One of the most important decisions to make when selling a home is: "Do I want a buyer wandering through my home alone, without a real estate professional present?" This may seem like a question that doesn't need to be asked, but sellers may not realize that this situation can happen during the home inspection.
A real estate transaction can be a highly personal experience. Selling a home invites everyone into the most personal of spaces. After all, it's hard to buy what you can't see or touch. While most buyers are respectful and realize your home is not their home quite yet, others are not. Nowhere is the difference more noticeable than during a home inspection.
By itself, a home inspection is a good thing. It allows a buyer to gather information from other professionals (inspectors, plumbers, roofers, electricians etc.) about the soundness of what will be a very expensive investment. However, the home inspection requires a bit of balance between gathering information and being respectful of someone else's property.
During a typical real estate transaction, at least three contractual statements cover this situation:
1. Per the Alaska Multiple Listing Service (MLS) lockbox agreement: "Any person(s) that authorized participant allows access into property must be accompanied by authorized participant at all times."
2. Under paragraph nine of the listing agreement, the sellers sign with the real estate professional representing them – "Broker is authorized to install a key safe on the Property for the use of AK MLS Subscribers. Neither Broker, AK MLS, nor any Subscribers of AK MLS shall incur any liability for loss, theft or damage of any nature or kind whatsoever to the Property and/or to any personal property therein."
3. In the Purchase and Sale Agreement signed by buyer and seller, under Paragraph 11(f): "Buyer shall defend, indemnify and hold Seller, Brokers and Licensees harmless from all liability or property damage including any liens, claims, damages or costs or personal injury arising from the Property inspections. This indemnity includes Seller's right to recover all costs and expenses incurred by Seller to enforce this subsection, including Seller's reasonable attorney fees. This provision shall survive the termination of this Purchase Agreement."
So why wouldn't a real estate professional attend the home inspection? Here are three reasons we've heard. First, if the home inspector uses the lockbox to access the home, some real estate professionals think Rule 1 above removes them from the requirement to accompany the buyer.
From the inspectors' viewpoint, they have been hired to do a specific job, which does not include monitoring the buyer(s), their children or other accompanying adults at all times as required by rule one. Stopping other people's children from jumping on furniture or from a stair landing, or asking a buyer to not use the seller's coffee maker or rummage through the seller's dresser drawers during an inspection is just not in their contracted scope of work.
The second reason is to minimize the perception of being viewed as another professional inspector. The concern is valid if the real estate professional tries to guide or direct the conversation and process. It is more appropriate for them to just accompany and observe.
Finally, the real estate professional may feel that they have other, more profitable work to do instead of accompanying a prospective buyer during a home inspection. While there is no set rule on which real estate professional should be present at the home inspection, at least one should be there. Whether representing the buyer or the seller, the real estate professional who has heard the home inspector's comments or seen the problem area will be better able to explain the concern to the other party or to a contractor hired to perform work. After all, when you hire someone to guide you through a process, representation doesn't stop and start only when it is convenient for them.
By allowing the lockbox to be placed on the home for access (rule two), sellers do not relinquish their expectation of civility from the buyers. Yes, sellers should remove all items of value, large and small, over which they may be heartbroken if stolen or damaged. However, the expectation is that the real estate professional using the lockbox will monitor the potential buyers while they are in the home.
You might think a vacant home isn't much of a concern. However, if there is an accident (a child jumping from the stair landing or falling through an open crawlspace access), how is that covered? Rule three, above, may only cover things that arise from the scope of home inspection. Your homeowner's insurance coverage for "medical payments to others" may become involved if there is an accident and the other party decides to sue. Regardless of the claim's validity, and depending on coverage, your premiums could increase or you could have difficulty obtaining new insurance for a period of time.
Finally, sellers are within their rights to require buyers to be supervised until ownership transfer. This is similar logic to why a new car sales person accompanies you on those short test drives and doesn't just hand you the keys. Would you do it any differently?