The Infamous 5,000 Inspectors

Brendan Stark has spent almost $3,000 having a leak fixed
in the roof of his recently purchased home.
It’s a headache many homeowners are familiar with, but
one that came as a particular surprise to the 31-year-old
Toronto financial professional.

That’s because a home inspection seven months before the
leak developed revealed few problems with the seven-yearold
house. The inspector even went so far as to suggest
that the roof was in “excellent condition.”
“He actually gave the roof a really high grade. He identified
it as not an issue and said the longevity was ‘x’ years,
which was in line with the expectations for a relatively new
house,” Mr. Stark says, referring to the inspector he hired
to go over his three-bedroom home in Cabbagetown prior
to purchase. “He didn’t pick out any major flaws. He gave
the house an above-average rating.”

While Mr. Stark’s story is not unique, it highlights the growing
debate over the value of a home inspection and raises
questions for prospective buyers concerned with identifying
any existing or potential problems before purchasing a

The majority of housing experts agree an inspection is an
essential step in the purchase of any new or resale property.
But given Canada’s unregulated home inspection industry,
it’s difficult to control the quality and scope of the
work being done by thousands of uncertified inspectors
across the country.

“Essentially, any Tom, Dick or Harry can call himself a
home inspector and put his stamp of approval on a report,”
says Bill Mullen, president of the Canadian Association of
Home and Property Inspectors (CAHPI).
Although most reputable home and property inspectors
generally belong to a provincial or regional industry association,
standards, costs and certification requirements vary
from province to province.

To help combat the problem, CAHPI, in partnership with
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and Human Resources
Development Canada, has spent the last eight years
identifying a set of national occupational standards and
ethics aimed at raising the competency level of private home
and municipal building inspectors.

In January, the seven provincial and regional associations
— that, with about 5,000 members, make up the national
organization — will begin incorporating CAHPI’s accreditation
and certification models into the curriculum of community
colleges and other training programs.

According to CMHC, about 55 per cent of homes are inspected
on the resale market today. This is significantly
less than in the United States where 80 per cent of buyers
opt for a preliminary inspection, according to the National
Association of Realtors.

On its website, the federal housing agency suggests that a
thorough prepurchase inspection of an 1,800- to 2,200-
square-foot home should take about three hours and cost
less than $500. It specifies that it should be a visual inspection
of the property that includes an evaluation of its
major interior and exterior systems and a list of possible
repairs. But it is not “to be mistaken as a warranty on a
house,” the site adds.

Members of provincial home inspection associations are
required to carry errors and omission insurance to protect
themselves in the event of a claim.

Although major claims against home inspectors are relatively
uncommon — with only 240 claims filed against the
industry from 1997 to 2003 — Mr. Mullen hopes a set of
national certification and accreditation standards for home
and building inspectors will lead to “the ultimate in consumer

He cautions, however, that the changes will not eliminate
error or oversight by inspectors. “Obviously, we’re going
to make it very clear in the contract that it’s a visual inspection
only — we don’t see behind walls,” Mr. Mullen

Jim Robar, CMHC’s director of technical research, is careful
to point out that despite the tarnished reputation a small
number of home inspectors have brought to the industry,
the majority of home and building inspectors “are very responsible.”
“I tend to feel what happens is that an unfair generalization
is made over the bad experiences. . . . I think it’s important
to show there is professionalism readily available
in the industry,” he says.

The move to self-regulate Canada’s home inspection industry
has been met with guarded skepticism by some people
who argue that a series of expensive courses required
to upgrade their skills won’t help them to do a better job.
Frank Cohn, chairman of the renovators’ council of the
Ontario Home Builders Association and host of CFRB’s
Home Improvement Show, says that while he supports
improvements in the inspection industry, increased regulation
may not be the best answer.

“If it gets to a point that say, a licensed contractor like myself
can’t do home inspections unless he goes through all these
courses . . . I’m still going to keep doing home inspections
whether they want to give me a license for it or not,” he
says. “I’m not about to go back to school again for something
that I’ve been doing for 36 years.”
While Mr. Mullen acknowledges the cost of certification
with CAHPI may be prohibitive for some individuals, he
believes that membership, which will remain optional, will
bring its own set of benefits, including increased credibility
and visibility in the industry.

“It usually takes an average of about two years to go through
the process. It’s not a cheap business to get into — the
courses alone would probably cost somewhere between
$6,000 and $10,000,” he says. “But we’re hoping to make
the CAHPI brand so attractive that everyone wants to join.”
Mr. Robar hopes the national initiative will make it easier
for consumers to navigate the previously “fragmented”
home inspection industry, offering a one-stop-shopping
portal for consumers looking for certified home and building

“[Before] the consumer was confused and often did not
know if they were getting the quality level of service that
they required in a home inspection,” he says.
Mr. Stark, who hired his home inspector based on a recommendation
from his real estate agent, admits he’ll probably
do a little more homework the next time around in
order to avoid a repeat of his leaky roof scenario.
CMHC recommends home buyers such as Mr. Stark look
for a fully certified member of a provincial home inspection
association who has had some training in defect recognition,
building sciences or civil engineering. Checking
references is also important, and CMHC recommends consumers
use only full-time home inspectors, not contractors
or builders.”

The bottom line is that even with the chances of crummy
home inspectors, when you consider what you’re paying
for a home, you’d be foolhardy not to do it. The risk at the
other end is higher,” Mr. Cohn says.

Home inspectors need inspecting themselves
No regulations means ‘any Tom, Dick or Harry’ can call himself one.

Special to The Globe and Mail – Friday, November 12, 2004 - Page G12