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Explain Away Spray

08/29/22

Several years ago my home inspector friend, Ross Neag, came up with the term “Explain away spray”. It has become an inside joke that we refer to when talking about people who find reasons to contradict what we find during our home inspections. Sometimes, this is the real estate agent. Other times it is the seller of the home. And sometimes it is an overzealous client who wants to purchase a home so badly that they are willing to “explain away” problems that are found during the inspection.

Recently, we were inspecting an individual unit in a townhome community. We usually perform a townhome inspection as if it is a single family home.

Despite the exterior being “association maintained” we feel that it is important to determine if there are any obvious deficiencies with the roof, exterior walls, or grounds close to the home. Frequently, the seller, real estate agent or a representative of the homeowner’s association (HOA) likes to point out that the maintenance of the exterior is not the responsibility of the individual unit owners. We are told that, “The association is responsible for the costs and maintenance of the common areas so there’s little point for the potential buyer to have it inspected.”

A different plan

This has never sat well with me. Afterall, the individual unit owners make up the association. All owners have some amount of financial responsibility for maintenance of the exterior elements of their complex. Ideally, the HOA maintains enough money in reserve to pay for planned and unplanned maintenance of the entire complex. If maintenance or other costs exceed what the HOA has available, the individual unit owners may be facing a special assessment.

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Back to our story… after our inspector identified some problems with the exterior walls, our client contacted the HOA to determine if these problems were known, and whether there were plans to make repairs. Unfortunately, the HOA used their ample supply of “explain away spray” to tell the client that these weren’t really big problems, and they would be dealt with during the course of normal maintenance.

Luckily, our client did not accept that answer and dug deeper. It turns out that the problems with the exterior walls were a HUGE problem and that they were part of a major restoration project that is taking several years to complete. Coincidentally, we were contacted by another company who informed us that we were “absolutely correct” in our observations of problems with the exterior walls. They were the consultant on the project and had found major problems with many other units in this complex that were costing more money than the HOA had available.

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In this case, our client decided to find another home. We inspected their new home at a different location and things went well. They have moved in and are now happy homeowners.

We could come up with many other examples of somebody using “explain away spray”. It happens every day to home inspectors. It is easy for an inexperienced inspector or a home buyer to be blinded by explain away spray.

Rest assured that Dunsing Inspectors are immune from “explain away spray”.

Have you ever had someone try to “explain away” something?

By Jamie Dunsing- Professional Inspector since 1989

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