by Nick Gromicko, CMI®, Kenton Shepard and Kate Tarasenko
While working leads to death, most of the business a home inspector will receive will be the result of a referral from a past client or real estate agent, or from someone who found your name or website by searching online for home inspectors in your service area. It will help you sound professional and keep your schedule organized if you're prepared when the phone rings.
The call you receive may be from a home buyer who's interested in a specific home. It may be a home seller who wants to find out about any problems with their home before it's advertised for sale. You may hear from a homeowner who has just finished remodeling and has some concerns, or who simply wants their home to have a "checkup" after years of homeownership. Sometimes, the call is from a real estate agent who is acting on behalf of his/her client who would rather not bother with finding an inspector.
Every part of the inspection process is handled assuming the worst (i.e., that there may be problems resulting in legal action), so it is important to adhere to a process that will help protect the inspector if he has to go to court. Also, it's simply good business practice to be as organized as possible in order to make the inspection process--and workday in general--run smoothly and problem-free.
Upon receiving the call, the inspector should ask key questions and use the answers to fill out a booking sheet. Inspectors seldom see the home they will inspect before arriving for the actual appointment, so it's important to develop as clear an idea as possible of the home's size and condition in order to estimate the length of time it will take to inspect the home, and to charge accordingly.
Information to Make Booking the Inspection Easy
The booking sheet typically includes the following information:
- booking date;
- client’s name;
- property’s address;
- size of home: ______ square feet;
- year built;
- general condition;
- ancillary inspections;
- inspection fee(s);
- date of inspection;
- access to the property (Will the inspector need the house key, Supra Key, or lock box access, or will the owner or agent be at the home?)
- occupants at home;
- utilities on/off;
- animals on property; and
- directions to property.
Clarification of Booking Steps
- The inspection is typically performed anywhere from one day to three weeks after the date for which the inspection is scheduled, and it’s a good idea to keep an accurate record of that date.
- The client is the person whose name will appear in the Inspection contract (the person paying for the inspection).
- The property may be located outside the area served by the inspector, or the inspector may charge travel time to perform inspections that involve significant travel time.
- The size of the home is the primary basis for determining the inspection fee.
- If a home is exceptionally old or run-down, it may require more time or special skills to inspect. Homes in exceptionally poor condition often take longer to inspect, and fees need to reflect this. Foreclosures are often in poor condition. Very expensive homes carry higher liability. If a solid gold doorknob is inoperable and needs replacement and you miss that, you may be asked to pay for its replacement (whether or not the request is justified). So, you would take plenty of time with this type of home and would charge accordingly.
- In addition to the General Home Inspection, other types of inspections may be requested. Some common types of ancillary inspections for which inspectors might charge extra include private water well inspections, water quality testing, septic system inspections, wood-destroying organism inspections, radon testing, etc. Home inspectors with the proper qualifications can perform some of these. Inspectors who are not qualified will sometimes charge a fee for arranging for the services of a qualified subcontractor.
- Inspection fees are set by each individual inspector according to the method that each thinks is best. The fee for inspecting a home is usually based on the amount of time estimated for the General Home Inspection, the quality of the home, the complexity of the home systems, and those factors mentioned in numbers 3 through 7 above. Most inspectors require payment at the inspection, before the report is delivered. Some inspectors require payment at the time the inspection is scheduled. Clients who are unhappy with what the report has to say about the home may refuse to pay.
- When the seller is absent for an extended period, or when a home is in foreclosure, the utilities are sometimes turned off. For inspection purposes, the all the utilities should turned on. When scheduling the inspection, the inspector should confirm that they are on, and if they are off, request that a qualified contractor turn them on for the inspection. Inspectors should never activate a system that has been shut down, since this transfers liability to the inspector, mainly related to accidental flooding and fire.
With the water off, leaks may not be detectable, and plumbing traps/bends may be empty and may allow sewer gas into the home. With electricity or gas off, the inspector may not be able to determine the functionality of key systems or components. If an inspector is forced to inspect a home at which some utilities are shut off, it is important to ensure that the client understands that the inspection is limited. This situation should be mentioned both verbally and in the inspection report. The inspector should recommend that any affected systems be inspected after the utility has been turned on.
- The animals of concern are those that bite people, mainly dogs. If upon inquiry an inspector is told that there will be a dog on the property, the inspector should request that the dog be removed or restricted to an area away from the home so that the inspector can move about freely without having to worry about coming into contact with the dog. Do not believe anyone who tells you that a dog will not bite. You’ll read more about this in the Safety Course. (The other concern is that the occupant may have a dog, cat, or other pet in the home that will rocket past your legs and disappear down the street the moment you open the door.)
- Some inspectors may request that the occupants leave the home for the duration of the inspection, while many inspectors encourage their clients to be present. Sellers/owners have a right to be present and to have their agent present, and home buyers (the typical client) has a vested interest in accompanying the inspector. Regardless, the inspector should feel free to perform the inspection without interference. Under no circumstances should an inspector tolerate harassment from anyone during the inspection.
- Inspectors should refer their home-selling clients to the article Ten Tips to Speed Up Your Home Inspection, which includes invaluable advice that ensures a smooth inspection process.
Managing Your Clients' Expectations
After filling out the booking sheet and agreeing on a fee, the inspector should ask whether the client is familiar with the inspection process, and try to ensure that the client understands the limitations of a general home inspection.
Some clients, especially first-time home buyers who think that inspectors are experts in every home system, may be disappointed when an inspector recommends further evaluation by a specialist. Inspectors want to avoid disappointing clients, so, in addition to a verbal explanation, inspectors should refer the client to the information on the inspector’s website that has a link to InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice, which clearly defines what an inspector is and is not required to inspect.
Before performing an inspection, the inspector should have an agreement signed by the client, which also states what is and is not included in the inspection. InterNACHI offers an inspection contract for free use by its members, but inspectors should have it approved by their lawyer before actual use, since laws can vary by state.
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