Why You Need a 'Calmer' at Home Inspections

Robert Willson addresses the need for a special kind of presence at home inspections, and helps you identify the team member who can take on this all-important task.

March 10, 2014

As the senior member of our real estate team, I describe myself as the “backup.” My wife and her son are the super salespeople; I place For Sale signs in the ground, deliver fliers, hold open houses, conduct showings, and—perhaps most important of all—pick up and deposit commission checks!

But my most demanding responsibility by far is attending home inspections with both buyers and sellers. Our salespeople’s type-A personalities mean they’re better suited to walk on a bed of hot coals than sit through these 3-hour “torture sessions.” They claim they need the time for prospecting or following up on promising leads, but I know they simply can’t sit still for that long. They need action.

Luckily, I’m ideally suited for the job. My first 30-year-long career as a college English professor makes me a nearly perfect choice for a task that requires patience and strong communication skills. I’m also good at holding hands—figuratively speaking, of course.

There are many reasons why a team can benefit greatly from having an “inspection manager” such as me on board. However, it’s important to choose that person wisely, based on their personality. There is a certain art to the role.

A good analogy is perhaps actor William H. Macy’s role as a nerdy-looking guy employed by a casino to sit next to gamblers on a hot streak. He somehow possessed the ability to turn these streaks from torrid to frigid in seconds, saving the house a lot of money. The movie was named “The Cooler,” in homage to his role.

In a similar vein, my team role at inspections is as “The Calmer.” For example, when our first-time buyers are listening to an inspector catalog the 37-odd “maintenance required” items he has discovered, my challenge is to calm their nerves and try to dissuade them from canceling the contract. I do this by pointing out that most of these repairs can be made with a screwdriver and pliers. I also reassure them that we can call a handyman who will do the work for a very reasonable fee. Most importantly, I offer the perspective of a wise old grandfather or uncle who has been present at many such inspections and really knows what’s a big deal and what’s normal in these circumstances.

Even though my role as the Calmer is vital, I’m always on the alert for any major concerns that the inspectors might identify. My eyes and ears are wide open when the condition of the roof, foundation, HVAC, or electrical system comes into play. If I can relay the number of missing roof shingles or describe the exact location of basement cracks, my seller will be able start thinking about what might show up on a resolution list, and won’t have to wait for the complete report to start the process.

Most real estate professionals say that it’s not their demeanor that matters here; they believe the behavior of the inspector is critical to “keeping the deal together.” Of course, that’s not true; the attitude of the real estate professional at the inspection is vital. However, I’ve found that the more experienced and mature inspectors are able to choose just the right tone to convey their findings. These inspectors are calmers in their own right; stressing the overall healthy condition of the home instead of nitpicking or lumping together in significance every loose toilet or leaking faucet with any major problem they’ve encountered. These types of inspectors can work with you to help allay your clients’ fears.

While my chief duty during inspections is to faithfully represent the interest of our buyers and sellers, I often serve a more neutral purpose. For instance, I regularly ask inspectors to point out the location of the electrical box or water shut-off valve to buyers, especially first-timers. Such information can save valuable time during emergencies or when home repairs are undertaken. And even though I relish time spent catching up on my New Yorker magazines, I also enjoy engaging in shop talk with fellow agents. Engaging with real estate professionals who happen to be representing the other side of the deal at inspections helps to build a bond with someone I’m likely to meet again in our relatively close-knit industry. Given our agency responsibilities, it is probably unrealistic to try to develop close friendships with other agents, but we can at least strive to establish a more collegial and professional relationship with each other.

I hope that for the reasons I’ve given, many of you who don’t normally attend the entire home inspection will be convinced that attendance is essential. As a buyer’s agent, you are able to see immediately any problem the inspector discovers. Then you are better able to either allay your buyer’s fears or point out on site why the home’s defects are too costly or extensive to make the purchase worthwhile. As a seller’s agent, you are prepared to describe immediately any potential deal-breakers, as well as the emotional state of the buyers. Sellers don’t then have to wait for the full inspection report for bad news.

Real estate professionals who attend home inspections can be invaluable resources of information for any and all transactions. And while I believe that showing up is essential, you type-A personalities out there are probably rolling your eyes and reaching for your phones at the thought of “wasting” so much of your valuable time. If so, consider hiring your own inspection manager—or Calmer, if you prefer.

Robert Willson is a salesperson with RE/MAX Premier Realty in Prairie Village, Kan.