Posted on Sat, Apr. 12, 2008
**Are home inspector rules beneficial to consumers?**
Bills in Kansas and Missouri that would for the first time regulate home inspectors seem at first blush a good thing.
Who wouldn’t argue for more protection for consumers who are making perhaps the biggest purchase of their lives?
Still, there is reason to be cautious when business interests dress efforts to push state legislation in a public cloak of concern for the consumer. Might there be other motives?
That’s the political situation here, where two of the leading proponents of new regulation are Realtors and trial attorneys.
Kansas is the scene of the most current debate. Several Missouri bills are moving much slower.
Inspectors opposed to the Kansas legislation claim the efforts are simply clever attempts to shift responsibility for all home defects to the guy who walks in the door after the fact.
Even inspectors supporting the new regulation say they’ve become proactive only to prevent more onerous legislation.
“The trial attorneys and Realtors want to see us regulated,” said Jeff Barnes, head of the Kansas Association of Real Estate Inspectors.
“There was no getting around it. It’s like you know you’re going to get a sponge bath — do you prefer the cute nurse or the big, ugly fat guy?”
Luke Bell, of the Kansas Association of Realtors, however, says that’s not the case at all.
“We actually want to see the consumer protected,” he said.
He said that now anyone off the street can call himself an inspector and lure a homeowner into a false sense of security about a defective home.
But that’s also true, in most cities in Missouri and Kansas, for builders, contractors, repairmen and remodelers.
In fact, far more complaints are lodged each year against largely unregulated remodeling and home-repair contractors than against home inspectors, according to officials in both states.
Even consumer groups, whom you’d expect to press for regulation, are wondering why the push now in the absence of a groundswell of consumer complaints.
“In the 15 years that I have been dealing with homeowners in Kansas, Missouri and across the nation, I have had one complaint against a home inspector,” said Nancy Seats, president of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, who is no shrinking violet when it comes to pointing out shoddy construction.
Callie Denton Hartle, a spokeswoman for **Kansas Trial Attorneys, **agrees that the legislation is proceeding in the absence of any quantitative tally of consumer complaints.
“If you are going to write a story that depends on statistics and numbers, then you’ll come up short,” she said. But she said that’s the problem — consumers now have nowhere to take complaints.
Maybe. But this is America. When people have complaints, they seem to find a way to make them known. In this case, there was no legislative parade of angry consumers.
That doesn’t mean regulation is bad or unneeded. It just means you don’t want to end up with a poorly constructed law that hurts consumers more than it helps them. Consumers already can help themselves by getting references and questioning an inspector about his or her training and accreditation.
About 32 states currently regulate inspectors, mainly through registration, a set of standards, a code of ethics and a competency test. About seven states also require them to carry insurance to cover errors and omissions. It’s hard to argue with the reasonableness of these laws, when evenly applied.
What’s most controversial about Kansas HB 2315 is that it goes a bit further with a provision that prohibits inspectors from limiting their liability to less than $10,000.
Inspectors now can contract with homeowners to set the limits of their liability. Officials in both states say most complaints seldom rise to more than $1,000 in value.
So, to some inspectors, who usually make $300 or less per inspection, a $10,000 pot makes a handy target for trial attorneys to go after. What this means, they contend, is that they could end up as the fall guy for shoddy contractors who can’t be found and dishonest sellers who hide defects.
“It puts us on the hook for everybody else’s liability,” argues Kansas City inspector Dan Bowers, who said most veteran inspectors are already accredited by nationally respected organizations.
But proponents dispute that the bill raises liability. They note that it expressly limits an inspector’s liability for hidden defects, such as mold or poor construction.
Certainly, trial attorneys, Realtors and others involved have legitimate reasons to want to protect homebuyers. Even so, the concerns being raised suggest legislators should ensure the bills truly have consumers’ interests at heart.
Unnecessarily increasing potential litigation can result in liability insurers boosting what they charge inspectors.
That can in turn increase the cost of inspections, winnow the ranks of inspectors and ultimately raise the cost of a home — which is not in the best interest of consumers.
Lately, Kansas lawmakers say they want to give the bill more thought. House and Senate versions, including one that would create a state board, are now in a conference committee.
“We want to be quite careful with how we resolve this,” said Sen. Karin Brownlee, an Olathe Republican.
**When choosing an inspector **
Ask about training, testing and experience.Ask for references.
Ask about professional accreditation.
Ask for a sample report.
There are three main professional organizations:
•American Society of Home Inspectors: ashi.org
•National Association of Home Inspectors: nahi.org
•National Association of Certified Home Inspectors: nachi.org