QDEAR BARRY: When we had our home inspection, the seller was present during the entire process. We never felt free to converse candidly with our inspector. Shouldn't the inspector or our agent have asked the seller to excuse himself? -- Michael

ADEAR MICHAEL: Deciding who attends a home inspection can be touchy, depending upon the personalities involved.

There are no rules that determine whether sellers should be present during an inspection. In most cases, it helps buyers if they have an unfettered opportunity to converse with their home inspector, to ask questions freely, and to allow the inspector to discuss defects without fear of offending the seller.

Real estate agents, realizing the potential for misunderstandings, often ask sellers not to be home when the buyers and inspector are on site. Most sellers comply with this request, some without complaint, others with misgivings. Some sellers flatly refuse to have an entourage nitpick their domain unless they are present. Others insist that the listing agent be present.

The presence of sellers can be, but is not always, an impediment to the free flow of an inspection. In some cases, they may simply remain quietly at home, planted on the couch or preparing dinner. They might engage the buyers or agents in friendly conversations, sometimes stiff and segmented, sometimes real and relaxed.

On the other end of the spectrum, sellers might shadow every step of the inspector throughout the entire process, sometimes causing distractions, sometimes providing helpful information, sometimes coloring the atmosphere with quiet but palpable distress, sometimes challenging the inspector. Such sellers can interfere with the buyers' need to communicate concerns to the inspector and the inspector's freedom to fully explain observed defects.

It is not, however, the responsibility of the home inspector to dismiss the sellers from their property. If buyers are uncomfortable with the sellers' presence, it is wise to have the agent run interference -- to tactfully disengage sellers from the activities of the inspector.

For example, agents can politely explain to sellers that leaving home during the inspection is normal procedure -- that they, as buyers of their next home, would appreciate the same courtesy. When sellers prefer to remain, agents can engage them in conversation to divert their attention from the inspection. Unfortunately, some agents fail even to attend home inspections.

When seller participation prevents buyers from consulting with their inspector, the review of findings should take place away from the property. The buyers, inspector and agent can arrange to meet at the agent's office or at a coffee shop. This can make up for communication opportunities missed during the inspection. The final review is a critical element of the process, enabling the inspector to fully explain the condition of the home and allowing the buyers to ask questions.

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

Distributed by Access Media Group