Nobody enjoys delivering bad news. In fact, if we could avoid it entirely, we certainly would. But life — and business — doesn’t work that way. Telling people what they need to know is all part of the job, even when it’s something they don’t want to hear.
Relaying bad home inspection results is never easy, but it’s necessary — and better for the client in the long run. It may be a difficult pill to swallow when they’re first informed of the items they’ll need to address. But it’s far better to go into a home purchase fully aware of the situation than to get unwelcome surprises once they close the deal. At the end of the day — good results or bad — you’re helping the client. Consider our advice for breaking down home inspection problems for your client.
How to break the news to your client
Unless a home is newly built, you will likely put issues in the inspection report that need work. As tricky as giving this kind of news may be, there are ways to lay it out to make the information easier to handle without muddying the waters.
Be up-front and honest
Whether you’re having a face-to-face conversation ahead of the report or following up with a client after they’ve looked the information over, don’t let yourself inadvertently misrepresent the issue. If you come across a problem that needs fixing right away, even if the client could still get by for a short time, don’t say anything that could lead them to believe they’d be fine if they didn’t address it right away — especially where personal or structural safety is concerned.
For example: If you see that a support beam is rotting, but other support beams could probably handle the load for a time, it’s best not to mention the other support beams. Doing so might give clients the impression that they’ll be fine if they leave it be. It’s always best to emphasize the problems that could occur if they don’t address them as soon as possible. Don’t sugarcoat it.
When you’re talking to a client about the issues they need to address, give it to them straight. Begin with the problem and how to handle it. Providing too much context might confuse the issue, and it might not land as clearly as you’d like. Deliver all the details of what the client needs to know.
Understand that — though you have no emotional investment in the outcome of inspection results — home buyers and sellers have a significant emotional investment. Keep that in mind when breaking the news. If it was a bad home inspection for the buyer, be kind in your delivery. Be ready and willing to answer questions, and try to prepare some helpful recommendations. Though news of issues is difficult to hear, having the name and number of someone that can help them softens the blow considerably.
Most common causes of a bad inspection report
Neither a buyer nor a seller is eager to receive a bad inspection report. A long list of repairs means less of a return on a seller’s investment, and for a buyer, it means more negotiations — or potentially having to back out of the sale if the problems are significant enough. There is a multitude of issues that can show up on an inspection report. These are the most common problems that inspectors encounter:
Signs of pests
Termites and carpenter ants burrow into wood and make their nests in places like support beams, floor joists, and rafters. They weaken a building’s structure and can ultimately destroy a home. Indications of wood-destroying insects should raise a red flag for buyers, and sellers should address the issue immediately.
Issues with plumbing
From leaky faucets to deteriorating pipes, the severity of plumbing issues can vary widely. A new flushing assembly for the toilet’s no big deal to most buyers, but an old, cast iron septic main ready to crumble needs immediate attention.
Problems in the wiring
Electrical issues usually include frayed wires, improperly wired breaker boxes, and wiring that’s not up to code. Depending on the severity of the issues — and the cost to fix — this can be either moderately frustrating or absolutely terrible news.
Trouble with the roof
From missing shingles to soft spots on the roof, the severity will vary. Just be sure to prepare the client emotionally — and likely yourself — if the roof is going to need a full replacement.
Problems with the foundation
If the foundation isn’t sturdy, the house isn’t going to remain stable. Cracks invite leaks, and bad settling throws the whole structure out of alignment. Foundations are usually very costly to fix. Break this news as gently as possible to your client.
Other common issues that inspectors encounter include mold, problems with doors and windows, chimney damage, and outdated, unsafe building materials like lead paint and asbestos.
How can you help your clients with a bad inspection report
The inspection doesn’t end with the inspection report. Good inspectors are willing and able to provide helpful information.
If it was a bad home inspection for the seller — or the buyer — be ready for a call when they receive the report. They’re likely going to have a lot of questions and are going to expect clear, honest answers.
So, as you prepare the report, take notes on the questions you expect they’ll ask, and prep some answers. Get together a resource list — contractors and services that can help — and present those options when they call. When you speak to the client, be clear on what you can and can’t assist with.
Be ready with solutions
Don’t just email the client or hand them the report and leave them to figure out what to do next. Do the kind thing and be ready to give the client some direction moving forward.
If possible, take it a step further and add an action plan to the report. Give them step-by-step advice — or some general ideas — about where to go and how to address the issues laid out in the report. A list of services that can fix their issues or helpful DIY tips go a long way in securing the client’s trust in your service, and they’ll be more likely to recommend you to others.
Reaching out to clients a week or two after providing services is a good practice for any business, including a home inspection operation. Give them a call, a text, or even an automated survey, and find out how things are going for them. Ask if they have any lingering questions about their report results and find out if there’s anything else you or your company can do for them.
It’s amazing how much that little extra effort tells clients you care beyond just giving their home an inspection and being done with it. Following up also helps cement your business in the client’s mind when they need inspection services again or when they speak to a friend who’s buying or selling a property in need of a home inspection.
The good news
When speaking to clients, or sending them a bad inspection report, make sure to have some good news to sprinkle in there to soften the blow. Be truthful and honest with all your news, but every situation has some good to focus on.
Point out that the home inspection’s purpose is to uncover potential problems before making a significant financial decision. It’s good that they got this information before closing the deal. However, try to avoid the “could be worse” narrative. Uncovering problems ahead of the sale is why you do what you do, but drawing hypotheticals isn’t helpful.
If any elements of the home would be valuable to the client, draw attention to those. Give them any good news you can. Explain that the foundation is rock-solid. Let them know that the house has vintage crown molding that other homeowners would envy.
Use a positive tone and positive language. Don’t lead with “I have bad news.” Be matter-of-fact, but keep a friendly, upbeat manner. Avoid phrases such as “I hate to tell you this, but…” or “you’re not going to like this.” Instead, lead with, “I’d like to draw your attention to some important things you should know,” or “I’d like to go over the issues I found and what we can do about them.” Using “we” communicates unity and tells the client you’re in their corner and you’re here to help.
Focus on possibilities. Give clear-cut answers as to what the client can do going forward. If you’ve been in the home inspection field for a while, you’re likely familiar with services and contractors with the know-how and experience to address just about any problem that presents itself. If the issues seem too much for the home buyer, remind them that this gives them some bargaining power with the seller. If they haven’t closed on the home yet, they have the leverage to negotiate repairs, and they’re free to walk away from the deal if the seller doesn’t work with them.
The bottom line is that it’s never fun to give bad news. Apart from the tension it creates, we don’t want to disappoint others. But, whatever information you have to deliver, in the end, the client always has options. Pointing out those options will set you apart from other home inspectors, who simply examine a property, deliver a report, and are done.
To grow and scale your home inspection business, look at utilizing ISN’s home inspection software, ideal for any home inspection professional.