There are few things in the home inspection business that annoy me more than the listing agent home inspection drive-by. The neighbor’s dog barking at me through the fence while I’m trying to safely inspect the wiring in an electrical panel, the greasy cooking range that I can’t touch without getting my fingers sticky, and even the closet full of expensive dry-cleaning hanging directly under the attic hatch and daring me to sprinkle it with tinny attic insulation fuzzies are more tolerable to me than the listing agent who happens to be in the neighborhood and casually drops by to see how the home inspection is going.
It seems innocent enough. The property owners have been put out of their home to allow their prospective buyers an opportunity to have a professional home inspection. Why shouldn’t they be allowed a sneak-peak at the results? Why shouldn’t the listing agent, sensing his or her clients’ anxiety, or maybe just looking to ease a little of her own anxiety, swing by the house and see what’s up? Just one quick little inquiry won’t hurt.
First of all, I am rarely anxiety relief. I can’t remember the last time somebody said to me, “I’m so relieved you found problems with the roof, the plumbing, and the electrical.” I can’t remember the last time I inspected a house where I didn’t find problems with the roof, the plumbing, and the electrical, and if it wasn’t the roof, the plumbing, and the electrical, it was the heater, the windows, and dry rot, or some other combination of all things that give home sellers, and their agent, anxiety. So, even if I wanted to answer your question, and I don’t, it will not make you or your clients feel better.
Second, it’s unethical and inappropriate. These are negotiations, and as in any negotiation, information is power. A home inspection performed for the buyers is information for the buyers. It can strengthen their negotiating position. If the sellers wanted the information a home inspection provides, and the power that comes with it, they could very well have had their own home inspection.
And, it’s just plain inconsiderate. As innocent as the listing agent drive-by might seem, it’s not. The drive-by listing agent, in a quest for information that belongs to someone else, is appealing to sympathies that by definition I as a home inspector should not even have.
I can’t be worried about the emotions of the sellers and at the same time perform an unbiased inspection for the buyers.
It’s a tactical real estate guilt-trip; the desired net effect of that sympathy would be for me to compromise my own integrity in order to provide aid and comfort to the other side of the negotiation.
Unfortunately, the listing agent drive-by is a daily occurrence at home inspections all across the country, and often it’s just plain awkward.
The listing agent casually walks in and acts as if he, or she, were invited:
Inspector: “Uh, hi, can I help you?”
Listing Agent: “How’s the inspection going?”
Inspector: “Well . . . I’m almost finished.” (Please take the hint)
Listing Agent: “Did you find anything we should be concerned about?” (Hint ignored)
The obvious answer would be . . .
“Right at this moment, it’s none of your business.”
But, in reality what has to happen next is the annoying part.
I have to stop what I am doing—inspecting—and politely excuse myself from immediately answering the listing agent’s question in order to retrieve the buyers’ agent (from wherever she is in the house) to request a quick and private one-on-one, which is awkward in and of itself; the home inspector shouldn’t have to ask the buyers’ agent to excuse herself from her clients’ presence so that she can have a private conversation with the home inspector about the listing agent. I want to talk with the buyers’ agent in private, because experience tells me that uninformed buyers may react in the affirmative and do so without understanding the full possible consequence of what the listing agent is asking. The buyers’ affirmative response right in front of the listing agent obligates me to explain the inspection results to the listing agent even if the buyers’ agent might have counseled to the contrary.
In private, I ask the buyers’ agent if it is acceptable for me to divulge information about the home inspection to the listing agent. The buyers’ agent will then likely have to return to her clients, in private, advise them, and ask their permission, which might take a little explaining because the buyers may not fully understand how the information in the home inspection report may affect the transaction and their negotiating position.
Now understand, I hope the answer from the buyers and their agent is “no,” because I am already interrupted from my work and I am really not interested in re-explaining the results that I have already explained to my clients and their agent.
But, if the answer is “yes,” and I have to explain my findings to the listing agent, then, with all due propriety, I have to gather everybody in one place so that all can hear what I say to the listing agent. It can get ugly if somebody even suspects that I said one thing to one party and another thing to the other party. Also, keep in mind that explaining home inspection findings to sellers and their agent is always more time consuming because, due to the aforementioned anxiety, they always have more questions. “Will that be expensive?” “That doesn’t sound bad to me.” “Can you explain to my sellers what you just explained to me? Here . . . let me get them on the phone. . .”
This quick little inquiry, this “drive-by,” has just completely diverted me from my task as buyers’ advocate and turned me into the seller’s personal home inspection counselor. You may think that this is all a little hyperbolic. I wish it were. Many a days’ schedule have been offset to accommodate the drive-by listing agent.
The listing agent drive-by is much easier to deal with if the buyers and their agent are not present at the inspection. I can simply excuse myself from answering the listing agent’s question because, “I’d really rather get the inspection report to my clients before I speak to anybody else about it.”
However, the worst case scenario is when the buyers are present but their agent is not. Then it is up me to counsel the buyers on whether or not I should divulge information to the listing agent, and I am certainly not going to suggest that I should, which will likely be more than a little off-putting to the listing agent who, prior to this encounter, may have been a good referring agent for myself when they were representing buyers.
Now, you may feel that by reading this post from beginning to end, maybe even re-reading segments for clarity, that your time has been wasted and your intelligence insulted on a story that should never have needed to be written. If so, then you understand exactly how I feel about the listing agent home inspection drive-by.