Podcast: When the seller attends the home inspection

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Tessa starts off the podcast by talking about a recent “memorable” home inspection. A less-than-helpful seller decided to stay home for the inspection because nobody told her that she was supposed to leave, and the situation got extremely awkward. To make things much worse, the seller’s agent showed up to the inspection and tried to get in the middle of the whole process.

Next, we talk about what can be done to help prevent these types of situations, giving advice to home sellers, buyers, and real estate agents. We also talk about different variables that will affect the length of the inspection, and ways for homebuyers to get the most out of their home inspection by showing up at the right time.

Reuben also tells a story about how he almost ran a dishwasher with the seller’s laptops hidden inside of it, and they discuss whether or not real estate agents should attend the home inspection.

The podcast ends discussing Continuing Education classes offered by Structure Tech to real estate agents.

TRANSCRIPTION

The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.

Reuben Saltzman: A lot of people have no idea of what a home inspection is, how long it takes, what it consists of, who is going to be at their house, treat this like a really long showing. Assume that the home inspector is gonna be there for several hours. The buyers are gonna be there. Their parents might come along and clean up your house just the way you would on any other showing.

Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everybody, to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. I’m Bill Oelrich, alongside our co-host, Tessa Murry, and Reuben Saltzman.

And on today’s episode we were gonna talk a little bit about the inspection process and not so much exactly what we do, more about managing the whole process. Who’s involved, how long it takes? This whole thing is a pretty emotional event. It’s emotional for the buyers. There’s a ton of pressure on them at this point. This is a fulcrum in the process. The sellers, they’re worried that something’s gonna go wrong and they always wanna know what did you find. And of course, we’ve got the agents and all of the complexities that are involved with we’re trying to manage the deal. And so today Reuben, Tessa, I just wanna get some feedback from you about this process, how we can make it go better from our perspective and ideally what would you like to see? So let’s start with you, Tessa. I know you had an interesting inspection last week, can you just fill us in about what happened and why it might not have been ideal?

Tessa Murry: I’ve got stories about how inspections have just problems, issues that happen that could have been avoided if these agents would have maybe listened to some of these nuggets that we’re about to share. Right, Reuben?

Reuben: Oh my goodness. Well, there’s a whole class that we teach on this, and it’s all about making the inspection process go smoother. That’s the title of the class, hassle-free.

Tessa: Hassle-free.

Reuben: Thank you, hassle-free home inspections.

Tessa: Yes.

Reuben: And this class was just developed out of all the problems that we see with the home inspection process. And, well, I should back up a step. When I said this class, I’m talking about a CE class for real estate agents. There’s five different classes that Tessa and I teach, ranging from four hours down to one hour. Am I saying it right? Hassle-free home…

Tessa: Yeah, hassle-free home inspection.

Reuben: Yeah, hassle-free. That’s a two-hour class we teach. And we just thought it would to be fun to take a couple of nuggets out of that class and do a podcast on it.

Bill: Yeah, and for everybody out there listening: If you’re not a real estate agent CE classes, what does that mean? Well, through Commerce, Minnesota Department of Commerce, real estate agents have to take a certain amount of continuing ed classes each year, and they can get these classes from a variety of sources, but Reuben has developed four or five different classes here that they can attend and get credit for, good for their continuing ed that Commerce requires.

Reuben: That’s right, yeah. And we teach those for free, and we teach them that real estate offices all over the Twin Cities. All that we require is a room and the AV equipment and at least a dozen people in attendance.

Bill: And Tessa, you had mentioned that if the agents, if they had a chance to hear this class, they might be able to help manage a very emotional situation a little better. I think most agents do a really good job of this, and it’s just sometimes there’s bigger gaps in between their deals. But you’ve seen this a thousand times. There’s just such high emotion. What happened last week? Because this is a really good story and this is an oddball story. It doesn’t happen all the time, but this is how bad it can get.

Tessa: Yeah, thank goodness, it doesn’t happen all the time. I don’t know if I could handle being a home inspector, but I show up at the house and the homeowner is still there, the seller’s still there and it is time for the inspection. So of course, ring the door bell. She answered the door, and she’s very friendly, she’s like, “Oh, come on in.” And we all know how that goes, right? And I know that the buyers are gonna show up any minute. And so I ask her, I said, “Oh, were you planning on leaving for the home inspection here?” She’s like, “Oh no, no, I work from home, I’m gonna stay home.” So then that leads me into explaining to her, “Well, this home inspection, it’s gonna take about three to four hours and the buyers are gonna be showing up here any minute, with me to go through this house from top to bottom and look at everything and talk about everything that we might find.” You can just see her face just drop like shock, like her mouth opens a little bit like what?

Reuben: ‘Cause nobody told her.

Tessa: No one told her. It’s what she said. And she decided still though, that she wanted to stay there because she had an office and she was working from her home. I said, “Okay that’s fine. We can’t make the seller leave.”

Bill: It’s their house after all.

Tessa: It’s their house after all. So I am going through the house with someone who is there shadowing our company, another potential inspector. We’re down in the basement getting our quick pictures of mechanical systems and everything just like we do at the beginning. And I hear people talking upstairs and I’m like, “Oh shoot, the buyers are here.” And I come up the stairs. And I see the buyers standing in the front entry holding their coffee, kinda looking… They just got this shocked look…

Bill: Confused.

Tessa: And confused look on their face because the seller is there [chuckle] and she’s talking to them, right? And it’s just this really big awkward moment.

Reuben: Super awkward.

Tessa: Super awkward, right? And so I’m like “Oh hey guys, I’m your inspector. Let’s just take a step outside real quick.” And so we step outside and I explain to them the situation. “I’m so sorry, the seller is gonna stay here.” And they’ve never bought a house before so they have no idea what the process is.

Reuben: Rolling my eyes.

Tessa: Oh man, yeah, she…

Reuben: It doesn’t show up in the podcast.

Tessa: So the buyers were anxious and nervous about that. And I said, “You know, I’m still gonna go through the inspection like I would… We’ll talk about things but I’ll make sure that we’re not having those discussions right in front of the seller.” But they were still not happy about that. They wanted time in the house alone with me. So we can talk about things freely and not have a seller listening nearby. So they call their agent and their agent came over about 30 minutes later and their agent was just so upset that the seller was still there, and why didn’t the listing agent tell her, right? So she gets on the phone and calls a listing agent like three or four times. He doesn’t answer. Maybe about an hour later, we’re inside the house. And I think the listing agent at that point had listened to his voice mail and knew that the buyers were very upset and the agent was upset. And so the seller comes out of her back office and she’s kind of… You can tell she’s kinda scrambling, she’s a little bit upset and she’s like, “Well, I’m getting out of here. How long is this gonna take?” And I’m like, “Well, we’re scheduled to be here,” yeah…

Reuben: “An hour into the three-hour process”, I thought here.

Tessa: Yes. She’s mad at me. And I’m like, “Well we’re gonna be here for another couple hours,” and I said, “I can text you when we’re done so you know.” I said, “But we’re scheduled to be here from 8:00 to noon,” and she’s like, “Okay.” So, she left, and at that point, then the seller’s agent tells the buyer’s agent, “Hey, I’m coming over.” I don’t know why. And the buyer’s agent is there and she’s like, “Why? No, he doesn’t need to come here. Why is he coming here?” So, next thing we know, he shows up and he’s at the house. And now we’re down in the basement. We’ve finished the entire exterior and interior. We’re down in the basement and he starts asking what I found and what are the problems.

Bill: In front of the buyers?

Tessa: No, they were in the other room, and so was the agent. And so, he’s got me isolated and he wants to know what’s going on, and he’s very aggressive, pushy. And I said, “I can’t tell you those things,” I said, “But you can talk to Cathy, who’s right here, and she can tell you what, anything that she wants to share with you.” And I could see he was just really upset and I was like, “I can tell you though, that there’s nothing that’s an immediate safety hazard that I would notify the seller about.”

Reuben: Good. That’s good.

Tessa: We didn’t find any gas leaks. We didn’t find anything that’s gonna blow up the house or super dangerous, and just to put him at ease. Settle him down a little bit. So we’re going through that process. And also too, we have Joe from Drain Busters there, trying to find the sewer clean-out in the basement, which has been finished over. So, we’ve got both buyers, the buyer’s agent, me, the guy shadowing, Joe from Drain Busters, and the seller’s agent, all standing in this tiny little basement and it’s just terrible. And we get outside. And the seller’s agent [chuckle] was like, “Well, she told me that you guys didn’t find anything. There’s no problems there, there’s no problems, so that’s great.” And then the buyers were like, “Wait, what? You told him that there weren’t any problems?” And it’s just like one thing after another snow-balling, right? You get it.

Reuben: They’re putting words in your mouth, yeah.

Tessa: The story goes on and on. Yeah, but…

Reuben: That’s why they shouldn’t be there.

Tessa: The buyers were upset. They were really frustrated that this agent was there, was very pushy, was interacting with everything. They’re upset that the seller was there, the whole thing. She came back at noon and we were still there and you should have seen the look on her face. Just the whole thing.

Bill: Well I can imagine that this was like in the encyclopedia of how to have a very contentious morning, it looks like this. But when we come back, we’re gonna talk a little bit about the classes that you both teach and how we can help educate people. This feels like an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, all day long.

Tessa: Yes.

Reuben: Totally.

Bill: Welcome back to Structure Talk. I’m Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. And before we went to the break, Tessa told us a very uncomfortable story about a very uncomfortable situation. So I’m sitting here thinking, what could we have done better or how could this have been better to be a more successful morning?

Reuben: This is something that we cover in our classes, and this is a message to any real estate agents who are selling houses is remember, that even though you’ve probably done tons of transactions and you know what home inspections are all about, don’t make the assumption that your customer has ever gone through a home inspection. Assume that your home-seller knows nothing about it. So often we show up to houses, and they say, “You’re like an appraiser, right? You’re gonna be here for 15 minutes, in and out.” A lot of people have no idea what a home inspection is, how long it takes, what it consists of, who’s going to be at their house. And really, what it comes down to is, treat this like a really long showing. Assume that the home inspector is gonna be there for several hours. The buyers are gonna be there, their parents might come along. And clean up your house just the way you would on any other showing. Treat this like a really long showing.

Bill: Well, I think that language is important because people understand the language of their world and listing agents when they are talking to their clients, we have a showing set up. They all get it, they understand it versus a home inspection, it brings it into the world that they understand. So I like that you use that language.

Reuben: Yeah, and home sellers, they’ve hopefully even coached up by their agent to know what you do with your house when you have a showing. Use the same language do the same thing. Find something to do, get out of the house for three hours, four hours, whatever. And that’s another topic that we cover in our classes. How long does a home inspection take? And…

Bill: Well, how long does a home inspection take?

Reuben: Well, it’s Tessa’s favorite answer to everything you have.

Tessa: Here we go, “It depends.”

Bill: Can you put some brackets around that “depends”?

Tessa: Yeah, yeah it depends. I would say if you’re an agent and you’re wondering how long it’s gonna take, talk to your inspector ’cause it depends on the age of the house, it depends on the size of the house. It also depends too, on if you’re gonna have your clients or the buyers there for the home inspection. At our company, we encourage the buyers to be there for the whole thing, so that we can go through the whole house with them. Answer any questions that they have. But if you’ve got someone who’s really nervous, who has a lot of questions about things, it might take a little bit longer, right?

Reuben: Oh, and what if it’s an engineer?

Tessa: Yeah, our favorite. Our favorite. Yeah.

Reuben: You could just double the inspection time right there.

Tessa: Yeah.

Bill: Be nice now.

Reuben: No, I love engineers. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong but…

Tessa: Yeah, they ask great questions. They do.

Reuben: But I like to joke, an engineer is never satisfied with your answer until they can explain it back to you. And then they’re satisfied.

Tessa: Yeah, yeah.

Reuben: No, I love engineers.

Tessa: Yeah, so it depends, but we say roughly two to four hours. And it just, it depends.

Bill: Is that a square footage thing? Is that age of the home thing?

Tessa: All of it.

Reuben: No, it’s all of those things.

Tessa: All of it. Yeah.

Reuben: And, condition of the house.

Tessa: Yes.

Reuben: That’s another huge one. You can take the same size house, same age of house, but two very different conditions. One inspection might take you twice as long. Another one is addition. Every time there’s an addition, I feel like that’s gonna add another half-hour on your inspection ’cause it means you may have a separate heating system, you might have a crawl space, you might have a different attic.

Tessa: You might have a separate attic. Yeah. Another electrical panel.

Reuben: Yes.

Tessa: All those things take time.

Reuben: And we can’t predict this stuff. When we just quote prices over the phone, we can’t dig into all that. I’m so envious of single-man operator, home inspection companies, who don’t have any standard pricing and it’s like, “Well, I charge whatever I feel like it’s gonna be.”

Tessa: Yeah.

Reuben: And, then they can ask all these questions and really get into what it’s gonna be. We can’t do that.

Tessa: Yep.

Bill: So, you had mentioned talking to the agent. Do you ever have communications with sellers, selling agents? Do you ever make a phone call to them to have any…

Tessa: As a home inspector, I’m not… At our company, our Client Care Coordinators take care of all of that stuff. All of the scheduling, all of the emails that go out, all the information. So, we send out an email to the listing agent before the inspection explaining the whole process, how long it’s gonna take, when it’s scheduled and to make sure that all of these things are made accessible for the home inspector as well like attic accesses, electrical panels, furnaces to make our inspection go smoother. And, they’re supposed to pass that along to their client, the seller, correct?

Reuben: Yeah, yeah. But there’s an acronym and I heard about this from another real estate agent which is RDR, “Realtors Don’t Read.”

Tessa: Don’t read, yeah.

[laughter]

Reuben: Yeah we didn’t make that one off, that’s somebody else who told me that. I think a lot of these emails, I mean realtors probably get hundreds, maybe thousands of emails a day. I can’t imagine how much stuff they get and I think a lot of them just don’t read all of it. And for the ones that do, are they gonna choose to pass it on to the seller, and if they pass on to seller, does the seller actually read it? I think it happens about 1% of the time.

Tessa: Yeah.

Bill: So Tessa, you don’t have a normal contact with the selling agent. That’s just all takes care of things…

Tessa: No, correct. Yep.

Bill: Okay, Reuben, ideally, who would you like to see at the home inspection and why?

Reuben: Well, in a perfect world, the buyers would be there for the entire time, or maybe they show up a half-hour after we show up. Our first half hour there is usually turn stuff on, turn on all the lights, figure out where everything terminates, walk on the roof, we get all that done, and then the buyer shows up, and ideally they’ll be there for the rest of the time. And, we’ll do it all together. We tell them what we’re doing, we show them how stuff works, there’s a lot of interaction, they ask a lot of questions and sometimes the buyer’s parents will be there. Sometimes it’s better if the buyer’s parents aren’t there. They can be a huge distraction. It’s best if you don’t have a ton of other family members coming there. Sometimes buyers will like to have contractors come through at the same time, they wanna do some big gut remodel. That’s fine, we don’t control the transaction, but it definitely is distracting and it’s where we lose our clients for about 45 minutes, and then we gotta go back through and catch them up on everything. And it takes away from what they’re paying us for. So in a perfect world, it would just be the buyers there and definitely not the sellers…

Tessa: Yeah.

Reuben: Definitely not the listing agent. However, if the listing agent is just gonna sit in one room and watch the house and just hang out and do their thing, I don’t have a problem with that, if they’re just gonna remove themselves.

Tessa: The listing agent?

Reuben: Yep.

Bill: Yeah, ’cause we’ve seen that on some of these high-end houses that the showings have to be under the supervision of the listing agent. So, that’s a pretty unique situation.

Reuben: Yeah, it doesn’t happen a lot but the one I will never forget is the one where one of the listing agent was there, he just sat in the kitchen, he stayed out of the way. And, I was about to start the dishwasher, and he said, “Oh wait, wait, wait, hold on.” Before I turned it on. He said that, “That’s where the sellers keep their laptops.” So, he pulled all the laptops out of the dishwasher.

Tessa: What?

Reuben: Yeah. [chuckle]

Tessa: Wow, he saved you from disaster.

Reuben: Yeah. And so, this was a very long time ago and what I learned there was always look inside the dishwasher before you turn it on. Same thing with an oven.

Tessa: The oven. [chuckle]

Reuben: Yeah, yeah… Always check. So I was really glad he was at that expectation.

Tessa: Oh, my God. Who stores their laptop in a dishwasher?

Reuben: They thought it was a secure spot, they didn’t want their laptops getting stolen on showing.

Bill: When we come back, we’re gonna dig into a little bit about the classes themselves and some of the content that you guys are presenting to help make everybody’s lives a lot easier. You’re listening to Structure Talk. I’m your host Bill Oelrich alongside home inspector extraordinary Reuben Saltzman and building science guru, Tessa Murry.

Okay, welcome back for everybody. Bill Oelrich here alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman and, we’ve just been talking about some classes that have been developed by Structure Tech to help agents meet some of their continuing ed obligations. So, Reuben can you tell me briefly just what classes are available and how long they are?

Reuben: Sure, we’ve got a one-hour class on water intrusion. This is all about stucco homes and looking at water lines and figuring out where water comes into the walls.

Bill: Stucco home?

Reuben: It’s focused on stucco but we also talk about vinyl siding, and wood siding, and stone veneer.

Bill: Okay.

Reuben: It’s basically water intrusion. So that’s a one hour class. The other one hour class is new construction where it’s just a bazillion slides of stuff that we’ve found that has gone wrong on new construction homes. And after you sit through this class, you would never consider having your clients buy a new construction home without getting a home inspection. That’s really what it is, is to let people know all the stuff that can go wrong. The two hour class we’ve been digging into, that’s Hassle-free Home Inspections. The three hour class… Gosh, this has gotta be one of my favorite classes of all time, this… The old houses class. And I have morphed this into a class for home inspectors now. And I thought it was gonna be… I thought I could cut it down to two hours, oh no, it’s a four hour class, when I teach home inspectors.

Tessa: It’s longer.

Reuben: But that one is fantastic. It’s everything related to old houses.

Bill: Yeah, there’s plenty of stock in Minneapolis, St. Paul.

Reuben: Yeah. The last one is a four hour class called Home Inspection Horrors and that’s just all the most common home inspection stuff that we find. And it’s digging into home inspection myths, it’s covering all the stuff that people say is a big deal, and we’re explaining why it’s really not, and then in some cases, vice versa. We’re taking things that sometimes people just brush over, or they say, “Well, that’s not a big deal.” And we’re saying, “Well, actually, it really is a big deal, and here’s why.” So, it’s busting a lot of home inspection myths.

Bill: Great. And so, Tessa, you’ve been teaching these for about the last year. What’s your favorite class?

Tessa: Well, I like teaching the Hassle-free Home Inspections. I also like teaching the New Construction Defects. That’s a fun one. And that the Water Intrusion one is fun too. There’s a lot of good information in the Home Inspection Horrors and the Old Homes class, but a full hour class is a really long class. It’s a lot, isn’t it?

Reuben: Yeah. That’s a marathon class, it is.

Tessa: It is a marathon class, yeah.

Reuben: By the end of my class, I’m like, “I’m ready to go home… ”

Tessa: Me too. [chuckle]

Reuben: And relax, and take a throat lozenge, seriously.

Tessa: Losing your throat after four hours.

Bill: So Tessa, you mentioned that there was actually somebody riding along with you last week. Kinda talk about that a little bit because education is a big part of this company.

Tessa: Yes.

Bill: It’s kind of a core value. What did you do for that particular person?

Tessa: Yeah. Well, so at our company, if you are a home inspector looking to become a home inspector, you can go on our website and we offer training, so you can shadow our inspectors on an inspection, and you can do it once, you can do it twice, however many times you want. But we had a guy who was interested in becoming a home inspector who wanted to see what we do, who was just with me that day.

Bill: Okay.

Tessa: Yep.

Bill: Okay, sounds good. And Reuben, I have one more question that kind of going back to the buyers being at the inspection, I assume this is something that’s evolved over time. Maybe, you have always done it this way, or is this something that you decided as you became more and more involved in the home inspection business that I need these people there the whole time. So tell me, what’s the evolution of that at least at Structure Tech?

Reuben: It certainly did evolve. Back in ’97 or so, we used to have our clients show up for about the last hour, but when people were showing up at the beginning of the inspection, it seemed as though people were getting a lot more value out of being there the entire time, and those are really the people who were the happiest with our services. And at some point, something just clicked for us and we started to realizing people learn a lot more when they’re there the entire time because this is how they get the most value.

Bill: It’s not an industry standard by any stretch.

Reuben: No, it isn’t. I think the majority of home inspectors have their clients show up at the very end of the inspection. And from a home inspection perspective, it would make my life easier to just have a client show up at the very end. We don’t do this for ourselves. This is absolutely a client-driven procedure.

Tessa: Yeah, that’s a great point that you brought that up Bill ’cause when we’re teaching this Hassle-free Home Inspection class, we’re talking about who should be there, when they should show up. Most agents are surprised if they haven’t worked with us before that we actually want the buyers there for the whole thing or after the first 30 minutes.

Bill: I assume you hear that a lot, it’s like, “Maybe I’ll start doing that now.”

Tessa: Yeah.

Reuben: A lot of raised eyebrows.

Tessa: Yeah, yeah.

Bill: Got you. So, is there anything else you wanna add to this that you think would be valuable that would help an agent make their business model more efficient?

Reuben: Alright, one more is agent attendance at the inspection. Should the agent company the inspection or not, the one who’s representing the buyers.

Tessa: The buyer’s agent.

Reuben: Yeah. And I’d say, you’re more than welcome to come to any home inspection. I know I’ve read articles out there saying agent shouldn’t come, and these are written by attorneys who are scared of agents getting sued for saying something inappropriate at the inspection. I’d say, as long as you have appropriate behavior and you’re not gonna be the inspector, and contradict the inspector, and try to steer things towards the deal going through, and you’re just gonna be objective, by all means, come to the inspection.

Tessa: It’s a great learning opportunity too for… Maybe, if you’re a new agent, just to learn about a house so that you can help find your buyers the best house for them in the future.

Bill: Well, I imagine. As a home inspector when I was doing it, I don’t do home inspections any longer but you learn something everyday. Everyday there’s some new nugget that you can pick up. And so, I think it’s valuable for any agent to be there during the process. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. Thank you, and we’ll catch you next time.

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