Have you ever questioned what is included in a home inspection and why you should have one? Maybe even if you're a seller you should still have a home inspection. I'm Adam D with The Local Connect and KW Realty and today we're going to be talking about home inspections. Our guest today is Zack Lilienfeld. Zack is the owner of Atlantic Cape Home Inspections. He is a licensed home inspector, professional engineer and has an MBA. He has over 39 years in building and inspection experience along with real estate experience. Zack, welcome to the show.
Hi Adam, glad to be here.
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much. Hey so tell us a little bit about Atlantic Cape Inspections.
Well, I started the company about 15 years ago, did a lot of rehab type work and it transitioned me into looking into doing home inspections for other people. It's been a nice ride I've done about 5,000 inspections. The business covers Atlantic and Cape May counties. Occasionally I'll venture out of those two counties but most of the time within about 10 miles of the barrier islands and in Cape May that's my area.
Fantastic. So, how did you get into doing home inspections? What brought you here to doing home inspections?
Well, as I mentioned a moment earlier I was doing rehabs back in the early two thousands. I came down to the shore with my family and had an energy consulting business at the time but I also have a civil engineering degree and I started putting that to use doing my own home construction. I would buy houses, not many a couple, and then had them fixed up, I general contracted them. And then, I realized I was learning a lot about what I didn't already know about buildings about how they're constructed. And somehow I got the idea that it might be a nice transition to start home inspections and I also have a parallel business doing engineering, they work off of each other. And that was the entree that I had into home inspections.
Yeah knowing that I've always found it interesting that you have that engineering background as well as being a home inspector. I mean it can only help, right?
Oh yeah. Yeah, when you think about what a house is it's either mechanical systems or where it's structure and my two engineering degrees cover those areas, water heating, heating and air conditioning, foundations, framing. I mean there's other things that I picked up along the way, of course relating to other systems, appliances and things like that. But the background that I got I think was pretty helpful in transitioning me into becoming a licensed professional engineer back in 2005.
Yeah, fantastic. So it definitely sounds like you have the background and experience to be doing home inspections of course. Outside of all of your background experience do you have to carry any licenses to be a home inspector?
Just have to be licensed in this case in New Jersey. As I mentioned there was a licensing law that went into effect in 2005, that licensing law requires me to take continuing education, requires me to have errors and emissions insurance and it requires me to follow procedures and regulations that cover ethics as well as knowledge and I don't need any other licensing. The PE, the Professional Engineering, license that I have is not required of home inspectors that's just an additional credential but just being licensed is all you need to be a home inspector in New Jersey.
Got it. Got it. So today of course we're going to be talking about home inspections naturally and what I wanted to do is break this down a little bit between buyers who we most often think about when we're thinking about home inspections but we have some information to sellers too. So we'll get to that in just a moment but let's start with buyers and starting from the top I mean why should a buyer consider having a home inspection? Because I get this question all the time not everybody even considers having a home inspection.
That's true and I've had people ask me that question puzzling when they were on the phone with me whether they really needed an inspection or not. But as a home buyer you've seen the house perhaps on the outside and on the inside maybe one time or a couple of times and so you've seen the superficial part of the house. You're all excited and just like any new thing it doesn't necessarily mean you know everything about the house by just looking at it what is necessary to buy.
I mean because this is going to be one of the biggest if not the biggest expenditure you're ever going to have as a home buyer so you want to have knowledge that goes beyond just the superficial. You want to know that when you move into that house the likelihood of some major problem that's going to cost you a lot of money has hopefully been picked up ahead of time by a home inspection. I've heard a number of people who have said that they didn't have a home inspection on their first house that's why they were going to have one on their second house because they discovered problems that were significantly expensive to fix. They didn't notice them when they bought the house but discovered them later when it was too late.
Yeah. And unfortunately we see that all the time and it's really frankly it's just not worth the risk of not having an inspection even on the nicest of properties.
So, I hope this video is a good introduction for future clients to you as a great home inspector but what we're going to be talking about today is a bunch of questions that I get all the time being in the field with buyers and sellers every day. And so, when a buyer is starting down this path of buying a home they put it under contract and now it's time for an inspection and they often ask me, "Who should I hire? What makes someone a good home inspector?" Do you have any tips on how to delineate a good inspector from possibly a poor inspector?
Well, interestingly enough not a lot of people ask the question about how long people have been doing home inspections and if you've been in the business for in my case almost 16 years now the likelihood that I'm a bad inspector is a lot slimmer. The word would have gotten out among the real estate agents I guess that I'm a bozo or whatever. Also, if I wasn't very good I might've been sued, I might've had an insurance claim, I might've been turned into the board for unethical behavior. So, by being in the business for a long time it is one of the credentials that means that I probably know what I'm doing at this point. Plus experience, the more you do it the more experienced you are just like anything, it's just like driving a car.
So that's a very important thing as far as determining whether somebody is going to be a decent home inspector education, experience, training. There is a basic requirement that home inspectors need to have to be license, you have to take continuing education for example. So there is some basic level of knowledge and perhaps some experience and training that all home inspectors in New Jersey have to have but there are some better than others. And in my case I have additional credentials and other home inspectors may have credentials having been perhaps a contractor beforehand or a plumber beforehand so they have some specific knowledge in those areas which is quite helpful.
Home inspectors in general are generalists we are not specialists. So, we all have to have a certain level of knowledge just like your family doctor practitioner, master of all trades. What's the expression? A Jack of all trades, master of none.
We try to be Jack of all trades and master of all trades but we are generalists. And so, the more time we do it the more experience we have, the more education we have, the more training we have, these are all things that add up to being a good home inspector.
Yeah. So, with that said my next question is going to be what does a home inspection include? And I think when we're talking about a good home inspector you could tell me what this is called but I believe the state has a list of guidelines that a home inspector should be looking for and some inspectors go above and beyond that list is that fair to say?
Yeah, that's true. The state requires that home inspectors by regulation examine a specific number of items in the house those items could include the structure, the water heater, the heating and air conditioning system, et cetera. These things are requirements. If they're safe to operate, if they're powered in the case of appliances, then they should be tested. There are other things that are listed as not required to be tested and or should not be tested for example, that could be sprinkler systems on a lawn, that could be smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. I've had people ask me, "Can I test their sprinkler system in their house?" Well, the moment you test a fire suppression system you have destroyed the house so I have to answer no to that question.
So there are things that are not part of a home inspection. The state does mandate though that if it's safe to inspect and available to inspect then it should be inspected from the list that they provide. And there's a whole shopping list of probably a 100 things that we're supposed to look at everything from windows, to flooring, to appliances, to air conditioning if in fact the season is for air conditioning and we can test it.
So, there are other things that home inspectors often, some home inspectors, probably most of them will also report on even though they're not required. Keep in mind that a home inspection is not supposed to identify perfection only adequacy and functionality. So, part of what we do relates specifically to what are called material defects. We report on what the state defines as a material defect. However, anything beyond that whether it's maintenance related or just informational many home inspectors will still put those extra items in the report for the benefit of their buyer they may not involve anything that needs to be repaired, they might be very inexpensive things like missing a doorstop. Some people like me will put those in the report but I categorize them accordingly and other home inspectors in order to do a quick and hurry job may not do those things.
Got it. So, there are all the things that are not necessary by the state licensing but a good home inspector might want to include them and it could be good for a buyer too to reference that even years down the road when they're making improvements to the house possibly. When we're talking about what's included it might be an easier answer to what's something that a buyer should expect not to be included? I know you mentioned about sprinkler systems, pools, there's often things that I think come up where maybe a portion of the house isn't accessible or something's hidden.
Oh, okay. That's true. I've been to inspections where first of all you can't get to an attic access because someone has it above a closet full of clothing so I can't get to it either safely or there just simply isn't room. Crawl spaces that have six inches of water in them when I go to inspect those are not going to be, we're not going swimming as home inspectors. Neither is the termite inspector by the way who would typically go into a crawl space. So, besides things not being on the list of prescribed items if you can't safely access something, if it's not available to access, if the season is not one where you can test something such as air conditioning, then those things are not tested. Even though they might be on the list they aren't inspected because of either safety or the potential for damaging or injury.
And I've seen that before it always makes me think about when the home inspector shows up and the attic is just jammed with the homeowner's personal belongings and it happens all the time but you reach the top of the stairs and there's just nothing you can do because there's so much stored in there.
Right. Now on that same topic if we can't get to something or if we can't get to part of something for example if part of the crawl space that you go into is clear of water but another part has six inches of water in it home inspectors are supposed to report the areas that they are not able to inspect. So, that's important because if you just say, "Everything looks fine," but the other half of the cross space you couldn't get to that's a potential liability issue and you may be misstating a condition of acceptable but it may not be acceptable at all you just can't tell because you haven't gone into that area.
Sure. Yeah, that makes sense. So, one of the other questions we get right away from buyers they typically ask the real estate agent this and not the home inspector but when they're determining whether they should or shouldn't have a home inspection they typically are more concerned about cost than what's actually included. So, can you give any idea I mean how do home inspectors typically bill? I know everyone might be different but a general rule of thumb for cost?
Well, it's actually different for all home inspectors some of them charge a flat fee for pretty much all the same kind of house. If it's less than four bedrooms maybe they charge a flat fee. Some charge based on square footage. I happen to charge based on a number of bedrooms and I distinguish between a condominium which has common areas that are not inspected and a regular home inspection where the outside of the house and the roof et cetera are inspected. So, I do it based on number of bedrooms but it could be any number of ways and it all depends on what that particular home inspector feels is appropriate for where he's inspecting.
Got it. Perfect. So, when it gets to this point in time and the buyers under contract now to purchase the home any good real estate agent is typically urging them to schedule their home inspection right away. And sometimes we get a little bit of pushback on that, for one reason or another a buyer wants to get their mortgage documents done first or whatever it may be. But what I find happens when a buyer does that is they end up running out of time sometimes because a good home inspector typically is not available within a days notice and if they are maybe they're not a good home inspector, I don't know. But how far in advance does it typically take to get the home inspector from scheduling to actually being there on the property?
Well, for many, many months, and even years I was backed up four or five days routinely so if somebody called me today I could not get them in within the next five days and if there was a weekend there it might be seven days. So, if they have a 10 day inspection period that doesn't leave much time assuming they called me on the first day of their inspection period. The best time to arrange for a home inspection is to first call the home inspector during the attorney review period, find out how much time they're backed up. If you want to talk to several different home inspectors to get pricing and availability that's the time to do it during the attorney review period. You haven't spent any money yet, you haven't necessarily schedule it yet, but at least you're finding out, you're doing your due diligence. The best time to actually firm up the schedule is the first day you're out of the attorney review period. Although you can preliminarily schedule ahead of time most home inspectors will wait to send out the paperwork until they're sure that day and time is fixed as we have to send out a pre-inspection agreement with the date and time on it. So, that's very important because if you wait you run out of time literally. If a home inspector finds something that needs a second opinion, something is not working right but the home inspector's job isn't to identify specifically what's wrong just that it's not working you may not have time to get another inspector in to do a more invasive or concentrated inspection on that particular item if you don't have the time.
Yeah. And I'll add to that, that I always see the buyer's going to ask when your next availability is but one of the things that we suggest to buyers if you're calling multiple home inspectors you also want to ask them how long it takes them to get you the report after the inspection is complete because I have found home inspectors that it's taken them five days sometimes to get the report and so while they had an early inspection it really doesn't mean anything until they get that report back.
That's a good point and unfortunately I've been told stories from other people about people missing their inspection period deadline because the home inspector took five days to get them the report and they were at their, two days left before the end of their inspection and report period to get back to the seller so that is unfortunate. So in my case I mean there are some home inspectors I presume that can do the report right on site and hand it to the client or email it to the client at the end of the inspection, that has its pluses and it also has its minuses, you can't do any research, you can't think about things where you might mis-categorize it because you're in a hurry.
I get my reports done the same evening, the only time I don't is if for some reason somebody has to get back to me with some information that I wasn't able to get on that day. But in any case, 99% of my home inspections if not 100% are done by the second, by the day after, but 98% of them are done that night. So even if it's midnight I'll be still working on that list report.
Fantastic. Yeah. I think that's a very important point because a lot of people forget about that. We do find people run out of time and this is really a two or three step process. Having the home inspection that day is just the first step then you need to get that report to review it and determine if there's any repairs that are needed. If there's a lengthy delay there that's where usually a buyer might run into trouble in not having enough time. So while we continue down this path of you choosing a home inspector and trying to dispel some misconceptions here one thing that is very common is a buyer doesn't realize what a licensed home inspector is and they might want to use their friend or their brother or relative somebody who happens to be a general contractor but not a home inspector.
That's true. As far as what that means to the buyer if you have your brother-in-law for example doing that inspection the seller doesn't have a lot of confidence that the information that they're being fed back about the defects of their house is really legitimate or not. First of all they might question whether your plumber brother-in-law knows anything about electricity. They might also think that there is a bit of a bias there where your brother-in-law might want to work on you the buyer's behalf to beat up the seller. Sellers don't like to know that that's the case so they may not.And even your contract that you have, your real estate contract may state that you're permitted to get inspections but only from licensed individuals in that particular profession.
So, I think that pretty much covers why you wouldn't want to have a relative do the inspection. I mean there's no reason they can't come through if permitted to look at something that might be their specialty but as far as what gets written up and what gets provided in terms of repair recommendations you need to have an unbiased individual who's working on your behalf but is independent and accurate. And as a licensed home inspector because they have to follow certain rules ethical and otherwise is the person you want to have on your side.
For sure. Absolutely. All right. So, in talking about that I heard you mentioned the word bias so part of being a licensed home inspector is not to introduce that bias correct? And one of the things that we've heard as well is from the seller more often than the buyer is that home inspector is going to give us a really hard time because they just want to get the job to repair the house.
Well, that to me is scary. For one thing before the licensing law there was nothing preventing a home inspector from repairing something they found.
Keep in mind a lot of termite inspectors will offer to repair things they find. Now that being the case you can imagine a situation where somebody identifies something to be repaired that doesn't need to be repaired or that isn't in particularly necessarily significant enough to repair. But if you're the chief cook and bottle washer or whatever, you're fod guarding the henhouse to use another expression there is some tendency to exaggerate, for lack of a better word, that in the case of home inspectors would be illegal. A home inspection licensing law specifically says home inspectors shall not and will not and cannot repair something that they identify within a year I believe of the inspection. Now I guess that doesn't prevent a home inspector from fixing something that they might have broken on the day of the inspection certainly not charging for that. I mean who would do that? But if I pull the blind off a wall I'm going to put the blind back up again so that's a little different.
I think what's happening is people might think that the home inspector is going to go most likely to the seller who didn't hire them and say, "Look, I can fix this thing and it's only going to cost you $10,000 and I could do it tomorrow." There are people that might unfortunately fold on that and say, "Yes," but that would be so unethical and it's against the regulations. If it's found out you lose your license or you get fined out of business. So, that can happen with a home inspection. Not saying that doesn't happen with other licensed or experienced or certified professionals but home inspectors are not permitted to do that.
Yeah and I think any good home inspector would not want to run that risk of having their license revoked for selling a job to somebody whether it's the buyer or seller they did the inspection on. And I think it's really important to talk about that because sellers they really believe sometimes that the home inspector is out to get them or to sell a job and it's not the case whatsoever. You're following a state mandated guidelines for the home inspection and trying to do the best job for that buyer to know everything. It doesn't mean that everything needs to be repaired and we'll talk about that later with sellers. Last and final misconception that I always get a chuckle out of when I hear this is the buyer will tell the real estate agent, "Adam, you know what we'll use your guy or we'll use your home inspector and I know you get a kickback from it but that's okay we're fine with it." And...
We know you get a kickback from it, but that's okay. We're fine with it. And it happens. It happens. Believe me. So talking about licensing, I'm sure there's something to prevent that as well?
Absolutely. It is completely unethical for a home inspector to provide any compensation to anyone involved in the real estate transaction, whether it's buying them dinner, whether it is doing a free home inspection for their family members, anything like that, not permitted. It's specifically excluded in a home inspection there, again, just like the other thing I mentioned, if somebody does that they can lose their license, and or be fined out of existence. Because the state is looking out for the people that are hiring the home inspectors. And sometimes there are bad apples out there just like in any profession. But no, that is not permitted.
I can say that in all my years of them inspecting, I only had this happen one time where a real estate agent asked me for compensation because they've referred somebody to me. And this is an agent that should have known better and I could not believe it. And they got nothing. They got nothing. Interestingly, I got a lot more business from them over the years after they asked me for a favor. So, I guess maybe they were just testing the waters, but as it turns out, it really did not affect my business whatsoever. I would never do that. And any good home inspector would run away from a situation where there's even a slight possibility of a potential impropriety.
And it's the same exact way for us on the real estate agent side, there's what we call respa laws, but we can't take or give any compensation to anyone for that matter. So, we'll ease buyers and sellers concerns there. There's absolutely no bias between who's being recommended. In fact, as real estate agents that people that we recommend like yourself, we only recommend them because we've gotten good reviews from past clients. And if we don't get that any longer than, we're probably not going to recommend that inspector or contractor, whoever, they may be.
A lot of times, just to add to that, I'll have a buyer, a client who will say to me, "I was given three names or four names from my real estate agent, but I decided to pick you." So, that's really the way it's done. Most real estate agents will not push an individual inspector on their client. There's just too much risk there that if something goes wrong, they get painted with the same brush as the home inspector.
So by giving multiple names, which most real... From what I understand, most real estate agents do that, I feel a lot more comfortable. And when somebody tells me, "Oh, they only gave me your name." I'm kind of uncomfortable with that. And I explained to the client, clearly they may have done that, but it doesn't mean I'm working for them. I'm working for my buyer, for the person buying the house. And I have no... I mean, it's nice that a real estate agent refers me, but you I'm usually one of three or four and I'm perfectly fine with that.
Yeah. And that just comes from, as real estate agents, we have to make sure that it's crystal clear to buyers, that they have their choice. It can hire anybody that they wish to have. Again, we're just kind of pushing on the opinion or review of past clients of ours. And that's about the best advice that we can offer. So moving on from there, now that the buyer has their home inspection schedule, they're proceeding with the inspection, how long does that process typically take? Once you show up at the home to do the inspection?
That's a good question. And it really depends on what type of property it is. For example, new construction versus preexisting, an old house versus a newer house, a house that is loaded with clutter versus a vacant property, a condominium versus a house, a house that's 5,000 square feet or one that's 800 square feet.
So it really is very site specific. However, I can say for most three bedroom home inspections below say 2000 square feet, it takes about two and a half, to three hours for me to do an inspection. And everything greater than that, or less than that, means there's either more complexity or there's more furniture to walk around, or something like that. I've had three bedroom home inspections that lasted five hours and I've had them that lasted two hours.
Okay, yeah. So, and talking about the amount of time that it's going to take to do the home inspection brings us to, should the buyer attend the inspection? I know that's certainly their option. I mean, any feedback you could give buyers, whether they should or shouldn't attend.
Sure. I would say under normal circumstances, I encourage people to attend the inspection. It's certainly not mandatory. You don't have to feel compelled as a buyer to attend the inspection. Some people come to inspection because they have only been to the house once. And this is an opportunity for them to spend upwards of three hours wandering around, staring at things in the house they're going to be buying. And some people feel compelled to follow me around like a puppy dog and pretty much everything in between. People want to measure rooms, they want to check on the furniture that the seller's leaving behind. There's a number of reasons why people will attend the inspection.
Now, that being said, at the current time, and of course this will hopefully change over the next few months in the era of the coronavirus, most home inspectors, if they're doing inspections, and some have suspended their inspections. But if they're doing them, they have set certain rules about attendance. In my case, I discourage people from attending, but I don't mandate that they stay at home. If they want to come, I suggest that they show up towards the end of the inspection. I can tell them approximately when to show up. And if they want to do the measuring and tire kicking that a lot of people want to do that. I recommend that they coordinate ahead of time with their real estate agent who may have the opportunity to show up at the end of the inspection to carry them through after I leave. And half hour or whatever with them so they can kick the tires and not have me around.
But what I like to do at the very most, is to cover what I found at the end of the inspection. It doesn't mean a lot if someone gets there when I get there, because I haven't seen anything yet. And also following me around, isn't the greatest thing either because it might distract me. And the last thing people want when they want a thorough home inspection is a distracted home inspector. So there is a balance and some people will follow me around for the first five minutes and then go, after their car for a while and then come back later or follow me the whole time, whatever. But at least in this era of coronavirus, I've been discouraging people from showing up. And if they want to, that they should show up at the end of the inspection only.
Yeah. And ignoring coronavirus for a minute. I think Zach's advice there is very important. So, if the home inspection's at one o'clock, for example, do not feel compelled that you have to be there at 12:50 in advance. The most beneficial part of the home inspection, if you're going to meet the home inspector, and if it's possible, you probably should, is that last 30 minutes of the inspection. So that if there's any red flags or major issues, the home inspector is going to be aware of them at the end of the inspection, not the beginning of the inspection.
And the other thing, correct me if I'm wrong, Zach, but sometimes I find that in the report, there may be certain language or something described that doesn't make sense to the buyer. But if they happen to be there for that last portion of the inspection, it might look different when you're pointing it out in person, then the way it's written in the report, would you agree?
Absolutely. And in fact, I think, although the best home inspectors are ones that are also good authors writers, because they can write things that people understand. There's always that one technical issue that people will try to get their arms around and may not be able to, by reading a paragraph in a report. So if you're there, especially with the defects that I find, I will cover the major items that are important. Not necessarily everything I found. But in the defect category, at least I'll go over those items. And I'll show people, there was a water stain here, I tested it, it's dry. There's a crack in the wall. It's not structurally significant. These are things that help people better understand and not panic over things that they might otherwise be concerned about because they're reading something in a report. And I try to be accurate in my report in what I'm saying. But sometimes when people read it, they get their own bias involved, if you will. Some people think that any water stain anywhere in a house means that the house is unlivable or that there's some perhaps organic growth in the wall that is overtaking the house that it's behind that tiny little droplet of water stain. So, I can help people kind of overcome some of those fears and understand that it's not... No house is perfect. And you can't necessarily do that in a report. It's an educational thing. So in that regard, I always find that when my clients are there, I almost never hear back from them. And although that might sound harsh, that's actually really good in the home inspection business, because it means that we gave them good information. They had no questions.
The last thing that a home inspector wants is to have to go back over and over the same thing, because they didn't describe it right. Or they don't understand it themselves. And if the client's there, it goes a great distance in eliminating a lot of that uncertainty. And uncertainty sometimes translates into people not buying a house. So again, I don't tell people to stay home and not come. Some home inspectors do not want people around because they're only going to be there an hour so they can run off to the next inspection. You can't tell how thorough someone is if you're at home and they're somewhere else. So that's, in my opinion, it's good to be there for me. But really, the end of the inspection is the best part if you're going to be there at all.
I agree. And you know, on the flip side of that, being in a second home in a vacation market where we're often doing most of our properties, it's not required that you attend either. So I don't want you to get the wrong idea. If you're not local, you can't make it here for the day of the inspection, whatever it may be. We'll discuss that for a moment, Zack, because you know, any good home inspector, maybe not all of them, I don't know. But a good home inspector should have a detailed, photographed report. And instead of at the end of the inspection of reviewing it in person, the buyer could have a phone consultation or review it with you. Correct?
That's true. In fact, I was offering people at the end of the inspection who couldn't be there, a Skype call or a FaceTime or something like that on my iPad. But, timing often doesn't work out for that anyway. If people can't be there for the inspection, they generally can't be there by their phone or their computer at the end of my inspection either. But that is a way to get around the issue of not being able to show up.
And one thing I'd like to add is sometimes people call me up and "Are you available at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon? Because, that's the only time I'm available." That's what they'll say. And I kind of feel sad because what they're doing is they're really hemming themselves into probably ending up with a home inspector who's not that great and really needs the work. Or they'll say, "I can't be there on Thursday, Friday, or next Monday or Tuesday." Well, you really don't have to be there at all.
If you feel compelled to be at the house, talk to your agent about perhaps, I don't know if this is possible, but coming down at a different time and checking the furniture or doing the measurements or whatever, and not try to jam that into the home inspection. Also, people will want to bring their contractor. And they say, well, "Joe, my remodeler, can't be there until Saturday at nine at night. Can you be there to do your inspection then so we can do it at the same time?" And unfortunately, the answer that question is usually no. And nobody wants to turn down business, but I think buyers need to be somewhat realistic. And they really should be picking the home inspector that they want that will do the best job for them, not the home inspector that happens to be available on Tuesday at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Correct. Yeah. I couldn't agree more. We see it constantly where the focus of the buyer is the scheduling, rather than the correct inspection or the correct process. And, as you already indicated, not just because you're on this call, but if somebody wants to get a home inspector out there on 12 hours notice, it's probably not the best home inspector you're getting. If they're available that quickly, right. The same could be true for a CPA, or an attorney if they're valuable like that, they might not be the best. Ignoring coronavirus of course.
If I might interject. Some of my favorite phone calls have been people who have called me to say, "I need a home inspection. Can you be there in 20 minutes?" And they don't even know where my office is, let alone the fact that I'm not sitting around necessarily waiting for the phone to ring so I could jump in my car. It is very, very rare. I've had one or two situations where a home inspector had to cancel at the last minute due to a death in the family or something like that. And they were already all lined up and people drove in from Virginia. And they called me and said, "I really need a home inspection today. Is there any way you can do it?" And I would do it like at five in the evening or in the afternoon. That's rare. But those are situations that I will consider, but not for somebody who calls me when I'm in the middle of an inspection, expecting me to be there.
And that's, it's expectations. People they want to have something done quickly, but they need to understand this is a profession and we have schedules and we can't always be there precisely when people want us there, especially if it's within 20 minutes.
Of course. And I think that goes back to how long it takes for proper inspection. So sometimes people don't realize that it might take three or four hours for that house. And if that's the case, it's just not reasonable to expect it to happen immediately. We've actually had, in talking about not attending the inspection, we have sold to clients who have been overseas as far as Australia, Italy in different countries and everything has worked out just fine. Just the way you've described, that you've gone there, the real estate agent gives you access, you inspect the property, they get a photographed detailed report and still have a phone consultation with you to review it.
Yeah. I've had clients who I never spoke to on the phone, never met, they were overseas. And perhaps they even couldn't speak English. They got a report, they were able to have a relative translate it for them and everything worked perfectly. So everything from people walking around with me to people never even meeting me. As long as I have access to the property, it's safe to inspect, and relatively free of debris, they'll get a pretty thorough inspection from me.
Great, great. So something that I know you've dealt with before, and we've had come up quite a few times as real estate agents, is when a buyer is proceeding with buying a new construction home, whether it be completed already or in the process of, they are made aware that they're going to get a 10 year new home warranty, which is required and they will get that by the state.
But they're often, I think shied away from the builder, that they don't need a home inspection. And most people think, well, why would I get one on a new construction home?
Would you still recommend that type of person getting a home inspection?
I've had a number of people call and question on the phone with me, whether they need it or not. And they sort of wanted to be convinced in why. And I give them a couple of stories about new construction homes that I've inspected and, obviously situations that no one would ever want to get themselves into. And they book with me. Keep in mind a new construction home inspection does not need to follow the state standard for home inspections. So there are some other things you want to inspect and things you want to key in, on with new construction that you wouldn't necessarily be doing with preexisting.
You want to make sure... It's almost like commissioning house, there are things that would have to be right at the very beginning, but sometimes they're missed by the contractor, they're missed by the code official. They may not necessarily be code related. But these are safety related items, they are functionality items. I'll inspect a house and in November that has air conditioning, but you can't test it in November. So I have to look over it carefully to make sure it looks like everything is in the right place. I'll turn on the blower. I'll check to see where the registers are blowing and where they aren't. I've had situations where they mixed up the duct work and the downstairs air conditioning was connected to a couple of the upstairs registers and vice versa.
My favorite is the time when I found that the main plumbing drain leaving the house was disconnected, I guess, for a pressure test and they never put the elbow back on again. So every toilet that flushed, every sink that ran, every shower ended up in the crawl space. And you can imagine what that would be like after a year when people started smelling things and not knowing where they were or where it was coming from because the house had a crawlspace. And no one ever goes into a crawlspace. So that being said, usually when I tell people the story about the house that didn't have the plumbing elbow, that's enough to convince people, hey I don't want to take the chance. Now, new homes have home warranties. They are 10 year warranties. But the only thing that goes out to 10 years, my understanding is structural issues. Everything else is either one, or perhaps three years, mechanical systems might be three years. But mostly everything else, water leaks and things like that, plumbing issues, are all one year. So people are led to believe perhaps that they have 10 years to find things. That's not necessarily true, only structural. So having a new construction home inspection picks up a lot of those things that you'd never find it until it's too late.
Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned that. Because I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of that new construction home warranty. And it really is the first one to two years for what we'll call that bumper to bumper warranty that includes everything. And a year flies by. And I've seen people not have that inspection even notice on their own that things are wrong and not report it to the builder by the time that that time is up. So, very important. I would agree, always have a home inspection on a new construction.
One other thing I would add is you might have the best builder in the world that you either hired or you're buying from. And a lot of people forget that most of the construction process actually subcontracted. So sometimes you don't know who did most of the work in the house. So, it's worth the price to have a second set of eyes on it.
I'll give you an example. I did a set of condominiums. I inspected eight condominiums in a group that was being built. This is a long time ago now, maybe 12 years ago. When things were really hot and heavy in the construction, there wasn't enough plumbers to go around. So they were pulling people from around the country to do subcontract work. And a Florida plumber didn't realize that it gets below freezing in New Jersey and put plumbing outside. The main water valve, the main water coming in was in a box that was uninsulated outside. So I did the inspection. It was about 13 degrees out and the pipes had broken. Now who would have known that? It was winter time, the water was turned off and the builder said, hey, turn the water on, there's a valve outside. I'm like what? Sure enough... That's an example of something that would not have been picked up. I mean, obviously they would have discovered it once they moved in.
But the other thing I want to mention, and when you were talking, this thought came to mind. I've often inspected multiple buildings from the same builder. And the first time I inspected one of his buildings, I found quite a bit of loose end things, I would call. Some builders, use the home inspection report as their punch list. Things that they forgot to do. Now, it's not cosmetic items, so loose trim and things like that don't get reported, but there are other things that they forgot to do, caps that they didn't remove and stuff like that. So, however, by the time I got to the third inspection with this contractor, the house was perfect. And I happened on that inspection, to have, a guy came in who worked for the builder, who said "Everything okay?" He came in at the end of the inspection. I said, "You know what? It came out super well this time." He goes, "Well, that's because he sent me in ahead of time to do what you're doing."
So essentially, the builder originally was not doing... Was just basically relying on the subcontractors to finish what they did and that was the end of it. Now the guy is sending somebody through testing everything, testing the heating and air conditioning. And the guy, spent hours the day before I went there. He just wanted to check to see if he missed anything. So that builder, now, every time I do an inspection, it's perfect. At least, the cosmetic things, maybe not. But all of the functionality and accessibility, things that I normally look for is perfect.
Now, as a home inspector, it sometimes doesn't look like I've done my job if I don't find anything, but I tell people ahead of time, if it turns out to come out really well, it's probably because the builder doesn't want to be embarrassed with a long shopping list of things he didn't do right. And builders believe me, can it be prima donnas. They want to think that they're delivering a house to their million dollar buyer perfect. And no house is perfect. But you can get closer and closer if you pay attention. And so I wanted to add that just because I don't find-
And so, I wanted to add that, just because I don't find anything substantial in a new construction home inspection doesn't mean that a week before that there wasn't a lot of problems that got fixed before I showed up.
Yeah, for sure. So, again, it doesn't matter the house, I would always recommend getting a home inspection, even if it is new construction. I know we're covering a lot today. One more thing that I wanted to get to is, you might've had an extreme example with that builder in Florida versus here in New Jersey, in a cold weather environment. But we have a significant different environment here at the shore than maybe other areas or on the mainland. So, bouncing back to finding that right inspector, you can have any New Jersey licensed home inspector, that's fine. But I think if you're buying a vacation property on one of our barrier islands, there may be a different level of knowledge that an inspector has to have, right?
Yeah, absolutely. And I can elaborate on that from two perspectives. One is from home inspection, I meet with a lot of other home inspectors periodically, we have meetings, association meetings, et cetera, most of these guys and gals work inland, they have basements. They don't have a lot of crawl spaces. Down here at the shore, mostly crawl spaces and they're a different environment. You can have wet crawl spaces, you can have dry crawl spaces, but in the middle of the state, you don't want to have a wet basement. Another thing is down at the shore, barrier islands, there is no radon, if you head inland and you head north, radon is an issue. So, down here I've often had people ask, "Do I do radon inspections?" And I said, "Well, if I was certified to do radon inspections, I would have one job every year. It's not worth it."
However, if you get up into the Camden area, every house gets a radon inspection. So, completely different construction, completely different environment in terms of soils, sand drains better than clay, obviously. So, drainage issues that you have on the mainland, you don't necessarily have on the island. I've done a lot ... And the other perspective, I was going to mention this as an engineer, I've done a number of forensic inspections for insurance companies, attorneys, banks, where I go in after something's been damaged and try to figure out what caused it. That's a lot different perspective than a home inspector has, which is just identifying issues that are wrong. Well, at the shore I've done after hurricane Sandy, after hurricane Irene, I've done a lot of coastal inspections and seen foundations that have been washed out or blown over. And so, it's a lot different, when I did a hurricane Irene inspection in the center of the state from heavy rains and when I did a flooding inspections after floods along the barrier islands.
So, the construction is different. The contractors are different. I find electricians in the northern part of the state used aluminum wiring a lot during the day, and it was acceptable down at the shore, out of 5,000 inspections I've only run into one house that was wired with aluminum wiring. So, down here they tend to be a little bit backwater. They don't try a lot of the newer things right away. So, usually if there's a problem with a particular material, it gets discovered before it becomes a big deal at the Jersey Shore. So, there's some cultural, if you will, and experiential differences between contractors that are working inland and those that are working at the shore. So, my experience is mainly coastal. So, I do basements, of course, but most of what I do is crawl spaces or slab on grade construction, so I'm very, very familiar with that. Other home inspectors might have more experience with basement issues because that's all they see.
Right. Yeah. I couldn't agree more that having that local knowledge is important. I mean, we're working with buyers in an area that have an extreme amount of focus on flooding and I get it. I understand, sometimes we make light of it because we happen to live in a flood zone, but if you're a buyer coming from a different area, that's a natural concern, flooding, a house that might be on pilings that you're just not familiar with this. Then, frankly, why would you hire somebody to do the inspection that has no experience in a flood zone or a house that might be on pilings? I'll never make sense of it, but I'll leave it there.
Before we wrap up on buyers, what I wanted to see if you could do is, just set expectations a little bit. A lot of times I can see the day that a buyer gets a home inspection report, it can be a very difficult and even emotional experience for them, particularly if they're a first time home buyer. There may be a 30, 45 page report on a house that's not even in that bad a condition. Sometimes it is as scary as it looks and sometimes it's not. Any tips or advice for a buyer to set their expectations a bit?
Yes. And I'd like to start out by saying that I just had a house that I'm selling go under contract and just had the inspection report from the home inspector who went around and under my house. And the report was something like 60 pages long and my expectation was, it's an older home, I knew there would be things that need to be fixed. But as soon as I saw the 60 pages my heart sank, then when I went through the report, I realized that if you took all the pictures out, it was around 15 pages long. So, this particular home inspector used huge photographs and that's all well and good, but you only sometimes need one picture to show something. You don't need five of the same thing. And so, my inspector reports tend to have smaller pictures and they tend to only be located in the summary section.
That way you can print out the summary section and pictures and not break your printer. But one of the things that I feel is, there's no reason to put a 60 or a 70, or in one case I've seen 130 page home inspection report, for a house that I would probably have had a report that was maybe 35 pages long. That again, things that were repetitive, things that were large typeface, extra large photographs, pages that didn't complete to the bottom, they would jump to the next page. So, it just made a lot of volume. So, that's one thing that unnerves buyers, is a long report. Another thing, is it may not be very well written. Not everybody is a thespian or an author. They can't really speak well, necessarily, all the time or write very well. I happen to be an engineer, but I happen to also, I think, write pretty well. At least that's what people tell me. That's not usual for an engineer, but trying to describe things to a person who doesn't understand a lot of technical terms is a challenge for people that are technical.
But I think setting expectations by letting people understand that the house isn't going to be perfect, and that's okay, that there will be things that they will find once they move into the house, that wouldn't have been noticed during a home inspection, like when people move furniture or pull up rugs and discover holes and other things that wouldn't have been seen. So, you have to set the expectations that it's not perfect. And, I guess, I joke sometimes by saying that if you set expectations low enough, your client will always be happy. If you try to tell people that you're the best home inspector in the world, and that you never made a mistake, and that you accurately report everything, you are going to be out of business very quickly because you're setting expectations so high, you will fail. Nobody's perfect.
So, I spend a great deal of my time in everything I write, whether it's my pre-inspection agreement, my report, my cover letters, and my talking with people to make sure they understand what a home inspection is all about and what it isn't supposed to do. In particular, it is not to identify what will make the house perfect for a new buyer. It just is not the case. And people come in with their own set of expectations and sometimes they become disappointed when they realize that they're not going to be told every single thing that is wrong. Everything from a paint chip to it collapsing into a hole, that's not the purpose of a home inspection.
Yeah. Yeah. What I would add there is not to beat the dead horse, but take advantage of your home inspector willing to offer that follow-up consultation after you get the report. Don't freak out when you get the report right away because, again, there are instances where something might look worse in the report than it is. And the opposite could be true too, of course, that's why it's good to talk to the inspector, take some time, don't make that initial reaction right away until you have the consultation with the inspector. Before we wrap up on things here with buyers, Zack, any other suggestions that you would have for a buyer or anything they can do to prepare before their inspection?
Well, I think as far as preparation goes, just to be ready when the report comes in, to be able to look it over, don't wait four or five days to read your report. Get together, if you don't understand something, get together with your home inspector on the phone, talk about those particular items that concern you or that you don't understand, so that you can get educated on what perspective the home inspector has as to what's important and what isn't.
And also, make sure you talk to your real estate agent when you're putting the repair list together, so that they quote what's in my report or what's in any home inspectors report, as to what the problem is, and not to try and rewrite things, because I've seen problems where people want to have something in the worst way. Like there's an old water heater and it's working fine, so it's not a defect, but they really want a new water heater. And so, the writeup ends up coming out, home inspector says, "A new water heater is necessary." And then I'm like, no, that's a wishlist, that's not a reality. So, I'd say try to be realistic as a buyer as to what things people will probably fix and what they won't and don't be disappointed if every one of your items that you're asking for, you don't get. It's a negotiation and be flexible.
Yeah. And what I'll end with is, keep in mind as a buyer, the differences between your real estate agent and the home inspector, right? The real estate agent can help you with that repair list but the real estate agent is not a contractor. They're not the home inspector. In fact, real estate agent's not allowed to give advice on the condition of the property. So, if you have condition related questions about a particular defect, that's what the home inspector is there for. And the real estate agent will let you know, there are certain things that might be contractually required of the seller to repair. And there's other things that, as Zack indicated, might just be a wishlist and sure you could ask for them, but you'll take that strategy up with the agent and how you're going to proceed with it.
So, Zack, moving on from there, I know that there's a lot to talk about with buyers, but I almost never hear anybody focused on sellers and sellers having a home inspection. So, I'd like to drill down a little bit on having a seller, before they bring their home onto the market, having a pre-listing inspection. I know you and I have talked about this a lot, but not a lot of sellers are doing this right now. And those that are, I'm seeing have a very positive experience. So, can you fill everybody in? What are we talking about with a pre-listing inspection for a seller?
Well, a pre-listing inspection, as I do them, are identical to an inspection I would do for a buyer. That will give the seller a heads up on those things that are key issues that might turn up in the future buyer's home inspection. So, keep in mind that every home inspector is different in what they emphasize and their experience, knowledge, training and education will give them. So, it's not something that if you fix everything in the pre-inspection home inspection list, that the guy gives you, it doesn't mean that the next home inspector isn't going to find some things. So, the idea is ,what you want to do is to have the time to think about what you want to fix and what you might want to just disclose, get multiple bids from contractors, for those things you do want to fix. Talk to the pre-listing home inspector that you have, to find out the significance of some of the items, because some things might look bad, but they're not defects.
And you want to have the home inspector in the report. In my case, I will note those things that look significant, but really aren't. And that way, the future home inspector, when they make a big deal out of something, you can say, "Well, look, that crack in your structure is not structurally significant, so it doesn't need to be repaired." And that's where, in my case, it's very helpful to have an engineering degree because I can make comments on structural issues that other home inspectors might red flag, not knowing that it isn't really significant. And, so I'm sure, and I know for a fact that people that I've done pre-listing inspections for, generally have saved way more money in terms of things they had to fix when they were given the shortlist from their future buyer. In other words, it was money well spent for them.
My inspections, for a three bedroom home, if it's $500, I, generally speaking, will save people multiples of that in grief and time, as well as in not having to fix things they don't have to, down the road or getting multiple bids from contractors where they can get the best price. Because the worst thing is, you find out that you have to fix something right after you've got your offer, you're afraid you're going to lose the deal as a seller. So, you knuckle under and do the things that are being asked, only to maybe not even know that you didn't have to do those things, and still would have been able to sell the house.
I have a unique perspective when I'm selling a property that because I'm a home inspector, I can look over the other guy's home inspector report and see which things are legitimate and aren't, and I've sold a lot of homes over the years and the home inspector for the buyer didn't know I was a home inspector, and they reported stuff that was ridiculous, to be honest. Roofs that were five years old, that they said needed to be replaced, water leaks that didn't exist. Doing a pre-listing home inspection, one of the advantages is I'm the advocate of you, the seller. So, I can work on your behalf to make sure you don't end up spending money you don't have to, and you don't end up fixing things you don't have to.
Because not all home inspectors are created equal. Some guys are better than others. Some, perhaps they were sued and now are super conservative, and they'll call everything out. And those things aren't necessarily needing to be repaired. And I can coach the seller in those cases where I'm representing the seller as the home inspector and say, "Look, this is bogus. I'll talk to the other home inspector if you want me to, I'll help you with a write-up that you can dispute it." And I think that really means a lot because people feel helpless when they're selling a house and they're given a repair list because they might think that there are things on there that they don't have to do, but they're being compelled to do them because there's no one out there helping them to share information that might make those things unnecessary.
I couldn't agree more. I know as the real estate agent involved, when somebody is hiring us to sell their home, we have many jobs, of course, but one of the things we like to focus on, actually, is reducing the amount of stress for a seller. It can be extremely emotional selling a home, having to make a move and oftentimes there's some stress involved. We want to try and reduce that. So, I know you've been involved in this before. The timeline here is, a seller often is actually very happy. They put their house under contract, they're going to make a move, maybe, hopefully they see some type of windfall or paycheck from selling. And now two weeks later, they receive a repair request list from the buyer and it brings on an extreme amount of stress, and they're upset, and they're angry and they're blaming the home inspector or blaming the buyer.
And it all could have been alleviated, in my opinion, in most cases, if you had had the pre-listing inspection. It gives you the time to prepare, for example, as the listing agent, one of the things that we like to do is take a little bit more time than the average agent in preparing your home for photographs, for example, and making sure everything looks right, that's a cosmetic detail, right? But for the, as Zack indicated, if there is a defect with the house, you now have time to plan on if this is something that you want to repair beforehand, or not repair and disclose, but you have an estimate already of how much the repair costs. You're in control now as a seller where my opinion is you no longer have that control once you waited till the last minute and you have to be reactive to the buyer's inspection.
I think you hit the nail on the head. When you are under the time gun, you've lost control, okay? The buyer now has pretty much control over what happens. The things that they're asking for, the things that they're expecting, and all you can really do is put your hands up in the air and say, "Oh, okay, here we go." And, unfortunately, that usually means spending money you didn't have to spend. A simple thing, having the opportunity to have three contractors quote on a structural repair versus the contractor knowing that you are under the time gun and knowing you're not going to get any other bids for the job. And he happens to be very busy, so he's going to price your job high and then maybe not do the other guy down the street and do yours, and make more money.
That isn't the case if you have the time to decide. First of all, you can say, "I'll either fix it or I'll get a price to fix it and let you know what that is, as that as the buyer." But it puts you in control, I think that was the key phrase you used, as the seller. And the last thing you want is for a deal to fail, because there was a either miscommunication or the buyer was upset because there was something they thought should be done and you weren't willing to do it, because you didn't have the time to make an informed decision. So, I think it almost makes it, I won't say a sure thing, but if you want to sell a house and you want to have the least amount of headaches, spending that, whatever it is, $500, 450, whatever it happens to be, and you're selling a 300, $400,000 house, it's a good investment.
And as I mentioned before, I can't think of anybody that I did an inspection like that for, that didn't gain valuable knowledge that saved them way more than what they spent on me. So, in fact, I enjoy doing those, I think, even more than I do regular home inspections for buyers, because people are thrilled that they have an advocate helping them, that they have time to make decisions. They can ask questions about what's important and what isn't and that makes everything go way smoother in the long run.
Yeah. It doesn't necessarily alleviate time for us as real estate agents, but I'll admit it does make our job easier because we typically have facts to go off of. We can continue talking about this because I think it's really important. I'm not an attorney, right, but as a real estate agent, I never want to see one of my clients get sued or have a buyer take legal action against them. But what I see happen a lot is they get the home inspection and now the seller, who has no experience or technical knowledge in constructing a home, wants to provide to the buyer that, "No, that's not a leak." Or, "Yes, it is." Or, "There is no structural defect here." And I always get very uncomfortable when the seller is putting their word that whatever the home inspector said is not true.
We always want that to come from a licensed professional, not the seller themselves and you have that when you have a pre-inspection, right? In addition to that, one of the things with home inspectors that we've talked about today is, sometimes the home inspector's providing their opinion and which is okay, but they may not be a technical expert in that particular field. So, sometimes the home inspector has to, and correct me if I'm wrong, Zack, but sometimes the home inspector has to identify an issue, but not a repair to that issue.
Yeah. So, again, as a seller, right now you have the opportunity to determine what the nature of that repair is without the added pressure.
Yeah. And also, because different home inspectors have different experience levels and different understandings of various systems and components. One home inspector might call something a defect, that another home inspector knows is not a defect. I know for personal experience that a home inspector told me that the windows I had in my house had failed thermal seals, meaning that the air was getting in between the twin glass panes and causing fogging, et cetera. Well, these windows had no fogging whatsoever. What was happening was a cosmetic issue that had to do with the window inside between the glass, that had nothing to do with the glass itself, the glass just clear, perfectly, and no condensation or any impairment. So, it was a misstatement, which if I had to fix those windows would have cost me six or $7,000 to replace these windows. So, my feedback was, "There is no thermal seal failure, what you see as a cosmetic issue." And I explained what thermal seal failure looks like and the buyer of my house was like, "Okay."
I saved $7,000. Now I can help a seller do the same thing. Because if I do the inspection, say the windows have a cosmetic issue and the next home inspector for the buyers says it's thermal seal failure, replace the windows, there's ammunition there to let the air out of the sails of that particular issue and it's no longer an issue. And that's why I say it saves a lot more money than it costs to do a pre-listing home inspection, in my opinion, based on my own experience.
I would tend to agree. Again, we don't do them as frequently as we would like but the few times that we have it's always been a great experience.
It's not very popular here for some reason. Others area of the country, very popular. So I guess maybe it's cultural, I don't know. Maybe it's because it's the coastal communities and most of these homes might be vacation homes, I don't know if that's the reason. But I've talked to other home inspectors and gone to meetings where half of the inspections they do are pre-listing inspections. With me it's maybe one out of 30. So there's no harm in knowing about what's going on with your house and as a seller, if you preverbal, stick your head in the sand, you're going to be faced with problems that require an emergency decision. Not the way to go.
You're going to find out eventually. I have sellers who say, "I don't want to know because we're going to have it disclose it." Well that could be true, but you're going to find out eventually when the buyer has their inspection, regardless. And what I ask sellers to do is to take a step back for a minute and picture that you're a buyer. If there's multiple homes for them to choose from, which home would you prefer? The one that has question marks surrounding it because you have no idea the condition of it or the one that's already had in inspection and the seller's already made the significant repairs?
That's an excellent point. And what I had mentioned is if you are a buyer and the seller says, "I had a home inspector come through and I fixed all these things, and these other things I didn't have to fix and here's why." I think the comfort level of the buyer is greatly improved. Because as a home inspector, I can tell you many, many buyers suspect that sellers are either hiding something or they don't want to know. Unfortunately not everybody believes in the sale of a house that everybody is upfront and forward. And if you have taken the time and effort and money to buy a service like a pre-listing inspection, it's showing that you really care about the buyers. I think the buyers interpret it that way.
So now, that being said, the buyers should not take that pre-listing home inspection and say, "Oh, okay I don't have to have one. I can save myself $500 as the buyer." That is not going to work. A home inspection is only valid for literally the day of the inspection because anything can happen after the home inspector leaves. A heavy rainstorm, a windstorm, a pipe leak, you rent your house out and the tenets destroy it. Anything like that can happen. And just regular routine maintenance. I've had people say a week after I did the inspection their water heater started leaking. Or their window cracked. If I could have predicted that I wouldn't be a home inspector, I'd be a billionaire playing the stock market. But I think that's an important consideration.
I would agree. And to back that up, no inspector is perfect either. Some inspectors are going to notice some things that a different inspector does not and that doesn't mean that the inspector's poor because they missed something. How many components are there of a home? It's just going to happen. But as a seller, again, I would focus on how this is putting you in control again of the transaction rather than having to be reactive to what the buyer asks of you and tells you. We talked earlier that it can be a difficult day sometimes when a buyer gets their home inspection report, I find the same to be true for sellers. I also reference the Febreeze commercial where they say somebody's nose blind, that they won't notice their house stinks. Well, when they get their home inspection report, there's things in their house that they walk by every single day they never, ever noticed because it's their house, they live there, they believe everything is fine. And there may be something going on that you don't even recognize.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). People get to become familiar with the problems that their house has. A couple weeks ago I tripped on a transition between two floors. One floor was lower than the other and they put this big, fat transition strip on it and I was going from one room to the other and I tripped. And the seller happened to be there and said, "Oh, I see you noticed that." He goes, "We're so familiar with it we don't even think about it." But of course that ended up in my report as a recommendation to put an actual transition in because somebody buying a house doesn't have that foreknowledge and understanding and is going to trip just like I did. So that's another good one.
We get it all the time from sellers, "Yeah, I understand the home inspector's right but we've been doing it or using it like that for years. It's fine." So if you are a seller, whether you have a pre-inspection or not, at some point it's very likely your buyer is going to have a home inspection. So if you were a seller, I guess for this purpose let's ignore and say you didn't have a pre-listing inspection, what should you do to prepare before the buyer's home inspector shows up?
Well that's a great question because as a home inspector, I'm discouraged when I arrive at a house that is not ready for the home inspection. There could be valid reasons for that, if it's a tenet occupied property, you can't force the tenet to get the house ready for a home inspector. They don't really care, usually. But there are things you can do as the seller to make the home inspector's job easier and also at the same time, take a lot of guesswork out of what happens. For example, if I can't get into a crawl space because someone has a dresser sitting on top of the inside entrance of the crawl space and I have to put in my report I was unable to inspect the components in the crawl space because it was inaccessible, well now the buyer is going to be concerned maybe there's something in there that was really major that the seller didn't want you to see or maybe it's in there that nobody knows about, rotting wood or termites or something like that.
So what do you do as a buyer? You now feel a risk that you didn't have before. So you want, as a seller, to make sure everything the home inspector is going to be looking at is accessible. You want to be able to clear out anything in front of the electrical panel, you want to remove all the little glassware do-dads that you have sitting on top of all the windows so that the home inspector can open and close the windows without a cascade of glassware falling. Or candles. Or window belongings that are very delicate and as soon as anybody pulls on the cords they come off the wall. Well why don't you just raise all those blinds. I don't know why people, when they are getting ready to accommodate a home inspection, will drop all of their blinds. First of all you can't see anything when you're doing the home inspection so you really, as a good home inspector, are going to pull all the blinds up.
So open the blinds, move all of the stuff away from the front of the fireplace. A lot of people like to put a lot of do-dads in front of the fireplace. I did an inspection the other day and people put a tray across the burners of a gas range with a fabric cover and then they put ketchup and mustard and whatever else sitting on top of this. Well, I have to remove all that stuff to operate the burners, otherwise I'm going to start a fire. I've had people leave plastic ice cube trays stored in an oven, bread in bags stored in a microwave. These are things you want to get out because obviously you don't want them destroyed, but you also don't want to make the home inspector get really super annoyed because it looks like everything that he has to do has been blocked by something in place there.
Now, granted there are going to be some properties you can't do anything with. Pack rat properties, I call them, where people collect for years and years and years, maybe it was an elderly parent, and now the kids are selling the house and the place is completely chock full of stuff. Every other sentence in my home inspection report says I was unable to inspect this because of clutter. That is not good if you're a buyer, to see something like that. Now, obviously some of that stuff you can't get rid of. But when you're moving and you're getting ready to move out of a house, don't stack all the boxes up in front of areas that home inspectors are going to have to get to. Move the boxes in four feet from the wall so that it doesn't block outlets and windows and electrical panels and things like that. If there's a pull down staircase and you have a dresser in that bedroom that would be struck by the stairs, move the dresser so the home inspector can drop the stairs and get up in the attic.
If you have something padlocked, take the padlocks off. How many times have I gone to try and get into an outside shower and someone has padlocked it and they're nowhere to be found to unlock it. What else? It's important to have all of the utilities on, very important. Especially in the winter time. A lot of vacation homes, people, when they leave they shut off the circuit breaker or they shut off the water. Home inspectors are not going to turn these on because they could cause a flood or an electrical fire, an explosion. These all should be on and ready to go when a home inspector arrives. So even as a real estate agent, you probably know, and most do, that you want to make sure, if you're the listing agent, that that property is ready to inspect with the utilities. Many, many times a home can't be inspected with the utilities on because it might be a condo in a building that winterizes their building. So you can't bring one unit back when the whole building is winterized. And I understand that.
But you have to make it so that a home inspector can do their job. So as a seller preparing for the home inspection mentally is important. But preparing physically is more important. Because you don't want the home inspector to have to say at every turn, "I was unable to inspect because it was blocked." So that's my advice.
Yeah, think about it if you're a seller, at the end of the day you want the buyer to end up showing up at the settlement table and closing on your house. So if you can do anything to make this process a little bit easier, it's typically worth it because the buyer has already paid the home inspector to show up at your house. Now the home inspector has to go back to them and say they couldn't complete their inspection for any number of reasons and now, depending upon the inspector, they may actually charge the buyer to return to reinspect if that's asked of you. And who wants the inspector coming back to your house? Just make it ready for them.
The one that you mentioned that we have had happen to us before is very common in this area, is the second homeowner will winterize the house and turn off the water valve to the house and they don't bleed the lines or winterize it properly and then they expect the real estate agent to turn that valve on just to find out that there's a broken pipe in the house five minutes before the home inspection starts. I hate to say this but that's why, again, have the pre-home inspection and you will alleviate having these things come up, right?
Yep. One quick example, I did an inspection in Seattle City about 10 years ago. I showed up, the water was off. I was told by the seller through their real estate agent that I was given permission to turn the water on and I reluctantly did that but I wanted to have something on paper so they emailed me the permission. Turns out I almost burned the house down. And you say why would turning a water valve cause that? Well, the homeowner had wired an outlet into the wall in the same compartment where the water valve was. So I had to drag his dresser away from the wall, I had to reach in and turn this water valve that's in a recess in the wall behind a panel. When I removed the panel to get to the valve, the wires that were in there touched because they had baked off, over the course of a long period of time, and the wires were completely bare and they touched and caused the sawdust in the wall to catch on fire.
Oh my gosh.
And that problem was actually not the worst of it. There was other issues that went along. Everything that I wasn't supposed to do as a home inspector I was asked to do and every one of the things caused a bigger problem. So bottom line, the house never sold. However, the seller was thrilled that I discovered these things because I saved his house, actually, from burning down because someone else would have caused that other than me and it probably would have been worse. So that being said, if the house was ready, nobody would have had to turn the water valve on. Now, the buyer was happy because I found these things and they said, "Geez, there are not items you would have normally discovered." And I said, "That's absolutely right." Things that were defective, I never would have reached into the wall because I wouldn't have had to. So in that case there was a silver lining. I helped the seller because his house didn't burn down and the buyer ended up with a property that they liked better firstly and they used the same agent because the agent was very good to them.
It worked out for everybody. But I just have to say, have the place ready. Utilities on, in particular. If you are the seller and it's your second home and you have this pension for turning the water valve off when you leave, remember if your house is going to be inspected, you better turn that valve back on again. Otherwise, the report's going to say I was unable to inspect the house because there was no running water. And that's not a good tell.
And if you're a seller, don't be concerned by what we're saying here. You're going to have advance notice before the home inspection. This isn't something that's typically going to happen with a day's notice. You're typically going to have a few day's notice. And it's best for everybody to make sure things are ready to go when the inspector gets there.
Zack, before we wrap up here, I have one more thing on my list. If the seller does not choose to have a pre-listing inspection, they get the buyer's inspection report back and they don't agree with some of the defects that the buyer's inspector found, what are their best options? What would you advise them to do?
Well, that's a good point and what I would say is that if you can get an independent person to come in to dispute those things. You have a better chance of the buyer understanding why you're not going to fix it. Obviously you're doing a pre-listing inspection on that advocate. But otherwise, you're sort of stuck. If you go to a contractor to say does this really need to be fixed? The contractor, they have skin in the game. They're seeing dollar signs so they're going to say, "Yeah it does." And so not everyone, but there is a bias there to repair or to say it's not necessary. So I guess probably the only thing is to hire a home inspector to be your advocate. I've done that on a couple of occasions. I charge, generally speaking, in my case, about $150 an hour is what I've been doing and I'll give people an hour of my time. Maybe less or more if they want me to show up or if they just want to send me the document, the home inspector's report. Sometimes I need to actually physically look at what it is. There might not be a picture or the picture might not be clear enough for me to tell whether it's legitimate or not.
Again, it's a cost/benefit situation. If it's worth it to spend a small amount of money to save a lot of money, and I've saved people a ton of money, especially out of my engineering business, who were told they needed structure repairs. In one case, $40,000 structure repairs that really was zero because the company that was recommending it was a basement waterproofing company, not a structural engineer. And they stood to make money off that to the tune of $40,000. So if you pay someone $500 to save $40,000 that's a good deal. So it might be worth it to ask a home inspector if they're willing to look over another home inspector's report, maybe come out and take a look because it might be worth it. Especially if the dollars are big enough. And if you believe, as the homeowner, that what's being asked for is unreasonable.
And that's the key. It has to be reasonable. You don't want to expect, as a buyer, that someone's going to rebuild their house for you. A house that they've lived in for 50 years so you have to reasonable and that's really where the home inspector can come in and can separate reason from wish list.
Yeah, I would tend to agree on everything you said there. If you are a seller, it is okay to get a specialist in to check on issues. If it's a plumbing issue, then a licensed plumber, for example. And if you want to go the route of a home inspector, that's just as good. And I like to remind sellers too, that the buyer's home inspector typically isn't trying to be intentional. Even if they are wrong, they're typically not intentional in doing that. It may have been an error or an oversight and we see it happen all of the time where that happens. So having that second opinion is helpful, like most things in life.
Zack, with that said, I think we've done a really deep dive into home inspections here. This is probably going to be the best resource online overall on home inspections. Anything that we forgot to cover?
If there is I can't think of it now. It takes all kinds, I can say. Everybody has their own threshold of pain when it comes to buying a house, things that they don't care about and things that they really care about and everybody's different. And as a home inspector, I have to be cognizant that there are a lot of parties involved and everybody has, at some point, an agenda and I have to be independent. I have to be able to share opinion, not be influenced by the buyer. Oftentimes buyers want something, they want the home inspector to report it, it's a cosmetic, not a defect, it's not even a maintenance item. It's something the buyer wants. And you have to be able to tactically explain to people what the home inspection is for and what it isn't for and set the right expectations and I think explaining things the right way without reports that have words like hazard and danger and things, unless they are absolutely hazardous or dangerous. You've got to be able to explain things without scaring people but giving them the right knowledge, they can make intelligent decisions.
I think that's what you need to look for whenever you hire someone as a home inspector or termite inspector, whatever, that they need to be independent and they need to be able to explain things so you understand them and not scare you. And I guess that's pretty much it.
Good stuff. So Zack, with that said, if somebody wanted to get a hold of you or hire you, what's the best way to get a hold of you?
Probably emailing me. My email, which I guess you might have, the email address to add, but it's my company name AtlantiCape.com. Spelled like Atlantic and Cape run together so it's AtlantiCape.com. And provide me information that I can get back to you on, your contact information, maybe a tiny little bit about the house. That's one way. You can also call me at 609-431-0202, which is my home inspection phone number and I just dropped my phone. So that's another way to get a hold of me. And I'm out there. If I'm doing an inspection, I may not answer right away so leave a voicemail. And I try to accommodate my client's needs and time schedule when possible but if you can be flexible, you're more than likely going to get a good inspector and I think that contacting an inspector early enough in the process gets them thinking about when they can schedule you. And then ultimately when you pick a date and time, try to stick with it, not move it around if you can help it. And then we're going to do a good job as home inspectors for you.
Awesome. Great job. If you didn't catch Zack's contact information we'll make sure that wherever this video is being hosted, that we'll have your phone number and email address directly below it so people can get a hold of you. And Zack, truly appreciate it. Thanks so much for joining us today. It's been super helpful, I think, to anybody who's either buying or selling a home.
My pleasure. Thanks again. Take care.
Zack Lilienfeld, AtlanitCape Inspections: https://www.atlanticape.com/
The topics discussed in this video are general opinions and should not be considered legal advice. Every real estate transaction is unique. Consult your Relator, Home Inspector, or Attorney for your unique situation.