Originally Posted By: pmooney
This post was automatically imported from our archived forum.
Sunday, August 29:
Inspect the inspectors
Lawmakers introduce bills requiring home inspectors to receive training, be licensed
By DOUG HENZE
Of The Daily Oakland Press
For home buyers worried about purchasing somebody else's headache, it's become standard practice to hire a home inspector-an advocate knowledgeable enough to spot trouble.
But with the idea that not all contractors are created equal, a legislator now wants the state to inspect the inspectors. Rep. Frank Accavitti Jr., D-Eastpointe, is hoping the Legislature this fall will take up his bill, House Bill 5587, to require licensing.
"I want to make it where when you say, 'I'm a home inspector,' you have gone through some kind of minimum testing," said Accavitti, who introduced the legislation in February. Rep. Daniel J. Acciavatti, R-Chesterfield Township-Accavitti's cousin-introduced a companion bill, House Bill 5588, which sets testing and licensing fees totaling $125 for the first year.
Because the industry is unregulated now, anyone who wants to call himself or herself a home inspector can do so.
While Accavitti says the three major home inspector trade groups-the American Society of Home Inspectors, the National Association of Home Inspectors, and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors - have signed off on the licensing bill, some local inspectors say they hate the idea.
"I'm dead set against it," said Mel Jacobs, Great Lakes Chapter president of ASHI and owner of Southeastern Michigan Home Inspectors in Brownstown Township. "If we get licensing, within two years we'll probably have 1,800 inspectors in Michigan and about 400 of them would be qualified to do the work."
The concern for Jacobs and other inspectors is that licensing would give newcomers to the industry credibility they don't deserve. And schools are likely to pop up, inspectors argue, to crank out those newcomers by the hundreds.
"If everything worked exactly right, (licensing) would eliminate the incompetent people in the profession," said Matt Bezanson, owner of Sherlock Homes Inspection Ltd. in Madison Heights and a 20-year veteran of the industry. "(But) there's a pretty good chance the public would view licensing as the only requirement. I am going to be seen as the same as the guy who started last week."
Although specific licensing requirements are yet to be developed - those would be developed by a licensing board - inspectors seem sure they won't be as stringent as the self-policing measures home inspector trade associations have put in place.
For example, Des Plaines, Ill.-based ASHI, the largest group, with 6,000 members, requires members to pass two written tests and to have performed a minimum of 250 paid inspections. Members also have to obtain 20 continuing education credits per year and to follow the group's code of ethics.
"What you don't want is an inspector inspecting a home, finding a defect and saying, 'You know what, I can fix that for you,'" said Bob Kociolek, ASHI director of chapter relations and state affairs, providing an example of an ethics violation. Referring a homeowner to a contractor friend to handle the repair also would be frowned upon, though providing a list of contractors would be OK, he said.
State regulations wouldn't provide the same regulations and guidelines, inspectors fear.
"There are guys out there right now who don't know what they're doing as inspectors, but I guarantee they could probably pass a state test," said Barry Whitehead, owner of Bretton Home Inspections in White Lake Township. "I don't think licensing is going to do anything to improve an industry that probably polices itself better than the state would."
Inspectors point to experiences with licensing in other states.
In Illinois, 35 schools teach inspector candidates how to pass the licensing exam, Jacobs said. The number of inspectors ballooned from 470 prelicensing to 1,850 two years after licensing, he said.
"They'll tell me they can train me in eight days," Jacobs said of licensing schools. Most existing inspectors worked in the building trades before becoming inspectors.
Accavitti disputes the assertion that the state would create a system allowing unqualified inspectors to practice.
"If people want to subscribe to be ASHI members and go over and above, that's wonderful," he said. "What about the guys out there (now) who don't even subscribe to minimum standards?"
Accavitti agrees with home inspectors who argue that licensing hasn't eliminated bad actors in other professions. But licensing comes with recourse.
"There's a complaint process (so) you can go after a crappy builder," he said.
Inspectors argue that a mechanism is in place to deal with lousy home inspectors - the court system. Inspectors who fail to find major defects in a home have been sued, and many carry errors and omissions insurance to protect themselves.
Accavitti is concerned about inspectors hiding behind the corporate veil.
"I suppose you could go to court and sue a bankrupt corporation," he said. "This legislation would give a home inspector nowhere to hide because the inspector himself will be licensed, not the corporation."
Accavitti, who already has drafted a substitute bill to address the concerns inspectors have brought to him, said ASHI has tried to establish its test as the state's.
"That's not going to happen in the state of Michigan," he said, explaining that the law won't be designed to give any organization an advantage. "If you need to buy the book to study for the test, where are you going to buy it from?"
ASHI, as an organization, is taking a somewhat neutral stance on home inspector licensing in Michigan. Since Texas became the first state to go to licensing in 1991, 27 other states have adopted some form of regulation.
"Our position isn't that our guys need to be licensed in every state," Kociolek said. "Our position is if home inspectors need to be regulated, that regulation needs to be protective of consumers and home inspectors, too. It looks like it's inevitable it's probably going to happen in every state, so we want to have a seat at the table."
ASHI has posted a model law on its Web site and also has ranked states' licensing laws.
One thing inspectors say is missing from the licensing equation is a demonstrated need.
"Is there a public outcry for licensing of home inspectors?" Bezanson asked. He added he hasn't seen data indicating that states with licensing have more qualified home inspectors than those that don't have it.
Bezanson said he doesn't see anything particularly harmful in Accavitti's bill.
"A lot of the specifics are left in the hands of this yet-to-be-named (licensing) board," he added.
Accavitti said it was concerns by Bezanson about unqualified inspectors in the field today that led him to draft a bill. A television news expose further focused light on the issue.
Bezanson said he simply wrote a letter to Accavitti in an effort to keep informed on any licensing efforts by the Legislature.
"I certainly didn't ask to be licensed," he said. "I would say it's probably better to leave things as they are."
Bezanson said he does expect licensing to drive up the cost of inspections.
Jacobs estimated the cost increase at $450 per inspector in the first year and $150 to $400 per year thereafter.
One way bad inspectors will be weeded out is through the free enterprise system, inspectors say. Both Jacobs and Whitehead estimate 70 percent of their business comes from referrals.
"How long are you going to stay in business if you're no good at what you do?" Jacobs asked.
Home buyers can take a few precautions to lessen their chances of getting an unqualified home inspector.
"You have to interview them," Whitehead said. "How long have they been in the business?"
Also ask how many houses they've inspected in the community you're interested in, he suggested. Inspectors who spend the bulk of their days in Livingston County may not know about common problems in a Troy subdivision.
Other questions for inspectors are:
- ? Are you a member of a trade organization?
? Are you a licensed builder?
? Can you provide references?
? How long does the inspection take?
"Some guys are going to do more than others," Jacobs said. "I want to know if you're going to go up on the roof. I want to know if you're going to crawl in the crawl space."
Meanwhile, Accavitti said he plans to keep pushing for licensing.
"I expect it will sail through the House fairly quickly," he said. "You could see something by midyear next year. I'm not going to let this go.