Barbara Yaffe: Independence, standardization needed in home inspection industry
Realtors who recommend home inspectors are in a conflict of interest, a former insider writes .
VANCOUVER — When I purchased a half-duplex in Kitsilano last year, I opted to decline a home inspection, later discovering my new digs had a carpenter ant infestation, asbestos in the bathroom flooring, toilets that were not properly anchored, and a broken water pipe.
None of these things showed up on a disclosure document provided by the sellers.
As I learned the hard way, it is a naive buyer who puts any weight at all in such documents.
Alas, many who experience the world of real estate come away feeling it is characterized by dog-eat-dog behaviour.
Especially in Vancouver, where so much money is at stake.
Let’s face it, self interest tends to be the guiding force — on all sides.
Which is the reason why the home inspection industry was first launched in Canada back in the 1970s.ertisement
Today, B.C., and Alberta are the only provinces with laws governing home inspectors.
Last September, Rich Coleman, B.C.’s minister responsible for housing, announced a plan for new, more uniform professional standards for the province’s 440 home inspectors.
By the end of this year, the province will be designating education requirements and provincial inspection standards for inspectors, as well as a code of conduct for the industry.
Said Coleman: “A common professional standard will ensure homebuyers benefit from a more standardized approach to home inspections.”
But a new book written by veteran Ontario home inspector and former realtor Bruce McClure suggests that the home inspection system will remain fraught with challenges.
In Buy or Run, McClure, 64, writes:
"I’ve chosen to step outside the box and disclose what’s really going on in an effort to educate both the public and legislators.”
According to McClure, who also teaches a college-level home inspection course, “the major problem with our industry revolves around the lack of independence … between home inspectors and realtors.”
At present, realtors often recommend home inspectors to their buyers, or include an inspection as part of a real estate package.
This reflects a conflict of interest, says McClure, who asserts that realtors, above all, seek to safeguard their house sales.
To that end, some are blacklisting inspectors they consider too critical or thorough, while recommending those prepared to hide the whole truth about a home’s poor condition.
McClure says prospective buyers should always choose their own inspector and accompany him or her during the few hours it takes to conduct the property inspection.
Buyers also should be aware of several serious limitations inherent in the exercise.
The inspector, typically paid $300 to $500 per job, can only afford to devote two or three hours to the task, says McClure.
Further, inspections do not involve taking things apart or cutting holes in walls to look inside.
It is “limited by visual-only (rules) and the running of systems by normal operating controls.”
Roof leaks, for example, can easily be overlooked because inspectors are “limited to reporting on the sample area that he can fully see.”
And, “taking the service door off and looking inside a furnace does not allow an inspector to view the heat exchanger.”
In other words, people cannot assume that just because they have had a property inspected, it will be problem-free once they move in.
McClure reports, “one of the most frightening issues that we continue to see in abundance is unsafe electrical systems.”
Often, such systems have been worked on by do-it-yourselfers.
He writes that he also is regularly disappointed by new home construction. “Building codes stipulate the lowest possible acceptable standard, and it’s only natural that builders are looking to do everything the cheapest way possible.”
McClure says his biggest shock as an inspector was in “discovering just how little the average homeowner knows about their house and how it works.”
Who knows — maybe my sellers were not aware that their toilets were unstable.
I do not know, however, how they could have missed the ants.