Clients Attending Inspections: The Schools of Thought
Home inspectors have many thoughts when it comes to clients attending their inspections. Most often, buyers will be your inspection clients, but, on occasion, sellers can also be your clients. We will be referring to both kinds of clients in this article.
So, should your buyer and seller clients attend your inspections? Popular opinions usually fall into three categories, in which clients:
- shouldn’t attend home inspections,
- should attend home inspections, or
- should attend a walk-through at the end of an inspection.
We explore these schools of thought, determine which method best mitigates liability, and lay out how you can manage your risk in each of the scenarios below.
Buyers and sellers shouldn’t attend home inspections.
Some of the inspectors we interviewed were against clients attending their inspections. When asked why, they cited the following reasons.
1. Distracting the Inspector
According to Peter Pitts from On Site Inspections in Ohio, “The number one problem with clients [being] there throughout the entire inspection is distractions.”
Anthony Cooper from Cooper Inspections, LLC in Ohio prefers clients not be present because, when he’s alone, he can better concentrate, which helps him manage his risk.
“I have time to do a thorough inspection without being sidetracked by questions that will be answered in the report,” Cooper said.
Both inspectors have a point. There are errors and omissions (E&O) claims examples where inspectors missed a vital defect because clients were distracting them. For example, we sometimes see this with foundation issues, since they are easy to miss and even easier to cover up.
2. Responsibility for the Clients’ Safety
When clients are on site, inspectors must assume a certain amount of responsibility for their safety. This is particularly true when inspecting the attic, roof, and electrical panel.
“A client run[ning] ahead and damage[ing] something unintentionally or get[ting] hurt…[is] not what we want to see happen,” said John Rodkey from JMR Inspections in Massachusetts.
Let’s say a client does get hurt during an inspection. What then? The inspector must let his insurance provider know about the incident and possibly prepare for a general liability (GL) claim, since bodily injury resulted from the inspection.
While GL claims aren’t as common as E&O claims, they can be more costly. According to The Hartford, a general liability claim can average more than $75,000 per case to defend and settle when a lawsuit is involved.
3. Unique Circumstances, like COVID-19
There are some unique situations where it is better for buyers and sellers to not attend inspections, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve found that many inspectors have chosen not to have clients attend their inspections because of the pandemic, even when they would normally prefer clients to be present. Additionally, many insurance providers don’t cover illness-related claims.
While these types of claims are difficult to prove, it may be better to avoid having clients on the property until the pandemic is under control. We recommend assessing what you and your business are comfortable with in this environment, as well as following the mandates given by your state.
Buyers and sellers should attend home inspections.
Despite some inspectors being against buyers and sellers attending their inspections, there were many inspectors we interviewed that advocated for clients being present. They listed one or more of the following reasons as to why.
1. Seeing the Process Firsthand
Since the average client is not familiar with the inspection process, most clients don’t understand how hard you work for them.
Ron Greene from Golden Eagle Home Services LLC in Washington said that having buyers and/or sellers present during the inspection allows them to “appreciate firsthand the rigors of a thorough home inspection.”
Steve Jenicek from TaskMaster Home Inspections in Montana agrees. Furthermore, Jenicek believes buyer and seller attendance helps him mitigate risk.
“We are far less likely to be sued if the client is at the inspection and actually sees everything we do to find out what we can in the time period allotted,” Jenicek said.
Indeed, one of the best ways to mitigate risk is by clearly defining what a home inspection is and isn’t. And, when clients are present at the inspection, they can see for themselves which systems and components are inspected and how thoroughly you do so.
2. An Opportunity for Great Customer Service
In addition to clients appreciating the work you do for them, having clients present during the inspection allows you to provide excellent service.
“Encouraging your client to attend the inspection is one of the best things you can do to provide high-quality service,” said Blaine DeVoy from DBI Building Inspections in Washington. “You’re able to build rapport with the client. I find that the client is more likely to recommend us to a friend or family member if they attend the inspection.”
After all, suing a person who has taken the time to get to know you is much harder than filing a claim against a faceless name on a report.
3. Questions in Real Time
Effectively answering clients’ questions is perhaps the greatest benefit for having buyers and sellers present during an inspection.
“We feel that by having the buyers there [at the inspection], we can better explain our findings,” said Jerry Stonger from Preferred Inspection Services in California. “There is only so much you can explain in a written report.”
Sometimes, important information comes up during an inspection that may not have otherwise. For example, on one inspection, DeVoy noticed the client seemed preoccupied with a wood-burning fireplace in the dining room. Upon inquiring, DeVoy found out the client had lost someone close to them to carbon monoxide poisoning.
“This critical bit of information I gained on site allowed me to more fully answer questions about the fireplace,” DeVoy said. “It meant I would end up elevating my findings about the fireplace into the summary of the report.”
Buyers and sellers should come for a walkthrough.
Most of the inspectors we interviewed opted for an approach somewhere in the middle: requesting clients come after the inspection for a briefing and walk-through.
1. Easily Plan and Guide Inspections
By having clients come at the end of the inspection, you can better guide how the inspection goes, especially if you set the expectation before the inspection takes place.
Timothy Thrasher from Centsable Inspections in Alabama does this when scheduling his own inspections. He makes sure that the client knows when to arrive and what to expect from the walk-through. This enables him to conduct the inspection in the way he would like to while still taking care of his clients.
“When the client arrives, I do a walk-through to show them what I found and to explain my findings,” Thrasher said.
For more information on inspection scheduling and best practices, check out our infographic “5 Scheduling Mistakes to Avoid.”
2. More Effectively Manage Risk
Among these schools of thought, we’ve concluded that finding the middle ground is the best way to manage risk. Why? You get to perform the inspection without distractions and the client gets to still ask questions and see the major defects you found.
This way, you balance giving buyers and sellers the attention they deserve while still providing as thorough an inspection as possible.
The Scenarios: Mitigating Risk in Each
Even when you prefer to use the middle ground approach in theory, it’s not always possible to apply in practice. Each inspection brings its own unique circumstances. And, what works for one inspector may not work for another. That’s why it’s important for each inspector to use their best judgment in deciding what their comfort level is with clients attending inspections and what their risk appetite is.
Use these techniques to manage your risk in each scenario.
Buyers and sellers can’t or won’t attend the home inspection.
If buyers and sellers don’t want to attend the home inspection, or if you would prefer to not have them present, take the following precautions.
1. Provide Thorough Documentation
It’s always important to provide thorough documentation of your inspection findings, but it is especially so if your clients can’t be onsite and your inspection assets are all they have to go off of. At InspectorPro, we define these assets as photos, videos, signed contracts, and reports.
“If clients can’t make it to an inspection, I take a lot more pictures and spend more time working on the report,” Jenicek said.
Gordon Glidden from Inland Lakes Inspection Services in Michigan agrees.
“An inspector cannot take enough photos or videos,” Glidden said. “They help manage risk by showing what was present during the inspection.”
For more information on which photos you should include in your report, read our article “3 Inspection Photos You Should Take to Manage Your Risk.”
And, if you are interested in using video to supplement your inspections, check out our article “Body Cams and Home Inspectors: A New Application.”
2. Actively Follow Up:
Even when providing thorough documentation of your inspection findings, clients may not read their reports. Actively following up with buyers and sellers can prevent this.
For example, you can send emails, make phone calls, or set up video calls to see if your clients have any questions or concerns about their reports.
For even more information on this, read our article “7 Ways to Encourage Home Inspection Clients to Read Their Reports.”
Buyers and sellers want to attend the entire home inspection.
Should clients decide to be onsite—through your encouragement or not—take the measures below to effectively manage your risk.
1. Set Expectations
If buyer and seller clients decide to attend the entire inspection, it’s crucial that inspectors set expectations before the inspection begins. You must address three specific things:
- how you will move through the inspection and what that means for the client,
- what safety precautions you expect the client to abide by, and
- how you will be addressing questions.
“We invite them to follow along and ask questions, but not to run ahead,” Rodkey said. “We have a process that allows us to operate the home systems in a manner that gives us data on how the house behaves. But, if this gets disturbed, errors can be made that lessen the accuracy of that information.”
2. Consistency in Conveying Findings
If your client attends the inspection and has many questions, you will be covering a lot of ground.
“Make sure that, for consistency, whatever you discussed during the inspection makes it into the written report,” DeVoy said.
We wholeheartedly agree. Keep notes about the various topics you discussed with your client. And, when drafting your report, pay extra attention to said topics.
3. Precautions with COVID-19:
Can or will buyers and sellers blame their home inspectors if they contract the virus? Admittedly, it is difficult to prove someone was or wasn’t infected by you. But no one knows for sure how many consumers will blame service providers for infecting them with COVID-19, nor do we know how their complaints will hold up in court. Instead of waiting to find out, have those attending the inspection sign a waiver of liability, like this one.
Buyers and sellers want to come for a walk-through.
If you want clients to come at the end of your inspection, prepare for their arrival in the following ways.
1. Clear Notes for Your Walk-Through:
Go into the inspection planning to take and convey clear notes for your clients’ walk-through. Clients will appreciate your preparation. And, you will be more confident in verbally conveying findings and answering questions
Keep in mind that as you are briefing your clients during the walk-through, they may be getting a full sense of the property’s defects for the first time. And, since most buyers and sellers aren’t familiar with the various systems and components of a residential property, you may have to slow down and use direct language.
To learn how effective communication mitigates your risk, check out this article.
2. Block Out Enough Time
In addition to making time to build rapport with clients, create a buffer between engagements to address their concerns.
Compared to clients attending the whole inspection, on average, walk-throughs are less time-consuming. However, don’t be overly optimistic and neglect to block out enough time to effectively answer buyers’ and sellers’ questions. Schedule inspections with this in mind. And, if you are tight on time, make yourself available at other times to answer their questions.
3. Continue to Be Mindful of COVID-19
As with clients attending entire inspections, you must use caution when inviting clients to attend walk-throughs because of COVID-19. Decide what you and your business are comfortable with in this environment. And, if you’d like for clients to attend walk-throughs, be sure to have them sign a waiver of liability.
Have Protection in Each Scenario
No matter the scenario, there are ways you can mitigate your liability with clients. But even when you’ve taken all the precautions you can, there is no guarantee you won’t receive a claim. Be with an insurance provider you trust for when claims arise and apply for a quote with us.