5 Observations About The Inspector & Agent Relationship

In working with inspectors over the last 10 years, I’ve come to know that the topic of working with real estate agents as part of their business is polarizing.  I’ve spoken to many inspectors that consider getting inspections from agents to be a vile practice (at best).  Some do it but lament it, and others couldn’t imagine it any other way as they see it as the best way to grow their business.  What I think is missing from the conversation is some good practical thinking about it.

In recent weeks I’ve watched or engaged in online conversations about this topic once again and because social media replies aren’t really designed to be long-form overall summaries, I thought I’d draw it together in a blog post.

Here are five (5) observations I’ve made about home inspectors and real estate agents:

  1. Agents Aren’t Being Disintermediated (Displaced) Anytime Soon – Inspections are connected with home sales and agents are part of the home buying and selling process.  For better or worse, real estate agents are not getting displaced from real estate transactions any time soon, and we aren’t going to see them disappear like travel agents did with the advent of the internet.  As such it is important to accept this fact and “be like water”… for fighting it only leads to frustration, and in the end inspectors hurt themselves more than they hurt the agents by not working with them.
  2. 100% of Firms Doing 500+ Inspections a year With Agents – I have never met a really successful single inspector or a multi-inspector firm that didn’t get a sizable portion of their business from real estate agents.  Simple observation and fact.  As such, if an inspector wants to work “on his business” and keep it growing instead of “in his business”, I would suggest that agents have to be part of the equation.
  3. Good Inspection Firms Fire Agents – Although working with agents may be a cornerstone of a successful home inspection business, the best multi-inspectors I know CHOOSE which agents they want to work with and distance themselves from others.  Some agents may not really “get it” and be so self-serving that they become too difficult to deal with.  Such is the case with any business relationship and regardless of the industry, you need to make decisions about who you should work with and who  you should not.
  4. Inspectors that Focus on Problems Create Issues with Agents – A former colleague of mine turned to a co-worker in a meeting and said: “You can be right, or you can be effective….What do you want to be?”  The same applies in inspection findings and reports.  An inspector whose objective is to be the “smart guy” and be correct about his observations and conclusions may not have his eye on the ball and will routinely find that getting along with agents is nearly impossible.  Most issues in homes aren’t deal breakers and one of the purposes of a home inspection is to finalize the negotiation by taking into consideration necessary home improvements.  As such it is important issues are on target and not blown out of proportion (or undersized for that matter), either of which do detrimental damage to the deal.
  5. Agents Don’t Really Care what the Inspector Charges – Now of course there are limits to this, but for the most part, getting the vast majority of referrals from agents as little to nothing to do with the price provided you are in the ballpark.  For the vast majority of transactions, the agent is not paying, the homeowner is, and the agent is fundamentally concerned about many other topics rather than price including professionalism, timeliness and care for client.

There is no doubt that the best source of referrals (Obs. #2) is the real estate agent.  If your goal is to build a business where you keep growing your revenue each year (both through volume and price (Obs. #5)), then to ignore a source of referrals from agents is creating an unnecessary burden on your growth.

So…the question becomes, how can an inspector manage a relationship with a person who he/she feels is diametrically opposed to them?  Well..the first step for the inspector is not to see themselves as the person that is looking to come up with reasons tank the deal (Obs. #4).  Think about it this way:  If the homeowner is paying an inspector to do the home inspection, they are serious about buying the home.  They WANT the deal to go forward and the goal isn’t solely to identify problems, the goal is to come up with solutions.  If an inspection report is about chest pounding and showing off home knowledge then I have no doubt that a battle between the agent and the inspector will ensue.  Note what I’m saying here…it is not to hold back on identifying issues, but rather identify and size/quantify issues so that the buyer can understand and move forward on the home.

Inspectors need not lose their moral compass in working with agents and too many that I speak with feel that is/will be the case.  Like any relationship, one needs to set boundaries, communicate well, and understand the other person.  If the agent crosses a boundary by asking to overlook material problems, then hopefully you’ve grown enough to stop working with them (Obs. #3).  Further, you shouldn’t hesitate (provided there is ample evidence) to report an ethics violation to the broker or local board.  Chances are, the agent has gotten too used to getting away with things and you might even get a pat on the back from other agents or inspectors by doing so.  All that said, agents aren’t going away (Obs. #1) and to hope that the world would change so that they would is simply vanish or be more stringently regulated is just wishful thinking.  Those that wish ill will towards agents are really just hurting themselves, not the agents.  As it has been said about resentment, “it is the poison you take while waiting for the other person to die.”  A bit morbid but I think you get the point.

I encourage inspectors to work with the agents in their area (although not all of them).  Take the time to get to know ones that provide you a decent amount of referrals and also value what you do as an inspector.  Ask them questions as to where they’ve had challenges working with inspectors in the past and I think you’ll see some very common threads as to why the problems arose.  For those that have worked with agents in the past and swore off having any contact with them, consider what went sideways and what the real reason was?  Lastly, great agents can refer you to other (great) agents as there is no threat to them or conflict in them doing so.  As such, lean on them for referrals to other good agents.

As they say, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  There are good agents and your business can be better by working with them provided you don’t see yourself totally diametrically opposed on objectives.  You actually do both want home sales to happen.  Just remember that your role as the inspector is to not just identify problems but also help gently guide a pathway forward for the transaction if it was to advance (provided the home buyer desires that).  

I know many of you reading this will have thoughts so please share below to make this a really complete discussion.

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