You want to scare the hell out of a local Realtor this Halloween? Knock on their door dressed as a home inspector ;) I remember when the scariest part of a real estate transactions was the appraisal. But those days are long past. The real fright is delivered on inspection day. Nearly every home sale transaction will have an inspector perform a thorough examination of the house. This is not mandated by law but it is highly encouraged by the Real Estate Commissioner here in Washington State. I agree with the state as well. There are many things that can go wrong with a home that are not readily visible to the casual observer. There are also many things that are "wrong" with a home that doesn't really matter much however.
Here in the Evergreen State, our inspectors are required to be licensed to perform home inspections. This license is not a simple contractor's license and general contractors cannot conduct home inspections without being specifically licensed to do so. These inspectors are required to follow a specific set of standards for completing the inspection and presenting the results to the client. This is all very good.
Where the problem occurs is when you get an inspector with a terrible "bedside manner". You know, Inspector Boo! This is the guy that seems to take delight in terrifying the buyer of the home over things that are really not that scary. Unfortunately many of these Halloween Fright Inspectors just tell the buyer to hire a professional to further evaluate the problem. From the buyer's perspective, they did hire a pro, "isn't that what I just paid you $500 to do"? But alas, we live in a litigious society and inspectors are terrified of lawyers.
Some of Clark County's inspectors have a great way of presenting the deficiencies of the home. These guys categorize issues into several severity classes. Things like a loose light switch cover, or a little paint peel are placed in a general maintenance class and are characterized as normal and typical homeowner maintenance issues, which they are. Then there is a moderate category of things that are not really dangerous but should be taken care of promptly by the homeowner either the buyer or seller as negotiated in the deal. Finally, there is the severe stuff that needs to be done right away either by the buyer after close or the seller prior to, but probably by a licensed professional. These are things like very severe mold, leaking roof, dry rot, water in the crawl space, etc. There are some things that have to be done before the home closes, things like a bad roof or exterior dry rot, might be picked up by the appraiser and then the mortgage lender will require a remedy before funding the loan. Buyers should be real cautious about running away from a home with minor issues, especially if they really like the house. Realtors should counsel their clients in the proper way to evaluate an inspection. They should tell their clients what to expect in advance.
All homes will receive some wear and tear over time and buyers looking at older houses should expect some 'dings and dents'. They should also remember that older homes are priced a little more reasonable than their shiny new counterparts and that is due at least in part to the expectation that there will be some additional maintenance issues. I have seen buyers walk away from two or three homes over what amounted to less than a thousand dollars in repairs because they refuse to work with the seller. Funny thing about that is they end up spending more on inspections than they would have spent to fix the problems in the first house they offered on. This is a seller's market for the most part and buyers need to be flexible if they want to find an ideal house for their needs. The old adage to 'choose your battles wisely" is most appropriate for buyers in this market.