Things Inspectors should NEVER say to a client (or 10 Commandments for Good Communication)

J Philip Faranda December 5, 2010

This is the second time I have reblogged something by this home inspector, Joseph Michalski, and for good reason. The home inspector’s job, done properly, takes these 10 rules into account. Excellent commentary on a crucial part of the home buying process. 

Via Joseph Michalski – PA Home Inspector (Sherlock Homes Inspections):

“Are you really considering buying this place?”

That’s what one Realtor overheard as an Inspector went about his business.  I got dozens of horror stories in response to my blog about Realtor-Inspector relationships.

Thou shalt not scare the clientIt consistently amazes me that the inspection world spends so much time on educating inspectors about construction, codes, materials and methods and little or NO time teaching effective methods of communication.

Every source I have ever come across spends more time teaching inspectors how to write vague, CYA language into their reports – the infamous “recommend inspection by a qualified professional” – and other methods to avoid lawsuits than they do how to present the findings to clients and agents.  (As an aside, I think inspectors are the single most lawsuit-fearing people I have ever met in my life – but that’s a topic for another day.)

Most of the grizzled old veteran inspectors have their way which they would change two stone tablets dropped from the sky onto their truck, with 10 rules for better methods.  (They would, however, write up something overhead as inherently dangerous and probably refer it out for further evaluation.)

So, with that in mind, here are my 10 Commandments for Inspector Communication

1.  Thou shalt not scare the client over small stuff  Every ungrounded outlet isn’t a death trap, and they are called “common shrinkage cracks” for a reason.

2. Thou shalt not offer advice on how to “negotiate” the repair with the seller or offer insight as to what the seller should correct or offer credit for  I can’t believe guys do this, but they do.  You don’t like it when the Realtor tries to be an Inspector, so stop trying to do the Realtor’s job.

3.  Thou shalt remember it is the CLIENT’s inspection, and THEY are the boss  This should go without saying, but I hear so many guys talk about “controlling their inspection” that I had to add it.  The Client is the boss (say it with me).   Their questions are all important, and their participation is welcomed

4.  Thou shalt not treat the Realtor as the enemy  Again, obvious.  You are both working in the best interest of the client (hopefully).  The Realtor has spent countless hours with these people building a relationship.  Whether you like it or not, the client trusts and respects the agent and treating them with disdain makes you look bad.  Despite what you’ve heard, they are not about grabbing money or a single sale – they get business based on reputation just like you.  There’s never a need to put anyone down to make yourself look better – it usually works out just the opposite.

5.  Thou shalt not refer things out for further inspection, unless you are not able to make the determination yourself.  This is a chickens#@t way of trying not to be sued.  If you are just going to refer for further inspection by a roofer, chimney sweep, HVAC pro, plumber and electrician – why did they bother to hire you?  Give your professional assessment of what you see (you can add your CYA clauses into the report at the beginning).  If you can’t see the chimney liner, obviously, refer it out or disclose it.  But don’t write “recommend inspection by…” unless you can’t see or just don’t know. 

6.  Thou shalt use some common sense and BE HUMAN  You can make jokes or smile.  You don’t have to put on special equipment to take the electric panel cover off.  Everything you say and do helps shape the client’s perspective – if you are as serious as death or look like you are going to work in a power plant, the client’s nervousness-meter goes off the charts.

7.  Thou shalt not divert the client with some menial task (like taking measurements) and listen to the client  A corollary to #3.  They are there for answers, encourage them to participate. Effective listening is 50% of good communication.

8.  Thou shalt not talk in jargon unless you can’t possibly think of any other words  They already accept you as a skilled expert.  You don’t have to talk over their heads to impress anyone.  In fact, it just frustrates everyone and makes for more questions.

Nervous Buyer9.  Thou shalt refrain from editorial comments about the house  No eye rolling, grunting, low whistles, or “oh, no’s.”  No “passing” or “failing” anything, and no “well, if I was a buyer…” – especially over things that are small potatoes, common, or easily corrected.  Remember, the buyers like this house – it isn’t your job to pick it apart, it’s your job to give an accurate portrayal of its current condition.  Drama free, please. 

10.  Thou shalt keep it all in perspective  It’s ok to let smaller issues sound like smaller issues.  If there are major concerns, it’s important to let the client know how major.  And it’s important to keep them both in the proper perspective.  (See David St. Hubbins for comments on proper perspective).

I hope these reach willing ears and open minds.  I’m sure they will reach grouchy inspectors who will flame me for suggesting that they learn how to communicate more effectively.  It isn’t a battle or a confrontation – it’s a home inspection and an opportunity to share your expertise.

Inspectors should all be thorough and detailed, but that doesn’t mean doing it at the expense of good communication and common sense.  Good communication keeps you out of lawsuits.  It makes for happy clients and fewer problems.  And the real pay off is:  this is a skill that will directly translate into more business for you.

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