A recent and horrifying home inspection left our seller-client stunned and an unwitting buyer losing a good house that she really wanted. Yes, this is a shocking story about a questionable home inspector. More importantly, the story provides insight into consumer perceptions of real estate agents and the problems that a lack of trust and confidence in your agent can pose.
The buyer of our listing (“Amy”) – a cautious and inexperienced first-time homebuyer – hired an inspector other than the one recommended by her agent. Halfway through the inspection, the inspector (“BB”) discovered what he deemed to be a “serious foundation issue.” BB recommended ending the inspection on the spot, advising Amy to terminate the purchase contract. Amy did terminate, based solely on BB’s opinion. We subsequently engaged a foundation expert who verified that there in fact was no foundation issue, but it was too late. Amy had moved on and the damage to both buyer and seller had been done.
BB is well known in the Atlanta real estate community; he proudly promotes himself as the “Deal Killer” home inspector. His pitch is that you can’t trust an inspector recommended by your agent because that inspector is loyal to your agent (who refers him business) and not to you. He asserts that an inspector recommended by your agent will go easy on a house to avoid jeopardizing the deal, your agent’s commission and future referrals. BB has a reputation for recklessly and arrogantly trashing homes (and killing deals) – doing so further builds his “toughest inspector in Atlanta” marketing platform*.
Ethics aside, BB is brilliant. He understands that many homebuyers are apprehensive and don’t trust real estate agents, not even their own agent. BB cleverly capitalizes on this fear and mistrust in marketing his services – BB will protect you. Amy, grateful to BB for saving her from buying a “bad house,” will simply become an extension of his sales force, telling her friends and associates what an awesome home inspector BB is; she may even do a testimonial on BB’s web site. Amy, of course, will never know that her hero actually killed her deal to promote his business. I’m the first to point out Realtor conflicts of interest and self-serving practices, but BB’s implication that inspectors and agents have a “wink-wink” relationship is ridiculous – but it sells to homebuyers who have been taught (by the real estate industry itself) to mistrust.
Consumers lacking trust/confidence in their real estate agent are in a difficult position. Because they “don’t know what they don’t know” when it comes to the nuances of the real estate market and real estate transactions, acting outside the advice of their real estate agent can yield unfortunate results. The best advice is to engage a competent agent that you can trust, and then trust the advice that your agent gives you.
* Every homebuyer wants a “tough” inspector, right? Actually, technical expertise, thoroughness and the ability to put issues in perspective are what make a good home inspector. The inspector’s role is never to advise a buyer to move forward with or terminate a deal. The inspector’s job is limited to providing the buyer with accurate and objective information about the physical condition of the home. Armed with this information, the buyer can negotiate repairs and/or price concessions, or can walk from the deal (a very rare occurrence).