what they see on the internet or from friends. It will sometimes even be driven by how hungry they are.

The agent tends to see the home inspector as a facilitator of the real estate transaction and training and education of home inspectors is designed to support this. Home inspector standards of practice are even designed to support this notion. Unfortunately, this does not often bode well for the consumer.

The home inspector has a huge opportunity to be of service to their clients above and beyond the simple job of facilitating a real estate transaction.

In my opinion home inspectors should distance themselves from the very notion that they are in any way supposed to “facilitate a real estate transaction.”

This likely gets to the core of complaints I hear from agents about home inspectors not playing the game properly. These inspectors are only interested in their client and not so much in that closing off in the distance. These can never really be reconciled between agent and inspector but it sure can result in happy clients.

Given there is no apparent path to sort out any of this, leaves us with a guarantee for the dissatisfaction of all parties.

There are agents also that suffer from lack of training and may be so hungry they take the process in directions not benefiting the client. It is highly likely agents kill more deals because they are involved in far more aspects of the transaction.

Short contingency periods are perhaps the most common tool used to control the transaction and actually can result in many of the problems associated with poor inspections because the better inspectors will be too busy to meet the short contingency period. The result is the agent recommending inspectors that are new and perhaps less competent. There is this very misguided perception that all home inspectors are equal while at the same time many are being perceived as inadequate. Is either actually true?

Let’s take for example a 1910 house the agent has counseled their client to make an offer on. The client calls the inspector and sets up the inspection. They meet at the agreed upon time to do the inspection. One of the first thing the client says to the inspector is, “If you see anything that looks like lead paint or asbestos please let us know, as we really do not want to buy a house with either.” WHAT?


How the heck did the process ever get as far as an inspection? Why did the client not have this conversation already with their agent? Does not every agent know that pretty much all houses built in 1910 are going to have some amount of lead or asbestos? Why is the agent even showing them houses from this time period?

The best agents obviously could care less about whether the deal proceeds. Wouldn’t that be nice? Inspectors should not care either, but which makes the agent happier? Which will likely result in more referrals from that agent? Is it any wonder inspectors are perceived as being in bed with agents—Sleeping with Agents?

BUT: when the deal falls apart and there is someone to blame you can bet the blaming will happen anyway. It seems “not caring” whether the deal moves forward has more to do with the assumption that everyone has performed in accordance with the agent’s expectations—with the agent’s perceptions. Somehow this perception seems sacrosanct because they are the one that is not getting paid. The home inspector obviously collects his peanuts.

Here is the bottom line. HOME INSPECTORS CANNOT AFFORD to care one hoot what the expectations or perceptions of the agent. Harsh I know. The idea the inspector must understand the needs and wants of the agent is absurd. How much do agents understand the requirements of the inspector? They are two very different jobs. The inspector is taking on the liability and responsibility for all that technical crap about houses that the agent chose to give up.

As near as I can tell they do not want it back.

I cannot remember the last time when an engineer had to be called in to sort out some structural engineer and they got blamed for ruining the deal. The reason for this is they are perceived as professionals and home inspectors are not. This obviously must change and there is no mechanism currently for home inspectors to cross that chasm. Agents have their own chasms to bridge as well.

Following this thought, the inspector cannot be involved in whether the homeowner can afford or not afford the house—including whether they can afford the cost to repair any issues that are found. The house and its issues are just the house and its issues. Period. Some future homeowners are “renters” and should probably stay renters–especially unhandy people buying at the low end of the market.

Some agents say home inspectors think buyers are entitled to a perfect house. This is of course preposterous, but the fallacy that everyone should own a home is equally preposterous.

We must tackle this question from multiple angles because of the fact way too many home inspectors, both new and old, are grossly incompetent to do what is asked of them. There is a tendency to fault the newer inspectors, but the reality is that newer inspectors have a much higher likelihood of being better trained than the older inspectors were when they started. They also started at a time when almost nothing was expected of them. More experienced inspectors have merely survived the self-teaching process and were lucky enough to not get anyone killed in the process.

Luck should not be part of the picture, but it unfortunately is.

Lack of training and experience should not be part of the picture either, but it unfortunately is.

I have heard agents argue some inspectors kill deals because they can then get another inspection from that same client. Lack of ethics is a problem in both “professions” and I suspect the market place weeds these sort of agents and inspectors out. None of this kind of argument brings the “perceptions” of any of the parties any closer to alignment—it is just one more separator and is counterproductive.

So far, we have not talked much about the consumer. Is that not strange? After all they are the reason agents and inspectors both have jobs to begin with. Business models, whether agent or inspector, should be about taking care of the client. If either is starving to death and “invested” in outcomes, whether it is getting a pay check, securing future referrals, meeting numbers goals–whatever—IT IS BAD FOR THE CONSUMER.

So, inspectors must figure out how to get work on their own and not rely on agents. This is obvious. This does not mean they cannot work together–they just cannot be “partners” in bed together to get things done.

It should be just as common for our clients to ask if we know any good agents as it is now common for clients to ask their agent if they know any good home inspectors.

As an inspector, I make it very clear I work for the client regardless of how grateful I might be for the agent’s referral. That referral can never have anything to do with my performance for my client.

I know there are home inspectors that are just arrogant donkeys (euphemism for something else), and that of course is just as unacceptable as a micromanaging agent that attempts to “explain” the defects found by the inspector in their own language–sometimes to soften what probably does not warrant softening.

Another huge issue that I have experienced with agents is how they take the recommendations of the inspector and “rewrite” those recommendations in their own words. They have no license or training to perform the duties of a home inspector and should never alter one word (or even a comma) of the recommendation. If they do, they then own that recommendation and may very well be in violation of licensing laws–even their own.

Agents talk about it not being an issue if the inspector finds things wrong, it is more about “how” the inspector talks about those issues that is the problem (the way, or tone of delivery of the information). I have never been able to get an agent to provide the definition of “how” or what that “delivery” is supposed to “look like.” It is sort of like, “I cannot define it or describe it, but I know it when I see it.” Is that not “convenient?” What can the inspector possibly learn from that? Nothing.

The inspector cannot afford to even be in a place where they are attempting to figure out what will keep an agent happy, and likely most clients appreciate this about their inspector.

Every home inspector has experienced how what worked one day did not work the next. The only difference in the “how” or the “delivery” was that the deal either went forward or did not.

All the home inspector should care about is that the client is happy with what the inspector has done. That right there is also what the agent should probably like as well. If the two can align, then that is also OK.

Solutions to all of this are difficult, but I do know that agents need more training, home inspectors need more training and consumers need to learn how to demand more of both.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle


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Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Hi Charles

This was a really well-done, thoughtful post on a complex aspect of any home transaction that is usually filled with lots of emotions which can create all kinds of problems and finger-pointing. A big part of the problem, aside from training, are expectations that are not realistic on the part of all the parties involved. I think your final conclusion is right on target.


Mar 05, 2018 08:28 AM #16
Margaret Goss
Baird & Warner Real Estate - Winnetka, IL
Chicago's North Shore & Winnetka Real Estate

A major part of this problem is that agents don't fully explain to their clients what an inspection is - and is not (as you mentioned above with your example of someone buying a very old house but not wanting lead paint or asbestos.)

I don't go into an inspection without discussing the various possibilities and outcomes.


Mar 05, 2018 10:21 AM #17
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

Respectable posting and hosting here

Mar 05, 2018 10:50 AM #18
Mary Jo Quay
EXP Realty - Minneapolis, MN
I Move You Home

We all should want what is best for the client, No surprises. It depends on the client as well. I've seen some go berzerk over a tiny patch on the ceiling, and others that can't tell the difference between peeling paint and dry rot, so they call it dry rot. Buyers also tend to multiply the cost of repairs by 3. Neither agents nor inspectors should give out estimates because there are too many variables. 

Well written. 

Mar 05, 2018 01:40 PM #19
Debe Maxwell, CRS | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
The right Charlotte REALTOR!

Wonderful post, Charles! I can tell you that this agent wants the inspector to find EVERYTHING that they can possibly find...then, deliver it in a manner that does not indicate that the home will be crumbling beneath my buyers in the next 6 months!!  

The deal-killer inspectors' delivery of 75 year old home report cracks me up - I mean, to hear them talking, the house won't stand through a 20-MPH wind gust...yet, it's been standing for 75 years just fine!

I think the best combination possible is this - knowledgeable agents & inspectors, an inspector who finds everything that he/she can find, a buyer who is actually present at the end of the inspection to review the results with the inspector AND an inspector who presents the items in a manner that helps the buyers understand how large or how small each item is. 

I'm so blessed with two wonderful inspectors - they are scavangers and find everything possible - they present the report to the buyers, explaining how THEY can fix each issue - "This is a $3 part at the Home Depot - and let me show you how easy it is to replace it." or "Call your plumber - just have him knock out all of these little issues - it'll take him a couple of hours and it'll all be fixed!"

I love that approach and almost never have a buyer back out because of inspections and I truly believe presentation, experience and education is everything! 

Mar 05, 2018 06:34 PM #20
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

That's a lot of food for thought.  All the more reason for sellers to get a professional home inspection done before hitting the market.

Mar 05, 2018 06:46 PM #21
Sham Reddy CRS
H E R Realty, Dayton, OH - Dayton, OH

Each profession has their own set of complaints about other professions!

The reality is that all parties share the blame for how our various “professions” have turned out. Whether it was the “tone” of the inspector’s voice, or what he or she specifically said, that lead to the loss of “perspective,” it was still the inspector’s fault in the eyes of the agent and sometimes even the eyes of the consumer

Mar 06, 2018 04:01 AM #22
John Wiley
Fort Myers, FL
Lee County, FL, ECO Broker, GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA

What I take away from your post is that there is often a lack of education and lack of communication. And that applies to all parties in a transaction.

Mar 06, 2018 08:34 AM #23
Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - Devon, PA
Tredyffrin Easttown Realtor, Philly Main Line

Interesting post. I think the problem begins with buyers who believe the home inspection is a reason or a way to renegotiate the price. The setting of expectations from the buyers agent and education of the purpose of the inspection might help upfront. I often chase clients around saying you need to keep up with your inspector so you understand what he is finding, how things work and ask questions about any concerns you may have.  But it really comes down to all parties understanding the purpose of the inspection.

Mar 06, 2018 11:56 AM #24
Dörte Engel
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Bowie, MD
ABC - Annapolis, Bowie, Crofton & rest of Maryland

Dear Charles,

A good home inspector can confirm your good taste & keep you from buying a money pit. I always find the money to be well-spent, at a minimum to have a good punch list for things to take care of after settlement.

Mar 06, 2018 08:17 PM #25
Fred Sweezer Sr.
Hud Certified 203K Consultant - Long Beach, CA
Certified Home Inspector

that pretty much cover years of experience and knowlege about the process, thanks for the post!

Mar 08, 2018 03:05 AM #26
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224

Charles- one of the best posts I've read. The house is what it is.  Mistakes are made on all sides. When I was an affiliate in the WCR, we had wonderful home inspectors who continually educated the agents.  We all learned!!!

Mar 10, 2018 11:21 AM #27
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224


                             Thank you Charles Buell 

Mar 10, 2018 04:40 PM #28
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Charles. This is excellent. So precise and accurate too. It is difficult to find the right person for any business but perhaps none more than this except maybe a doctor.

Mar 11, 2018 06:25 AM #29
MaryKay Shumway
The Kellstrom Ray Agency, Inc. (Est. 1948) - Sister Bay, WI
Door County Wisconsin's Real Estate Expert

This was EXCEPTIONAL!  Thank you.  Gives me some food for thought on several different levels.

Mar 11, 2018 10:24 AM #30
Chris Lima
Atlantic Shores Realty Expertise - Port St Lucie, FL
Local or Global-Allow me to open doors for you.

Great post and I am so glad it was featured or I may have missed it. Fortunately, my experiences, for the most part, have been positive.  There is always the exception to the rule that promises the buyer thousands off of the sales price due to his report full of "the sky is falling" deficiencies.  As you mentioned, some know what they are doing and some do not. Being able to manage expectations is important and part of the agents' job.  It can be frightening for a buyer to see that report full of perceived negativity on a property that they have already fell in love with.  

Mar 11, 2018 11:23 AM #31
Fred Griffin Tallahassee Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

 Excellent post, Charles.  

    With respect, we do have a guy in Tallahassee who bears the moniker, "The Deal Killer".   Aside from nitpicking a house to death, he has been summoned before the Florida BAR for unauthorized practice of law (telling a buyer how to reword the contract), and he has been reported to the Real Estate Commission for the same thing.

    But he is a rarity.  The overwhelming majority of Tallahassee Home Inspectors are competent and qualified.  They are a crucial part in the home selling/home buying process.  

Mar 11, 2018 11:52 AM #32
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
New Hampshire Home Stager

What an excellent post! Well thought out and well written. Gives us a lot to think about. I'm scheduled for a home inspection next week on a house we are under contract to buy. My husband didn't believe we even needed one. I wouldn't be comfortable buying a house without one. 

I will be following the inspector around hanging on his every word, but I am not going into this looking for some price negotiation weapon. I just want to be reassured there are no negative surprises.

I sure wish you were the inspector working with us.

Mar 11, 2018 04:34 PM #33
Charles Stallions Real Estate Services
Charles Stallions Real Estate Services Inc - Gulf Breeze, FL
Buyers Agent 800-309-3414 Pace and Gulf Breeze,Fl.

You are the first person ever when asked that got the  closet and the bedroom deal right and I have talked to thousands that claimed differently until proven wrong and then they still argued. 

Mar 17, 2018 10:12 PM #34
Joe Pryor
The Virtual Real Estate Team - Oklahoma City, OK
REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties

All I ever want is fair and one that follows state law in inspections. However, just like agents that are incompetent, so are some inspectors.

Apr 29, 2018 09:55 AM #35
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Charles Buell

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