A quality home inspection is crucial, but it’s important to vet your home inspector before you sign a contract.
Q: Can you please provide more information on one of your articles I recently read about home inspectors? The article paints home inspectors in a bad light. No home inspector should have a “liability buyout” clause. I doubt an insurance underwriting company would insure an inspector with such a business policy.
Since he was labeled as an ASHI member and I, too, am an ASHI inspector, we need to know who that is to investigate and see if he has violated our ethics policy.
A: Thanks for your email. Sam (who is a real estate attorney) and I are big believers in professional home inspectors and think that in general they provide a valuable service for homebuyers and homeowners. But there are some bad apples in the barrel and I’m sure you’re aware that inspectors look to avoid liability wherever they can (as do other professionals in the real estate industry).
But it isn’t our job to police your industry. Our job is to raise awareness that bad behavior happens in real estate and to help homeowners and homebuyers avoid or counteract practitioners who sanction or enable what we consider to be less than optimal practices.
There has been a movement over the past 10 to 15 years (or longer) by professional home inspection industry to try to limit liability for a poor inspection to the cost of the home inspection. The damage caused by a poor inspection might cost a homeowner tens of thousands of dollars – or more. And, yet, the inspector might say, “Sorry,” and offer a check for the $400 he or she was paid.
We’re sure that’s a much less expensive way of managing liability, but what really got our goat in the situation we described in our prior column was the after-the-fact forcing of the homeowner – who had already paid in full for the inspection – to agree to this demand before she received her written report. It’s one thing to make this clause a part of the contract, but it’s quite another to do it after the agreement has been struck, the payment has been made, and all that the homeowner is waiting for is the deliverable.
While we agree with you that this home inspector warrants instruction on customer service (at the very least), it has been the longstanding policy of the column not to put our correspondents in touch with each other, nor to publish contact information. We will, however, happily provide a phone number for ASHI where homebuyers, homeowners, agents, mortgage lenders and others in the industry can call to file a complaint about a home inspector’s bad behavior. Whether ASHI will follow up is, of course, up to those that run it.
But, a cursory view of the website shows no place where a complaint can be filed. Is ASHI looking for complaints about inspectors? Apparently not. We have been corresponding with the “chat” function (Mark, a “membership coordinator”) on the ASHI website and he wrote “ASHI does not take consumer complaints.”
In addition, he wrote: “We don’t directly “police” our inspectors. All of our inspectors take and pass an exam on our Standards and Ethics, sign off that they will do so every year, and their inspections are reviewed for compliance. The Standards and Ethics that are published are a public document and a covenant between the inspector and the client. Should any perceived violations occur, the client is encouraged to approach the inspector with that document in mind. For complaint filing or discipline, however, I would need to refer you to your state’s agency” that licenses home inspectors.
We would posit that ASHI isn’t particularly concerned about policing its members, or it would provide a hotline or phone number for consumers to call with their concerns. For consumers who pay for these inspections, rely on an inspector’s competence and professionalism for the single biggest purchase they will ever make, to rely on ASHI’s assurances that inspectors pass a Standards and Ethics exam, and then “sign” off on that every year is somewhat worrisome.
We’d think that ASHI would want to know about inspectors who are behaving badly and so we plan to publish the address and phone number for the ASHI headquarters: The American Society of Home Inspectors, Inc., 932 Lee Street, Suite 101, Des Plaines, IL 60016. The phone number is 847-954-3185 and the fax number is 847-759-1620. The website is homeinspector.org.
Since professional home inspectors are generally licensed by the state in which they operate, homeowners can file a complaint about bad behavior with their state’s department of professional regulation. Depending on whether the inspector has violated rules or broken the law, the department may be able to take action against the inspector.