Why Home Inspections Will Never be Virtual

By Kevin Wagstaff • May 2, 2020 • 7 min read

Virtual home inspections

There is no shortage of “How X Will Change in a Post-Covid World” and “These Industries Will Never Be the Same” articles. Heck, I even wrote one last week.

And for good reason. Things will be dramatically different going forward in so many ways. Remote work, Amazon taking over the world, AirBnB, travel, any encounter with strangers or large gatherings – all going to be rethought and supplanted by the new normal (whatever that is).

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few weeks reading books, articles and thoughts of some of the (at least who I believe to be) top thought leaders in tech and business. Lots of pontificating on the future of automation, human behavior and basically how everything going online.

Then I thought about our industry. How does coronavirus impact the future of the home inspection and real estate industries?

Why This is Such a Hot Button Topic

Part of this article was inspired by a very spicy thread on our Facebook User Group asking about the possibility of virtual, remote inspections.

The reaction from some was visceral.

“This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

“Why would you even bring this up. This is damaging to our industry.”

Just the thought of virtual inspections spooked some of our users.

It’s most likely rooted in the fear of technology commoditizing the home inspector, and in turn reducing or eliminating the need for them. Self-preservation, makes total sense and I get where they are coming from.

The answer surely isn’t turning a blind eye and refusing to have the discussions that every other industry is having around technology and the future.

What I found refreshing was a fair amount of inspectors that were open to the discussion:

“If this is an inevitable change in tech and human behavior, we need to be discussing it to be a part of the sea change”

“I think the way they’re currently done is starting to get dated and would welcome anything that spurs some progression. So with that in mind… following”

Completely agree.

Home inspectors in general would benefit from being able to rationally discuss issues and ideas that might might be a threat to their bottom line.

I’m seeing this slowly change as more home inspectors coming into the industry have diverse backgrounds and are forward-thinking. Lots of room for improvement though.

The Reasons Why Home Inspections Can Never be Virtual

Think about how emotional your first home purchase was.

Think about calculating the down payment, the cost of the mortgage, the new carpet and countertops, the new neighborhood your kids will grow up in and the future debt you are responsible for.

Lot on the line right?

So many systems and components of a home have to be touched, switched on and ran to evaluate their condition.

Can you imagine putting all of that emotion into finding the home you’re been searching for and finally getting an offer accepted, only to not know for sure if the furnace, water heater, AC, toilets and faucets are working?

An argument against that is: why can’t educated clients and agents check the condition and functionality of most major systems? And only bring in a virtual inspector for areas they aren’t as confident in.

I’d say sure, but how many people are true experts and are willing to take that risk? I’d imagine for most there would be that creeping doubt that you really don’t know the signs of a failing AC unit.

Also 70% of homebuyers now are Millennials or Gen Y. They aren’t really known as the “handy” generation. The opposite in fact.

I’m part of the “hand your dad the wrong screwdriver” generation and I’m not gonna plop down 500k on a new home and not have someone like my dad look at the house for expensive issues.

This leads to reason #2:

People want to feel the sense of security that a “professional” personally walked through the home with them and looked for red flags.

As great as Zoom, Facebook/IG Live and other tools are, you just can’t get that same human feeling that someone took the time to travel to your future home, put their hands on the systems you’ll rely on to stay warm, get water and store your food, and looked for expensive pitfalls (like mold, etc).

Then there is the in-person communication part. There is so much human emotion and connection that happens during any given home inspection. Especially for the high-quality companies out there that take time to educate and guide their clients.

A 3rd reason this will never happen:

Real estate agents don’t even want the chance to be on the hook for their buyers buying “a lemon”

I was a Realtor and vividly remember those moments when buyers would ask me a technical question about the home and I was like:

The response was always “oh we can ask the home inspector that”. I was deferring to someone with more knowledge than me. That will not change since agents do not want to learn the ins and outs of PEX vs. PVC plumbing pipes.

So How Will Things in our Industry Change?

I don’t know. Maybe they won’t at all.

One thing I do know is that there are major shifts in technology, consumer behavior and communication that our industry has been missing the boat on for years.

Trends in reviews, video, texting, web-based reports and social media are accelerating even more now.

Those that continue to refuse change and don’t take action will only continue to fall behind to new (and experienced) home inspection companies that are “listening” and anticipating where things are headed.

Could re-inspections be something that could be done virtually? Maybe.

It sure seems this could be a sweet spot to get homeowners the reassurance they’re looking for AND save home inspectors the less profitable drive that re-inspections tend to be.

We’re already seeing a lot more drones and crawlbots so I imagine we’ll only see more innovation for parts of the inspection.

So How Can We Prepare?

I’m trying to take in this historic event just like you and prepare for changes. Here is what I’m doing and recommend anyone reading this do:

  • Double down on the trends mentioned above – start making more video, get more reviews, get a new website, allow text from clients/agents.
  • Consume as much info and data as you can on areas that impact your world (local real estate prices, consumer confidence reports, mortgage applications data)
  • Read other industry’s news like tech and business – this is especially important for industries like ours that are prone to staying “in the bubble”. This is how we can all stay in tuned to what the rest of the world is doing and thinking about.
  • Ask questions – friends, family, professional partners. Ask what they are seeing and hearing from people in their circles. It’s a very underrated practice to ask your clients and partners what they prefer from you.

Do you think any or parts of inspections can become virtual in the future? Why? Let me know in the comments below and if you want to join the discussion in our Facebook User Group, join here.

5 replies
  1. Gary Smith
    Gary Smith says:

    I’m in the virtual inspection camp – especially for re-inspections (or at least the ones that don’t require obvious hands on operation of a recent repair or upgrade). If you can photo it or video it – do it. Send it to me.

    Spectora is already integrated with HomeBinder. If you’re not pushing ALL your clients a product that helps them maintain their home, what are you doing to help them – – – don’t say “nothing”. If you aren’t taking a proactive approach to educate and nurture your client relationship you’re missing a huge referral source. I use HomeBinder as a way to support customer care – after the sale and after they move in and believe I’m reaping the rewards.

    I see little steps being made in home automation that will help the inspection industry grow along with smart home technology. I envision a day when data can be securely downloaded (either remotely or on premises) to garner digital maintenance records from key components in the home – a/c systems, water heating and such. However – there is a clear distinction between a house filled with one-off smart devices and a truly connected smart home experience. We have a ways to go.

    I’ll be first in line to embrace tech.

    Reply
  2. Aaron Rath
    Aaron Rath says:

    I use live streaming on Facebook to do my inspections. Both client and agent are able to ask questions at time of the inspection. This is private for both buyer and agent. Buyer actually sees more of the home and appears to me to be more involved at the time. I have seen less calls and questions after the inspection. Just my thoughts.

    Reply
  3. Conrad O'Connor
    Conrad O'Connor says:

    It’s helpful that you elaborate on the fact that a home inspector can make sure that a house is in proper working condition before you buy it. My wife and I want to purchase our first house soon, so I’m thinking about engaging the services of a home inspector. I’m going to search for a good provider of home inspection services in my area to use.

    Reply
  4. Alice Carroll
    Alice Carroll says:

    You made a good point that home inspection can never be virtual because I just can never be sure about what a house without seeing it for myself. My husband and I are currently looking for a quiet neighborhood where we could hopefully raise a kid someday. As such, I would like to never worry about home maintenance so that I can solely focus on being a mom when the time comes.

    Reply
  5. Roy Johnson
    Roy Johnson says:

    Never and for none of the reasons you stated.
    I because if injury unless it’s a single story, be able to access structure in a wheelchair, will be inspecting using equip.ent, electronics, you mentioned, technically a virtual inspection.
    But unlike Building Dept. Doing virtual inspections from a remote location, I will doing from safety and comfort of my vehicle outside your door.
    But instead of someone being in control, either not knowing, or knowing trying to get something past the inspector, I will be in control of what I see.
    And as far as the evolution of the inspection industry, more training is needed.And more building code knowledge, side of equation I. Due Diligence processed that is totally not and can’t be addressed.128 hours most stringent state requirement for certification traing.
    CA no requirement at all

    Reply

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Kevin

Co-founder at Spectora
Kevin spends his days chatting with home inspectors, writing, making videos and working with a kick-a$$ team of folks that are delivering value every day.
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