When should agents recommend a home inspection?

We had a call recently from an estate agent who wanted to know: “Do estate agents recommend to all buyers that they get a home inspection or do they only recommend a home inspection to buyers if they suspect the property may have hidden problems?”

Estate agents should answer that question by acknowledging that everyone – agent, seller and buyer – all come to a property deal with different biases and different needs.  When an estate agent, a seller and potential buyer view a home they all look at the property from different perspectives.

  • The estate agent may be looking for the selling features and be thinking about the commission flowing from a successful sale.
  • The seller may be under financial pressure and desperate to sell.
  • The prospective new owner may be visualizing how their family will enjoy the use of the home.

None of these three parties may be in the mindset (or know enough)  to think carefully about the true condition of the roof or to be worried about how the groundwater run-off may be causing damp problems.

We recently posted a blog about how an engineer looking to buy a house missed some serious faults in an otherwise beautiful home. This engineer, wearing a buyer’s hat, had been wearing proverbial rose coloured spectacles when he viewed the house.   This resulted in him missing some pretty expensive defects. Even though this buyer was a particular and fussy man  he didn’t make the connection between a sagging ceiling and a failed box gutter above.   Fortunately this buyer had the good sense to get a home inspection report before finalizing the sale.

Now, if a professional engineer can miss the obvious, how can an estate agent, a seller or a buyer be expected to identify all the defects in a house. None of these people are likely to be climbing onto the roof or into the roof cavity.  They certainly won’t carry an expensive moisture meter to check for rising dampness on internal walls.  Yet it is the agent and the seller who will be contacted by an unhappy buyer if the buyers discover any serious faults after they move in.

Do estate agents who are in the property business for the long haul really want to have to deal with the drama of unhappy buyers and subsequent threats of lawsuits?  We know of South African estate agents who have fallen foul of the Consumer Protection Commissioner when attending conciliation processes.

HouseCheck CEO John Graham recommends that the best way for estate agents to protect themselves is to simply  insert a standard home inspection clause into their offer to purchase document.  Then if a buyer decides against a home inspection, the estate agent can rest easy that it was the buyer’s decision not to have a home inspection.

Home inspections are still a rare occurrence in South Africa. This is not the case in the USA and Europe where the majority of homes are inspected prior to transfer.

A home inspection protects estate agents and is in the best interests of all parties.

Routinely recommending home inspections as a balancing protection for the voetstoots clause helps the estate agent become trusted by an ever-widening circle of property owners – buyers who eventually become sellers and sellers who will become buyers again.

Properly explaining to buyers the implications of the voetstoots clause and the advisability of the buyer paying for a home inspection is one of the best ways for any estate agent to protect and boost their reputation of even-handedness and integrity.  And a reputation of trustworthiness and professionalism is the surest way for an estate agent to build a long term future  in the real estate business.

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