"Palos Verdes Resident since 1947"

Property Inspections

Obtaining a property inspection is a crucial step in the buying process and a popular subject for TV shows.  As a veteran of those type of shows, I will just tell you that what ends up on the screen often bears little resemblance to what actually went on.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While you want to have an inspection by a disinterested, but qualified, 3rd party (please be there for it), there are aspects of property inspection that may not be apparent to you as the buyer or seller, and here they are:

1)  If you’re a buyer, only use the inspector your Realtor recommends if you really trust your Realtor.  If, on the other hand, you just met him at an open house which you are now buying thru him, he’s probably also the agent for the seller, with the obvious potential conflict of interest.  But there’s another possible conflict:  agents like their escrows to close.  They do not like them falling out due to the inspection.  You see where I’m going with this?  There is a natural tendency for the agent, when asked, to recommend an inspector that, shall we say, would also like to continue receiving inspection referrals from that agent.  If too many escrows go south due to the findings in his inspections, that Realtor may stop calling him.  So . . . . perhaps the severity of defects might be . . . downplayed.  You get the idea.  I do not think this is common, by the way, but if it happens to you, it doesn’t matter how rare it is. 

Cavalry Charge2)  The Hero:   At the other end of the scale is the inspector who, for whatever agenda or personal insecurity he may have, is going to ride to the rescue of you, the unaware and helpless buyer, and save you from purchasing this money pit.  He will go off on the [largely theoretical] risk of those asbestos ducts, the incalculable danger of that patio slab that slopes slightly toward the house, or the potentially catastrophic implications of that AC outlet with reverse polarity.  These guys seem to have a need for admiration and gratitude, which they often don’t merit as they have scared the buyer into cancelling the purchase of a perfectly good house. 

3)  Grading on the curve:  many inspectors [ahem] re-adjust their criteria depending upon the overall condition of the house.  I’m not sure they are even conscious that they’re doing it, but after sitting thru over 500 inspections, I’ve seen the pattern.  If a house is basically falling down, or the back half is sliding into the canyon, the inspector is not going to be overly fixated on the undersized circuit breaker or dripping kitchen sprayer.  Conversely, if the house is in pristine condition, those kinds of items often become the focus of the inspection (“the most serious issues”) for lack of anything actually serious to talk about.  From the inspector’s point of view, he is being paid to find problems, dammit, and he’s going to find them, no matter how insignificant they may be in the cosmic scheme of things.  If you’re familiar with Abe Maslow, you already get this as some corollary of his postulates.  It is important to have an inspector who, especially if you’re not particularly handy, is able to put this stuff into perspective.  Or even an agent who can  . . . like me.

3)  The Inspection Report:  At the conclusion of the inspection, the inspector will usually go over the high points of the inspection with the interested parties.  This is the most important part of the inspection, so listen carefully to him.  You may think it’s not necessary to pay close attention as you will be getting a written report, but here’s the deal:  the written report you will receive is going to contain certain attorney-approved boilerplate language designed to cover the inspector’s rear end in the event he ends up in court.  Some of the worst reports are comprised almost entirely of this sort of unhelpful stuff — the inspector simply checks off a box on his lap top having to do with a dripping faucet, which triggers insertion of something like “One or more faucets/valves are leaking.  This could be caused by a defective faucet/valve which may require replacement, and which may have resulted in severe damage to the area under the sink.  You could drown.  We recommend you call a plumber and pest control company for further investigation”.  OK, I exaggerated slightly, but not by much.  This sort of thing is not terribly helpful, but has protected the inspector against accusations of not having pointed out every possible risk, no matter how unlikely. 

Speaking of which, it is not uncommon for the inspector to defer to higher authority on as many items as possible.  “We recommend the interested party have the plumbing/electrical/foundation/heating/you-name-it fully evaluated by a qualified professional”.  I’m sorry, but isn’t that what the inspector was for?  If all he’s going to do is recommend that someone else look at it, why not just have someone else look at it and skip the inspector?

The report could also talk about relatively minor things the inspector didn’t mention in the verbal summary, which is OK, but it’s often difficult to distinguish these from the more serious issues, given the desire of the inspector’s attorney to eliminate all legal exposure, which generally results in these minor issues sounding more serious in print.

Once you have the report, you will typically sit down with your Realtor to decide how to proceed.  I’m not going to get into this aspect of it here, as every agent has their own ideas.  If you want mine, either call (310 613-1076) or email ([email protected]). 


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