Real estate market’s effects hit home inspectors

Home inspector Steve Bauer checks out a fireplace at a residential property in Lawrence in early March. The downturn in the real estate market has affected Lawrence home inspectors in different ways.

Steve Bauer has been inspecting homes for 23 years. He does more than 600 inspections annually and has done more than 10,000 in his lifetime.

And while the real estate market has turned relatively stagnant, business remains good for Bauer, who inspects homes in Douglas County, Ottawa, Kansas City and Overland Park.

“Even when some Realtors appear to be having a tough time, I’ve been fairly busy this winter,” said Bauer, who owns Bauer Inspection in Baldwin City. “I get a slow week every once in a while, but things have been quite busy for me.”

One reason to account for the reliable flow of customers is the spike in inspections of foreclosed homes. Within two years, the number of foreclosures Bauer does has jumped from one a month to two each week. Now, foreclosures make up about a quarter of his work annually.

“That’s certainly having an impact on my market,” Bauer said. “Those houses are selling, and I’m getting some of those inspections. I realize I do a lot of foreclosures now, but I don’t consciously think about that.”

Joe McKinney, owner of McKinney Home Inspection, also says the market is strong – especially if you’re an inspector. He says the availability of houses in Lawrence, coupled with low interest rates, has kept business steady. Ninety-five percent of the homes McKinney inspects are pre-existing, and he continues to receive a steady flow of customers.

“Everyone says the market is depressed, but Lawrence has a strong market,” McKinney said. “Other than there just being a seasonal downturn, which we expect every year, I don’t see any decline in the business at all. It’s a great time to buy homes, and I think that’s what’s holding our market up in Lawrence.”

Other inspectors see it differently.

“I just attended a conference about (the market), and there wasn’t anybody in the United States who was excited about the way things were going,” said David Stoffer, of Stoffer Inspections in Lawrence. “It’s pretty well down all over the United States. It may run some people out of business. You see Realtors quitting and loan companies folding up, and we’re going to have the same thing in home inspections.”

Jay Rusk of Heartland Home Inspections in Lawrence noticed a decline in business toward the end of last summer. The decline started to abate in January.

“Toward the end of last year, things slowed way down. The market was pretty tough,” he said. “Most referrals come from real estate agents selling properties. If the real estate market is down, our business goes down as well.”

Presale inspections

Whether business is sliding or not, the industry is changing. Bauer said the crawling market isn’t decreasing business much because both sellers and buyers are using home inspections to their advantage.

Typically, the home inspection is a tool buyers use to determine if the house is worth purchasing. Lately Bauer has seen an increase in presale inspections. A presale is when the seller purchases the inspection to market and advertise the shape and quality of the house. Still the buyer’s advocate, inspectors don’t alter their checklist for the sake of the seller.

“I do exactly the same type of inspection,” Bauer said. “I still put everything down on the report. Possibly the only difference when I do an inspection for a seller, is that I offer some tips on things they might want to correct … before they put the house on the market to make it more attractive to the buyer.”

And right now the current market, with more houses for sale than people to snatch them up, gives buyers more of an incentive to invest in a home inspection. The inspection can be equipped as a bargaining tool, Rusk said.

“When the market is down, what happens is, when there’s a lot of houses but not very many buyers, the buyer can be pickier about what they want to look at,” Rusk said. “Things I would normally classify as normal wear and tear of the house, now all of a sudden that buyer may ask for those things to be fixed, whereas before when the market was really competitive they weren’t going to ask for those small repairs.”