real estate

Must seller be present at home inspection?

Steve McLindenDear Real Estate Adviser,
When the home inspection is being performed, should the buyer, buyer's agent or seller (and agent) be present? I think the seller wants to be there. But what is best for me, the buyer?
-- Sherry B.

Dear Sherry,
Both you and your agent absolutely need to be present. As for the sellers and agent, umm, ideally no.

Your buyer's home inspection will not only give you and your agent an up-close assessment of what flaws and issues need to be addressed at the house and which items are minor and critical, it will also serve as an informative primer on how the home works, where the fuse box and water shut-off valve are, where the furnace filter is changed and what components require regular maintenance, among a litany of other practical things. And this way, you won't have to rely only on a written inspection report, which can be a little confusing, plus you'll get a valuable glimpse of some of the home's underpinnings from an expert. Moreover, a trustworthy and seasoned agent should be able to chime in with important questions for the inspector that you might not have even considered.

Why you don't want the seller around

A seller's presence, on the other hand, can create tension and discomfort for the buyer and sometimes for the inspector, plus it tends to make the buyer more reluctant to comment freely or ask potentially sensitive questions about the home's condition. Most good seller's agents, by the way, know the protocol for keeping themselves and their clients out of the way and will advise accordingly, though some sellers will persist. In fact, Realtor chatter out there indicates that sellers tend to be showing up at inspections -- and home showings -- more frequently these days.

One buyer's agent recently wrote how a seller followed her and the buyer from room to room, making the buyer visibly uncomfortable with her defensive running commentary. Another recounted how her seller verbally resented a potential buyer's request for minor repairs and blew the deal as a result, even though the same seller would have ultimately have had no problem with the request, "had he not been there in the first place" to mess up things.

Why some sellers want to be there

Sometimes, sellers flat-out don't trust strangers in their homes or may be afraid of a too-intrusive inspection that might nick up the place, particularly an older home. While sellers always have the right to be present in their own homes, they'd still be well-advised to leave the inspector and buyer alone in these cases, then do a quick walk-through after the inspection to allay any worries. If there are flaws or other issues in the home that need to be resolved, it's best to let the agents hash them out.

To ease concerns about what a home inspection will reveal, sellers need to hire their own home inspectors before putting their homes on the block. After all, it is the buyer who is paying for the buyer's inspection.

So yes, hovering sellers seldom help, but if they really have to be there, they should agree -- through the agents -- to park themselves somewhere out of the way. (An attic or root cellar would do the trick!) Besides, you can't afford to clam up during an inspection, particularly with so many of your clams at stake.

Good luck!

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