Since this website launched in early December 2010, I have received a steady stream of correspondence from home inspectors asking my opinion on a wide variety of topics related to home inspections. Frequently, these inquiries inspire an article. So keep them coming.

A while ago, I got an interesting question from a reader about an inspection conducted for a young couple.  The mother of one of them was financing the contemplated home purchase and was a looming presence during the home inspection and the inspector had heard her opine that she didn’t like the house because it was “too small.”  The couple was represented by a buyer’s agent and the inspector knew both the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent professionally.

Afterward, the inspector discussed the findings in detail with the couple who seemed to find the discovered deficiencies manageable and were allowing how they would go about rectifying them. That was on Friday.

The following Monday, the inspector got a call from the listing real estate broker who was considerably put out because the buyer’s agent had just informed him that the couple was backing out of the deal, according to the buyer’s agent, because they were claiming that the home inspection had uncovered defects that could lead to a catastrophic fire. The inspector then told the listing broker that there was nothing in the inspection report that would remotely imply anything of the kind. To make the listing broker’s confusion even further pronounced, the sellers had agreed to correct several of the discovered deficiencies and drop the price further.

Well, you don’t have to be Ellery Queen to ascertain why these buyers were defaulting on their agreement. And so the inspector told the listing broker about the mother-financier’s dislike of the house.

And the questions that the inspector had were: did this disclosure breach a professional confidence and is there a better way to handle such a situation in the future?

The answers are: “Yes” and “Yes”.

If the sellers were going to be repairing certain uncovered defects, as well as reducing the price, it is a mortal certainty that the listing broker already had a copy of the inspector’s report. They were not taking those measures in a vacuum.

So there was likely no breach of confidence in telling the listing broker that the catastrophic fire potentiality was, at best, fanciful. You can’t betray a confidence that doesn’t exist. So no harm, no foul there.

The disclosure of the mother-financier’s audible musings of displeasure as a putative extraneous cause of the deal-breaking, however, was, methinks, a bridge too far and could engender a torrent of legal unpleasantness for the inspector’s clients should the sellers be so inclined, including a suit in equity for specific performance. At a minimum, the buyers could forfeit their deposit. Not that I have any sympathy for them. The time to discover a property’s dimensional insufficiencies is well before making a purchase offer.

If a similar situation presents itself in the future, a prudent inspector should first ascertain whether the opposing party or his representative has already seen a copy of the inspection report and from whom. Then simply say “The home inspection report speaks for itself.” This is a valuable piece of home inspector training.

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