image of a real estate appraiser taking notes during an inspection

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Failure to Inspect

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It is hard to believe that we must address this topic, but the issue has come up far too many times both in the context of claims and in licensing board complaints. The issue is the appraiser’s failure to inspect, and the fact that they did not tell the truth about it.

If the dishonesty is brought before the licensing board it could lead to serious discipline, especially if the evidence shows a pattern of such conduct. What type of discipline is given depends on how egregious the conduct really was.

If the lie is deemed to be an “intentional misrepresentation” that may result in no coverage for any claim that might be made against the appraiser.

To put it succinctly, you cannot sign a certification saying you personally inspected the interior of the subject property if you did not set foot inside the property. Even though the following excuses may seem reasonable at the time, it all boils down to lying on your report and your excuse, reason, explanation, rationalization, or justification doesn’t matter.

  • I was ill and didn’t want to infect the homeowner;
  • I got stuck in bad weather, and didn’t want to inconvenience the homeowner by trying to reschedule for another date;
  • I had car trouble; etc.

In one case, the appraiser suddenly became ill on the way to the property, and her associate performed the interior inspection while she was laying in the back seat of the car, parked out in the driveway.

In another case, the appraiser was out of the country on vacation, posting party photos on Facebook, while her trainee performed several interior inspections. The trainee emailed portions of those reports to the vacationing supervisor to review before she affixed the supervisor’s digital signature and sent the reports to various clients.

The fact that you looked at someone else’s photos doesn’t count - even if they were really good photos.

Attics and Crawl Spaces

If you prepare FHA/VA appraisals you know you have to do a head and shoulders inspection of attics and crawl spaces.

If you are too short to reach the attic, or the scuttle was too heavy to push aside – these statements may be true, they are not a reason to falsify the inspection. Bring a ladder and someone along to assist. In fact, in many homes you need a ladder to access the attic from the ceiling. If you forget to bring a ladder, you can’t lie and say you inspected the attic because it is too much trouble to think about going back to inspect at a later date.

You can’t assume no one will notice if you simply attach a photo of another attic. Even if you got away with it once, it sets a risky precedent and you are unlikely to get away with it again.

The same is true of the crawl space. If a head and shoulders inspection is required, then it must be done. In some cases, access to the crawlspace cannot be found. That could be a legitimate problem and its best to notify the client. You are not required to move furniture or to remove carpeting.

Not inspecting the crawlspace because you fear spiders is not a good reason. Nor can you forego the inspection because you are too large to fit through the opening.

Using a photo provided by the home inspector or pest control inspector might be better than attaching a photo from a completely different house but if you attach a photo provided by someone else you must disclose that instead of leading your client to believe that the photo was the result of your inspection.

The below are all "reasons" or "justifications" given by appraisers after the falsehoods came to light:

  • "I have terrible allergies and attics are dusty" ;
  • "I had knee replacement surgery and can't climb ladders" ;
  • "I forgot my flashlight and the crawlspace was just too dark" ;
  • "I was afraid my walker would scratch the wood floors so I stayed outside while my trainee did the inspection" ;
  • "It was near blizzard conditions, and I didn't want to delay the closing, so I used the MLS photos and some others sent by the sellers...both agents were fine with it."

Bottom Line

At a minimum, getting caught is embarrassing, but sometimes it can be much worse. The appraiser who was posting vacation photos at the same time her trainee was submitting reports to clients, saw her license suspended and ultimately revoked.

The bottom line is that there is never a good excuse and even one lie is one too many. ◆