Some county home inspectors predict a long-awaited state regulation soon will rid their industry of “riffraff” and spare some home buyers from huge and unexpected bills.
After six years of delays due to lack of funding, Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation is implementing a law that will require home inspectors to meet minimum education, experience and insurance requirements to work in the state.
“It’s been a long time coming, but we felt it was time to set up some standards to protect the public,” said John Heyn, an Owings Mills home inspector and a member of Maryland Real Estate Appraisers and Home Inspectors Commission.
Heyn, who said he formed Maryland’s first home inspection firm in 1968, got involved with developing a licensing system for inspectors when Del. Dan Morhaim, who represents Owings Mills and Pikesville, drafted a bill on the topic in 2000.
“It started like a lot of things, with a call from a constituent,” Morhaim said.
A woman had purchased a house only to discover that her home inspector had missed an obvious problem, he said. The inspector took no responsibility for the oversight, so the woman had to shoulder a $20,000 bill.
“As I began to investigate the subject, I got calls from people all around the state with horror stories,” Morhaim said.
There were people like the woman who suffered respiratory problems and discovered her home inspector had failed to detect a persistent flooding problem in her newly purchased house. Every time it rained, water would stream through the room next to her patio, creating a musty smell and exacerbating the woman’s breathing problems.
“So this woman had a house where she couldn’t live on the bottom floor. And she had no recourse with the inspector,” Morhaim said.
In the housing industry, where real estate agents, mortgage companies, plumbers, electricians and even termite inspectors are regulated, it seemed inconsistent not to regulate home inspectors, too, Morhaim said.
“This is really about consumer protection,” he said. “Everybody who has ever bought a house recognizes how much people rely on home inspectors to help them make the biggest financial decision of their lives.”
Morhaim’s bill, which passed in 2001, will require home inspectors to meet three licensing requirements once it takes effect Jan. 1.
To get a license, an inspector will need a high school diploma, proof of completing at least 48 hours of professional training at an accepted school and general liability insurance of at least $50,000.
A few hundred inspectors who were grandfathered into the licensing system had to meet higher education and experience requirements.
“The whole idea is to keep guys from just running around, claiming to be home inspectors,” said Jim Hudson, operations manager for Homesteaders Home Inspection in Randallstown.
“I call them clipboard artists. They’ve got a car and a clipboard, and they present themselves as home inspectors, but they don’t have the training. This (licensing) will eliminate the riffraff.”
Inspectors who practice without a license could face criminal charges of one year in jail or a fine of up to $5,000.
The state has established a set of minimum standards for inspectors, so home buyers will know what service they should receive from a licensed inspector, said Elwood Mosley, executive director of the home inspectors commission.
The commission is made up of 15 representatives from among consumers, real estate agents, home inspectors and others.
In January, it also will establish a formal process whereby consumers can file complaints against inspectors.
But Mosley cautions the complaints’ system won’t give home buyers a guarantee on their new house. It will only determine if an inspector provided professional, knowledgeable and thorough service and warned of all reasonably foreseeable problems.
“A home inspection is not a guarantee in any way, shape or form,” Hudson said.
He added that an inspection’s purpose is to provide a home buyer with the “best possible description of the property as it sits at that particular moment so you can make the best financial decision.”
E-mail Linda Strowbridge at Linda Strowbridge@patuxent.com