Many reading this piece may have heard the quote that goes something like, “Take only memories, leave only footprints.” As home inspectors, we need to change that up a bit to say, “Take only pictures, NEVER leave footprints.” There are numerous items that can be done to minimize the frustration sellers experience throughout the real estate transaction. Often, it can be an emotional, stressful and somewhat invasive process. Taking some simple steps before, during and after every inspection can go a long way to reduce customer service issues and even increase the likelihood that you may get a referral, recommendation or review.
Starting with the simple aspects—we should always leave the home as close to its original condition as possible. This includes the thermostat setting, water heater temperature, keys should all be back in the appropriate lockbox. Be mindful that it is easy to track dirt, mud or animal waste into the home if you are not extremely careful. It is recommended to always use shoe covers when entering the home AND removing these before walking to the exterior. It completely defeats the purpose if you put them on before entering the home, and then leave them on as you exit and enter the home. These are intended to protect the surfaces in the home and not to protect the soles of your shoes.
One of the more common complaints home inspectors receive from sellers and/or listing agents relates to the inspector not leaving the home in the same condition it was in prior to the evaluation. So how do we help ensure we are leaving the home as close to the way we found it? For starters, making sure we are documenting both the pre and post inspection condition of the systems we are evaluating. A very simple example of this is also one of the most common complaints that homeowners and listing agents have—the thermostat setting. Good practice is to take a picture of the thermostat before any testing is done, and then again once the settings have been reset to their original level. Many home inspection software options timestamp photographs so that in the event there is ever a question about what the initial settings were, it can be easily located. Highlighting the importance of this was a situation where a veteran home inspector performed an inspection on a property that used propane as the fuel source for the heating unit. About a month after the inspection was completed, the seller contacted the home inspection company threatening to file a law suit if the cost to refill his propane tank (which he stated was $500) wasn’t immediately paid. He claimed that the home inspector cranked up the heat in the home, which was vacant, and left it that way for a month—completely exhausting the fuel. The home inspector included in his report two, timestamped pictures documenting the original setting and the post-inspection setting were exactly the same. Had this procedure not been in place, it would have been near impossible to refute the claim. After reviewing this with the homeowner, he performed additional research and it was discovered that his wife had visited the property subsequent to the inspection, turned up the heat and never reset the thermostat. This is a simple example of how taking the correct pictures can potentially prevent a costly monetary loss. Another common issue homeowners raise revolves around leaving hand/finger prints or insulation around attic access points. Taking a picture of the access hatch before your ladder goes up and another one after serves two purposes. 1) It shows through photographic documentation the before and after condition of the area. 2) It acts as a reminder to make sure to clean up any insulation or prints in the area. A third common area that is very easily overlooked are refrigerators or freezers plugged into GFCI receptacles. It is highly recommended to return to these at the very end of your inspection to take a picture with your IR thermometer documenting that these are still turned on (light turned on) and the GFCI is not tripped. This can be a huge irritant to the homeowner and potentially cost a significant amount of money to replace the freezer full of elk steaks.
These are just three examples of how taking the right pictures can help prevent costly mistakes and reduce the stress level on homeowners.
There are also steps you can take prior to the inspection to prepare the seller/homeowner for the inspection. Collecting the listing agent’s information and making sure they receive some type of scheduled inspection notification along with a pre-inspection checklist. Checklists will vary depending on the type of inspection, but generally speaking it is advisable to have all animals removed or kenneled, remove any obstructions from attic and crawlspace access points and have the utilities (gas/water/electricity) turned on for the inspection.
After the inspection, you may consider leaving a leave-behind piece on the kitchen counter for the homeowners reminding them to double check their thermostat, all GFCI receptacles, refrigerators/freezers, doors/windows, curtains, drapes and blinds just to make sure they are back in their previous state. Your contact information and business card should also be included with this piece along with a message to contact you immediately if they notice anything that is unsatisfactory.
As a whole, anything you can do to prevent homeowners from contacting you or your office with complaints is highly advisable. Taking additional pictures to show that you have reset all relevant systems to their pre-inspection condition not only offers an additional level of protection for you, but helps to ensure that we are being very deliberate about taking good care of the home we were trusted to inspect. In the end, if the seller has a good experience with your home inspection, your client and your client’s agent are far more likely to recommend your services to others, leave positive reviews for you online and ideally use your services again at some point in the future.