How real estate agents can ensure safe home inspections during the COVID-19 crisis

by special contributor

My, how things have changed! Living and working in this pandemic era has brought many challenges to the real estate industry. Agents have all had to turn to a highly digitized office to move transactions forward. Zoom meetings, FaceTime, virtual tours, DocuSign and the ever-present email attachments now fill your workday at home.

However, despite the many technical advances that home inspectors embrace, it is still largely an analog procedure of actually touching and manipulating the physical structure of the home. The value of our work is to discover the defects of the various systems and components that help define the quality of a house. These discoveries cannot be found without being on site.

Are there social distancing strategies that can make this process safer? Some have proposed agents doing live video tours of the home while the inspector makes notes for their report. An adjunct to this plan is to have the inspector visit later to open and inspect the utility systems in detail. Unfortunately, this defies quarantine guidelines because now two people need to enter the home. Also, how many agents are going to climb onto a roof or into a crawl space to view these critical areas? Not many, I think.

There is also a proposal where the seller performs the video tour. This is an obvious conflict of interest because they can easily avoid known defects and may lack the motivation to visit dangerous locations such as the roof and crawl space. Under this scenario, the disclaimers in the report would likely outnumber the found defects. This also reduces the value of the report, and thus, the fee for the inspector. This will not be received well among my colleagues.

However, there is some middle ground. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors has developed a training course for inspectors titled, “COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Home Inspectors and Contractors” which will allow them to become certified in the protocols needed to improve services amid this emergency lockdown. In essence, the training calls for observing the same precautions we’ve come to use in our daily lives. Here are a few details proscribed in the training:

  • Personal and wardrobe hygiene
  • Disinfecting tool kit
  • Personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and shoe coverings
  • Touching as little as possible
  • Alcohol wipes for cleaning control surfaces
  • Digital payment and documents

These are all commonsense tools and behaviors to minimize exposure. But what about the recommendations that the guidelines make concerning the attendance of the interested parties? The association proposes that the seller not be present during the inspection tour to insure social distancing.

This is not much of a stretch as many sellers already vacate the property during the inspection. They also recommend the buyer not attend the tour. I have concerns with this as it asks the buyer to not fully view the item they’re purchasing. For a product as complex as a modern home, this is a great leap of faith that your clients must make. This is especially true in this current environment where buyers may have seen the home only in a video tour or during a very quick walk-through.

The guidelines also ask agents not to attend. For some who pride themselves on customer service and being present in all matters, this may present a problem. However, most inspectors can compensate buyers and agents who conform to these restrictions with additional photos and videos in the report to cover the more serious defects they discover. In such cases, follow-up discussions are highly encouraged.

To quote one of my favorite movies, The Matrix: “Some things change — and some things don’t.” I contend that some things must change a little. As a society, we’ve made many adjustments to stem the tide of this pandemic. This is yet another small thing we’ll temporarily have to let go of in order to ensure our safety. So if an inspector you’re working with asks you or your client not to attend an inspection, please trust that they’re making this request with the best of intentions. Together we can make home sales safer and emerge on the other side of this crisis stronger.


James Clark is a home inspector serving the Chicagoland area with True Blue Home Inspections

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