The Kitchen Aide

I read a suggestion from an E&O insurance specialist to real estate licensees that they should sit alone in the kitchen, leaving home buyers and their contractors to inspect the home on their own - elevating risk management to the status of five hundred pound gorilla-hood.

The suggestion was based on the premise that the consumer cannot later point an accusing finger at the lowly licensee and accuse him or her of a cover up during the inspection process since he or she really wasn't there. Perhaps said nothing. Perhaps heard nothing. Perhaps saw nothing.

The inspection is the most important aspect of a home purchase. It borders on the ceremonial. The buyers are there, their agent is there, the general contractor in the business of home inspections is there, the structural pest control operator is there, the masonry contractor (for fireplaces in existence prior to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake) is there: and, as necessary, a structural engineer, a soils engineer, a civil engineer, etc. The Mission: to thoroughly critique the condition of the property through an exchange of ideas/observations among everyone present.

There are certainly deficiencies to be found in new construction. So one can imagine what lurks in the shadows of older homes. I keep a large marble in my briefcase which comes in handy when inspecting some of San Francisco's painted ladies - the Victorians of course. Yes, it does roll from one end of the room to the other. Must be due to a defect in the concrete foundation. What concrete foundation? It's unreinforced masonry; looks like bricks to me. You wouldn't pay $150,000 for this kind of place? They're not asking $150,000. They're asking $1,150,000!

I recall an inspection where I noted that a section of mud sill looked like it should be replaced. I asked the home inspector (contractor) for his opinion and he agreed. While he's upstairs the Structural Pest Control Operator came by and I asked his opinion. It was not a problem, he said. My clients heard both exchanges. Who was right? I suggest that it is not important who was "right". What matters is that my clients were educated by the process. There's a lot of grey in the process.

Roofs are an interesting arena of contention. The seller doesn't want to replace something that ain't broke. Buyers don't want to incur a bill of from $5,000 to $10,000 next winter if it's that close to broke. If our GC alerts us that the roof is at or near the end of its useful life I advise my clients to retain a roofing contractor for his opinion. The first challenge is to find a roofing contractor who is in the business of inspections and who does not do the work. The second challenge is to find a roofing contractor who has been in business using the same name over the past five years. Must have something to do with inhaling all that tar.


I suggest that for a licensee to sit in the kitchen during the inspection process is dereliction of duty.

On the other hand, if the licensee is not a fiduciary then such conduct is not egregious. In fact, no need to even show up. The licensee could simply provide buyer-customers with lists of inspectors. Better yet, the licensee could let Bill Gates provide the lists. This would free up more time for the licensee to sit in the kitchen browsing CareerBuilder.com.


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