Not all home inspections are equal. In fact, there are some options that forego the full home inspection and complete report. More buyers are rushing to the offer table and this has caused a stir in requests for a walk-through inspection.
The competitive real estate market, created by low housing inventory and low-interest rates, has brought about “short consultations.” Housing competition is steep and buyers must compete against numerous other buyers for the same property. Real estate agents and buyers are continually looking for ways for their offer to be more attractive to avoid bidding wars. Many are turning to fast closings or agreeing to skip the complete professional home inspection.
4 things you need to know about walk-through inspections:
1. What is a walk-through?
“Walk-through” inspections are also known as “Pre-offer Consultations” or “Walk and Talk Inspections.” They are becoming popular in many competitive real estate markets across the United States. They are considered an up-front time saver for buyers rushing to make offers. These also serve as an additional source of income for home inspectors.
During a walk-through consultation, the trained professional inspector walks through the property with the buyer and real estate agent and calls out the obvious defects that they see. This is a 30–90 minute verbal consultation with most closer to the 30-minute mark. Some areas like the attic or crawl space may be limited to inspection or not viewed at all.
These consultations don’t follow “standards of practice” like a full inspection, and the buyer signs an agreement with minimal scope. Last but not least, the home inspector does not provide a report.
For those thinking about this option, it’s important to know the scope of work and have an agreement. For example, Inspector Pro Insurance has a pre-offer agreement, that states: “This pre-offer real estate Review, Evaluation, and Consultation is offered to help the home buyer in deciding whether they should make an offer on the property.”
2. How is a walk-through different from a full home inspection?
A complete professional home inspection will take 3+ hours, follow the standards of practice, and the inspector provides a report of all house systems. This full report will vary in size (anywhere from 40-70 pages). A full inspection has detailed information on Grounds, Roof, Exterior, Garage, Bedrooms, Bathrooms, Other Rooms, Kitchen, Laundry Room, Interior Components, Basement, Crawl Space, Attic, HVAC System, Plumbing, and Electrical. In addition, a professional inspection means the home inspector will go places the buyer and real estate agent won’t.
Many home inspectors do not feel that the walk-throughs are in the best interest of the buyer. There are so many things that should be looked at and a walk-through doesn’t cover it all. This leaves gaps where the inspector could easily miss something. It would be easy for a buyer to think the walk-through covered every problem in the house.
Unlike the full professional inspection, there are no standards of practice for a walk-through. This means the walk-through can be compared to the “wild west” where anything goes.
Lastly, there is of course a price difference. For example, in Washington state, a 3,000 square foot house would cost $150 for a walk-through and $400-$450 for the complete professional inspection.
3. Is a walk-through risky?
A brief walk-through consultation may not identify all defects. When a homebuyer waives a full home inspection, they assume the risk of repairs that could be substantial.
If you’ve been around home inspectors, you know that the industry has many opinionated folks. Another risk with the consultation is that a home inspector can easily end up giving an opinion. Opinions in the home inspector industry can get an inspector in trouble. With a full inspection, the professional home inspector controls the text on their report to state what they see and not their verbal opinion.
Inspectors who actively market the walk-throughs will likely have an agreement limiting the inspector’s liability. There are some inspector insurance companies that cover these short consultations. Communication is critical when working with the client and real estate agent as they need to be made aware of the limitations and risks involved with this choice.
Despite a clear agreement with the client, this “inspection” can cause trouble. It is virtually impossible to see all major defects in a home in such a short amount of time. A walk-through may lead the buyer to purchase a home that has major problems of which they were unaware. Regardless of the scope of a walk-through consultation, a buyer may look for retribution. And even though there is a signed agreement, a home inspector (and possibly a real estate agent) may find themselves in a legal battle.
In any industry and especially real estate, confusion is not a good thing. There is too much room for misunderstanding without a controlled and carefully scripted home inspection report. This could easily hurt a real estate transaction causing the buyer to back out of a deal on a decent property.
A verbal walk-through also leaves room for the real estate agent to “fill in the gaps.” In many cases, the real estate agent’s opinion can influence whether the buyer moves forward or not. Real estate agents eager to make a buck may minimize what an inspector said, and those protective of their clients may over-react. Either case leaves the buyer without accurate information.
In a highly competitive real estate market, many homebuyers skip the full home inspection as part of their offer. However, despite the risk, many feel a walk-through is better than no inspection at all. The consultation does at least give the buyer basic information of apparent problems with the property. Maybe a little knowledge is better than none.
4. What is the future of walk-throughs?
Many inspectors do not like these walk-throughs because they take away from the complete inspection that the industry has developed with proper standards of practice. Some feel that the home inspection industry should bend to new trends in the real estate industry. There are also inspectors that like the idea of making a few extra dollars and feel the risk is minimal.
There is no doubt, this is a topic that will continue. It’s possible the future of walk-throughs will be dictated by the back office of insurance companies. That is where the number crunchers work away at the detailed statistics. If insurance companies decide there is too much risk and stop offering coverage, professional home inspectors may soon follow and stop doing them.
There are other ways for the real estate community to keep the offers moving quickly. The seller can order a pre-listing inspection which provides a full inspection report and is a great alternative to a walk-through. A pre-listing inspection sets buyers at ease and more confident in their offer.
The future is always anybody’s guess, but with the demands on real estate agents to create new ways for buyers to get excited about accepting their offers, there is a good chance that walk-throughs will be around for a while.