April, 2008
Ethics
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Ethics and Preferred Vendor Programs

PETER G. ENGLE, PE

Paying for referrals is unethical. It has always been unethical as defined by the ASHI Code of Ethics (CoE), and it is unethical by our current Code. For professionals to pay for referrals is also unethical by the ethics codes of most professional organizations, by many state and federal laws, and according to the writings of ethics professionals. The practice is unethical because of the inherent conflict of interest created. Once a home inspector has a financial relationship with a referrer, there is pressure placed on the home inspector to meet the needs and goals of the referrer or lose that investment. The inspector then tries to meet his or her duty to the client, while meeting the needs of the referrer. This is the essence of conflict of interest. There is no wiggle room on this subject. Paying for referrals is unethical, regardless of how much money is paid, what the payment is called, or whether there is or isn’t a written agreement. Giving anything of value to any party to induce that party to provide referrals in any fashion is unethical.

And yet, even though the practice is unethical, even though ASHI has provided numerous published articles and other informational items about this problem in addition to the CoE itself, many ASHI members continue to participate in programs that constitute paying for referrals. Some of these programs are explicitly called preferred vendor programs; others are called advertising. Sometimes the cost to participants is referred to as a marketing fee. Regardless of the name, the majority of these programs are at least in part unethical. We have found that some ASHI members participate in these programs without knowing that they are violating our Code.

We will be publishing a group of articles that provide some history regarding ASHI’s position on preferred vendor programs, the nature of the ethical challenges posed by these programs, aspects of real-world advertising programs that are ethical or unethical, and real actions that home inspectors can and should take to either avoid ethical conflicts or to encourage their marketing partners to design advertising
programs that are both ethical and beneficial to all partners.

Please note that although these articles are based on the ASHI Code of Ethics, approximately half the states now have some form of licensing or certification. Many state regulations include ethics provisions that are the same or similar to those of the ASHI code (details may vary). Inspectors whose states have ethics requirements will want to review and comply with them, as well as with the ASHI Code of Ethics.


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Requests for Interpretation

Standards and Ethics Requests for Interpretation have been updated online in a more user-friendly format and a new search engine has been added. This recent improvement makes it easier to find the information you’re looking for. Chances are the question you have about the Standards or Ethics has already been answered and can be found online.

To look up your question, log in as a member on www.HomeInspector.org. Go to Resources and then to Interpretations. If you wish to file a Request, the link to the necessary form can be found there.

What are Requests for Interpretation (RFIs)?

ASHI members may file a Request For Interpretation (RFI) for either the Standards of Practice (SoP) or Code of Ethics (CoE) when an issue may seem unclear or undefined by the SoP or CoE. These requests will be reviewed by the respective committees and ASHI legal counsel.

Filing an RFI

The committees understand that you desire a quick response, but please be advised they have multiple requests and, because the SoP and CoE are vital to ASHI, interpretations must be performed with extreme care. Before filing an RFI, you are strongly encouraged to review past interpretations that are posted in their respective section, SoP or CoE. You may also perform a quick keyword search in the search function that will search both sections.

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